There’s an old video of a tabby cat that is determined to reach its owner. It thus squeezes its fluffy bulk under the door, much to the astonishment and amusement of its owner.
Granted, there was a sizeable gap between the door and the floor, but it’s still hard to believe that a biggish cat could squeeze through it.
This, naturally, begs the question: How did it do that? Are cats actually some sort of living liquid, as many people on the Internet speculate? Are they made of mercury and fur?
In 2014, a French physicist, Marc-Antoine Fardin, actually wrote a parody scientific paper about the fluid dynamics of cats, using pictures gleaned from the Internet of cats sleeping in tiny baskets and of kittens in jugs.
The online store Meowington’s sells cat supplies and cat-themed paraphernalia like books and t-shirts.
According to Meowingtons, It also has a blog devoted to felines, and one of their entries is entitled “11 Cats Who Just Won’t Obey the Laws of Physics” which depicts cats in some very contorted positions, such as the Siamese that has found a novel way to eat from a food dispenser and the tabby-and-white that has draped itself over a shower rod so its back feet are touching its head. This picture prompted the caption, “How? And also, why?”
How can cats squeeze through doors?
According to Inverse, Cats owe their prowess as contortionists to their anatomy. A post-doctoral fellow at UC Davis’ School of Veterinary Medicine, Mikel Delgado, explained that cats have an extremely flexible spine.
Their collar bones, however, contribute even more to their ability to squeeze into tiny spaces.
Unlike human collar bones, which are attached to both the breast bone (sternum) and scapula (shoulder blade), a cat’s collar bones are attached only to muscle.
A cat can thus squeeze its body into any space big enough to accommodate their head.
How can a cat tell if it will be able to fit through a hole?
According to JaneA Kelley, a writer for Catster, a cat uses its whiskers to determine if it will be able to fit through an opening.
The length of the whiskers about the nose generally equals the width of the cat’s body. The cat can thus use its whiskers to determine how wide an opening is and if they will be able to fit through it.
A cat’s whiskers are extremely sensitive. They are rooted more deeply in the skin than is the cat’s fur. There is also a lot of nerves and blood cells surrounding the whiskers’ hair follicles, so the whisker tips can detect even when a light breeze changes direction.
With that kind of sensitivity, a cat has no trouble telling whether it can fit its head through an opening. The rest of its body will be able to follow unless the cat is very fat.
In an article for Vetstreet, Dr. Mary Fuller adds more details about whiskers. They are sometimes also called “tactile hair,” which Dr. Fuller considers something of a misnomer, for the whiskers themselves don’t feel anything.
Objects that touch the whisker, however, make it vibrate, and the nerves in the whisker’s hair follicle pick up those vibrations. Scientists, therefore, call whiskers “vibrissae,” which is derived from vibro, the Latin word for “to vibrate.”
A cat can also use its whiskers to express mood. For example, if the cat’s whiskers are drawn back against her its cheeks, they indicate that she is scared or angry.
Whiskers that are thrust forward indicate an alert or excited cat, while whiskers in a normal position indicate a calm and relaxed cat.
Why do cats like boxes and other confined spaces?
According to BoredPanda, Another well-known Internet meme involving cats is “If it fits, I sits,” which is always accompanied by pictures of cats squeezing themselves into improbably tiny places like baskets, tea kettles, egg cartons, and shoes.
Skirmantė, a writer for Bored Panda, provides some examples of this odd behavior.
There are, however, limits to a cat’s ability to squeeze into something small.
The following video shows a young Maine Coon trying to stuff itself into a Kleenex box – only to discover that it does have to obey some of the laws of physics, after all.
So, why do cats try to squeeze themselves into boxes and other confined spaces? Cats are both predators and prey.
They are ambush predators that rely on stealth to get close to a prospective meal. A good hiding place helps that with that endeavor.
On the other hand, cats are small enough to be prey to a bigger predator. A good hiding place can help the cat avoid getting eaten.
A hiding place that is also snug means that nothing can follow the cat inside. Cats also like places and items that let them see out, so they can determine when the coast is clear.
How do cats always land on their feet?
Actually, they sometimes don’t, but cats do have a knack for landing on their feet during a fall. Sam Sarkis, a writer for Animal Planet, explains how a cat rights itself during a fall.
Like humans and other mammals, cats have a vestibular system in their inner ear. These organs govern the cat’s sense of balance and spatial awareness.
The cat can thus tell where it is in relationship to the ground and wherever or not it is upside down. During a fall, the cat will turn its head until it is facing the proper direction.
A cat also has more vertebrae than does a human: 30 to our 24. A cat’s spine is thus significantly more flexible than is a human’s. That spine will twist until the cat’s legs are perpendicular to the ground.
The cat will relax and spread out its body to slow its descent in the same way that somebody using a parachute does.
A cat’s ability to right itself during a fall is an instinctive behavior. Kittens develop it when they are around six weeks and have the necessary coordination.