Friday 5 May 2023

What does the 'cat righting reflex' mean?

The cat righting reflex is a remarkable ability that allows cats to orient their body during a fall, so that they can land on their feet and avoid injury. This reflex is possible due to several factors including their flexible spine, strong muscles, and an inner ear system called the vestibular system that helps them to maintain balance and spatial orientation.

The righting reflex begins to appear at 3–4 weeks of age, and is perfected at 6–9 weeks.

Cat self-righting reflex
Cat self-righting reflex. Image in public domain.

When a cat falls, it quickly analyzes its position relative to the ground and the orientation of its body. The cat then rotates its head, neck, and torso to align with the ground while extending its limbs to reduce its rotational speed and control its descent. This process allows the cat to land on its feet, even from great heights, by adjusting its body position to maintain its equilibrium.

During the fall, the cat also uses its tail to help maintain its balance. The tail acts as a counterbalance, allowing the cat to make small adjustments in its position to maintain its orientation as it rotates its body. Once the cat has successfully landed on its feet, it quickly absorbs the impact by bending its legs, thus reducing the force of the landing.

Overall, the cat righting reflex is a complex, sophisticated process that involves the coordination of multiple physiological systems. While it is still not fully understood, scientists continue to study this fascinating behavior in order to gain insights into the inner workings of the feline body and brain.

Cats need the Earth's gravity to do this. Without gravity self-righting reflex does not work at all. Gravity must the primary 'marker' to which the cat zones in on to figure out their bearings. This video shows how the lose their skill in weightless conditions. The test is arguably cruel.

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