How Felines Drink & Jump.

Posted by Theresa Blood on

Rough & Ready.

That sandpaper tongue certainly makes being licked by a cat an unusual experience, but that’s obviously not its primary purpose. A cat’s tongue is covered in tiny, back-to-front hooks, called papillae, which are fantastically useful for ripping flesh from bones. The cat’s rough tongue is not only useful for devouring prey; it also serves as the perfect self-pampering tool when it acts like a comb for grooming.

Lapping it up.

Cats have very different drinking habits to us. They don’t slurp, for a start, or even sip, and they’re more likely to fight with a straw than use one to suck up cocktails. But they do something with liquid that is completely beyond us: lapping. Some animals (including humans) use some form of suction to get liquid into the mouth, others (such as dogs) use the tongue as a kind of spoon to scoop water in. Cats, however, have a different technique, which has recently been studied in close-up, thanks to high-speed cameras.

Cats, it seems, have a remarkable grasp of physics. When a cat hits the water bowl, they tap into the combined forces of surface tension and gravity to get the water into their mouths. The tongue curls backwards and the tip just touches the surface without breaking it. Some liquid attaches to the fast-moving tongue and is drawn upwards into the cat’s mouth before falling back into the bowl (pulled down by gravity). Cats need impeccable timing to pull this off; if they lap too slowly, the liquid will just fall of the tongue before it gets into the mouth. It’s been observed that cats do about four laps a second (bringing in about 0.1 milliliters of liquid per lap). Explaining how they do this is one thing, but understanding why they bother is another matter. Cats certainly make less mess while drinking than many other animals and perhaps their general cleanliness and dislike of water could explain why they’d rather not plash themselves while they’re having a drink.

On Balance.

Let’s be honest, we’ve all witnessed our cats overshoot a target or take a tumble while making a leap. Yet, despite the occasional misjudged manoeuvre, there’s no doubt that cats are nature’s acrobats. Their bodies are incredibly supple (ideal for washing those hard-to-reach parts) and they are so agile they can jump five or six times their body height from a standing position. They are also capable of trotting along a narrow garden fence with ease. Cats have remarkably strong muscles in their back legs and highly flexible skeletons. But what really gives them the edge when it comes to their balancing act is something called the vestibular system, which is a group of semi-circular canals in the inner ear. The fluid in these canals moves as the head does, sending signals to the brain about which way is up. Humans and other mammals have a vestibular system too, but cats make much more effective use of theirs. It is this system which enables cats to right themselves if they fall, so they land on their feet. Of course, even cats can make a mistake, and a falling feline can still end up with some nasty injuries, but they’re much better equipped than most other animals when it comes to a soft landing.

Landing On Your Feet.

Research by New York veterinarians has revealed some intriguing facts about what happens to cats when they fall out of windows in high-rise apartments. Around 90% of cats studied survived the fall, but cats that fell from nine or more stories were less likely to be killed and suffered fewer injuries than those who fell shorter distances. Similar studies in other American cities where high-rise living is commonplace have come to the same conclusion. Cats are naturally well-adapted to jumping up and they have also evolved mechanisms to help them should they fall. When a cat falls, they immediately start to re-position the body so their feet are pointing down.

The reason cats that fall from greater heights are more likely to survive and even avoid serious injury may be down to terminal velocity. When an object is dropped from a height, the speed accelerates before reaching terminal velocity, after which it stops accelerating. It’s been speculated that it is at this point that a cat spreads out its legs (rather than just extending them downwards) to form a kind of parachute, in the manner of a flying squirrel. This slows down the fall and the cat then lands on all fours. Their flexible frames and supple muscles cushion the impact. It’s though that cats falling from smaller heights may not have enough time for the necessary adjustments. Closing your windows is, of course a more reliable way of ensuring your cat avoids injury from falling.

 Five Fascinating Facts Relating To Cats:
  • All felines are an obligate carnivore, which means that (unlike many other meat eaters) they cannot survive on a vegetarian diet.
  • Cats usually have twenty-four whiskers which are arranged in four rows of three on either side of the face.
  • Over 99.96% of tortoiseshell cats are female because two X chromosomes are needed to pass on this attractive coloration.
  • On average, a cat’s skeleton contains around 230-240 bones (humans have 206), and 10% of the bones are in the tail.
  • Cats have a preference for using either the left paw or the right one, with females much more likely to be ‘right-pawed’ than males.


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