Cats have an innate ability to put themselves in the correct position and the right angle when falling, in order to ensure they will fall on their feet; the reason they are able to do this is the fact of them having an incredibly flexible back bone, and a collar bone which does not operate as the collar bones of other vertebrates; in effect it seems to have no true purpose, and therefore can flex and bend at will; the cat’s hind legs, are used to manoeuvre them into the correct position to ensure that they can turn in the air in order to land on their feet ( this ability is perfected by the age of seven weeks!) The minimum height for this reflex to occur is approximately twelve inches. Strangely perhaps, the tail plays little or no part in this exercise, meaning that a cat with no tail can perform the exact same movement.
However, technically a cat cannot guarantee to land on its feet when jumping or falling from any given height, it actually, perhaps surprisingly, stands a greater chance of survival if it falls from a higher place than from a lower place. The laws of physics denote the reason: a falling object, after travelling a certain distance through the air, reaches a final speed, or “terminal velocity,” therefore the object’s friction with the air slows the fall.
The smaller the object’s mass, and the greater its area, the more it will slow, so although we always hope that if a cat falls, it will be perfectly safe, by the same token, we also have to hope that it falls from a greater height than our eyes and brain initially inform us will ultimately be “safe”, for then it will indeed be safe! Read about more little known cat facts in my book ‘Cat Talk‘.