Cats' Amazing Ability to Survive Falls

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Your chance of surviving a fall of 50 feet (approximately 4 stories) is about 50%, while almost no one who falls 6 stories will be around to tell their tale. However, in a study conducted by Manhattan veterinarians, Drs. Wayne Whitney and Cheryl Mehlhaff, it was discovered that out of 115 cases of cats falling (accidentally) from multi-story heights, 90% of them survived. An even more surprising result is that if a cat falls from more than 7 stories its chance of survival doubles, compared to a cat having fallen from 2 to 7 stories (a story averages about 12 feet). No wonder cats are fabled to have nine lives. It turns out that the two most important variables which contribute to the cat's survival are its ability to land on its feet and its reaching terminal velocity (both of which involve a fair deal of physics).

Whitney & Melhaff's Study

Cats' apparent fearlessness concerning heights leads to many accidental falls. In fact so many cats are brought to veterinarians for treatment after a fall, that in 1976 Dr. Gordon Robinson coined the term feline high-rise syndrome to describe the resulting pattern of injuries. Eleven years later Drs. Wayne Whitney and Cheryl Mehlhaff at the Animal Medical Center in Manhattan conducted a study over a five month period on cats brought in for treatment after a fall. They compiled a database of 115 cats who fell a range of two to thirty-two stories, primarily ending their falls on concrete pavement. The mean fall was 5.5 stories. Three of the cats were dead upon arrival and 8 more died in the next twenty-four hours, leaving 104 living cats or about 90%. This is a remarkable statistic.

When the height the cats fell is taken into account, it is found that only 5% of the cats who fell seven ...

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... a small amount of mass, but also their ability comes from their flying squirrel (relaxed) posture upon reaching terminal velocity and from their superb inner gyroscope.

Works Cited

* Diamond, Jared. "How Cats Survive Falls from New York Skyscapers," Natural History 20-26; August 1989.

* Diamod, Jared. "Why cats have nine lives," Nature 332, 586-587; April 14, 1988.

* Fredrickson, J. E. "The tail-less cat in free-fall," The Physics Teacher. 27, 620-625; November 1989.

* Halliday, David, Robert Resnick and Jearl Walker. Fundamentals of Physics, 5th ed. John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1997.

* Mehlhaff, Cheryl and Wayne Whitney. "High-rise syndrome in cats," J. Amer. Vet. Med. Assoc. 191, 1399-1403;1987.

* "Terminal Velocity," Discover 9,10; August 1988.

* Von Baeyer, Hans Christian. "Swing Shift," The Sciences 30, 2-4; May/June 1990.

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