Reflexes in Cats

Don't worry -- he'll land on his feet.
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Even if your cat never steps foot outdoors, you've probably noticed how quickly he makes work of any insects or other small prey he finds in the house. Those quick reflexes allow outdoor cats to easily dispatch rodents and birds. Other feline reflexes almost guarantee he'll land on his feet.

Feline Hunting Reflexes

Cats are obligate carnivores -- they must eat meat. In the heart of your sweet, purring little friend dwells a natural-born killer. Their hunting reflexes are spectacularly fast, so they can catch prey and tear their victims apart. If you do keep cats outside, you might know what efficient killers they are if your pets frequently bring you "presents" attesting to their hunting prowess. Playing laser tag or other hunting-type games with housecats can give you an appreciation of the deadly accuracy of feline reflexes.

Feline Righting Reflex

Felines' righting reflex appears in kittens at about the age of 4 weeks and is fully developed a few weeks later, coinciding with the time they are weaned. The structure of the feline skeleton allows them to right themselves: Unlike some other mammals, cats have no collarbones and extremely flexible spinal bones. They can twist to land right-side-up in as little as 12 inches of vertical drop. Felines falling from great heights often kill or severely injure themselves, because their feet and legs can't absorb the shock of a large fall. Cats falling the equivalent of four stories or more are almost certain to break bones and damage internal organs.

Feline Aggressive Reflexes

What appears as aggression in some cats is actually a reflex action to overstimulation. If you're petting your cat, especially on the back, and she suddenly bites you or lashes out otherwise, she's probably experiencing a reflex action. A cat might demonstrate play aggression, which results in another reflex action -- the cat is hunting and you are the prey. Your cat might redirect aggression at a person or another pet reflexively if she's been watching birds from the window or spies another feline walking around outside.

Neurological Issues

If your cat ever experiences neurological issues, such as circling, lack of coordination or development of an odd gait, your vet will test your pet's reflexes physically to help your vet determine whether the source of the problem lies in the spinal cord, brain or the peripheral nervous system. She'll test your cat's righting reflex, along with reflexes involved with walking, tail, head and limb carriage. Lab testing is possible, too.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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