Pet Myths: Do felines always land on their feet?

SFGATE.COM | Amelia Glynn | 11/09/09

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This is one of those "most of the time" but "it depends" answers.

It's thought that after about five floors, the distance a cat falls begins to become less relevant in terms of both injuries sustained and overall general survival. It might sound strange, but cats have what's called a "nonfatal terminal velocity" or maximum downward speed of 60 miles per hour (many small animals have this built-in advantage). Once they orient themselves, they spread themselves out like a parachute (imagine a flying squirrel), which helps slow them down and minimize injuries. There are cats on record that have fallen 20 stories or more without serious injury. As long as they don't land on something sharp, it's very likely that they will walk away from the fall.
For proof of this death-defying ability, many articles cite a 1987 study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association in which two vets examined 132 cases of cats that had fallen out of windows and were brought to the Animal Medical Center in New York for treatment. (Quick Jeopardy fact: the science of falling cats is called "feline pesematology.")

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