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Why Are Cats So Flexible? (A Cat’s Physiology Explained)

Posted in: Cat Care - Last Updated: June 6, 2023 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Care 
Last Updated: June 6, 2023  
Author:  Dexter Jones

If there's one thing worth knowing about cats, it's that they "always land on their feet". And while this isn't "technically" true, there's no denying that these animals are incredibly flexible with tremendous levels of balance.

And it isn't just in falling and catching themselves. Cats exhibit high levels of balance, can run between 20-30 mph (top speed) and their incredible have a righting reflex.

They display extreme flexibility in how they walk, jump, and climb things, as well as how they can be seen playing around. But why are cats so flexible?

why are cats flexible

The reason for this is that a cat's spine has over 50 vertebrae, all of which play a huge role in their flexibility.

For context, cats have more vertebrae than any other animal out in the wild, which speaks to how they can move the way that they do compare to dogs or birds.

In this article, we'll spend some time going over the different variables that go into a cat being flexible, namely the different bones in its body. We'll also go into why cats tend to be more flexible compared to other animals, with some of the reasons that may be quite a shocking development.

Why Cats Are So Flexible?

As mentioned earlier, cats have a unique skeletal structure with over 50 different skeletal vertebrae (53 individual bones in total), with all of them playing an important role in their levels of flexibility. In reality, however, it isn't just their vertebrae that impact their flexibility. Virtually the whole of the cat's skeleton goes to this issue. 

How Are Cats So Flexible?

The biggest areas of a cat's structure that contribute to its flexibility are:

  • The Vertebrae: The vertebrae, as stated, are made up of 53 different individual spinal bone disks. This is over 20 more when compared to humans, which have only 33 vertebrae. This increased amount helps a cat's spine rotate its torso a complete 180 degrees, while humans may only rotate their body's torso around 90 degrees.
  • The Spine: Cats have a very elastic and flexible spine. This allows them the ability to stretch their bodies in otherwise uncommon and abnormal positions that other animals simply are not capable of doing. These stretches essentially allow a cat to "liquefy" themselves and sleep and relax in what many would assume to be wholly uncomfortable.
  • The Collarbone: Cats are known for having very small collarbones. It's because of these collarbones that cats are able to flatten themselves and move through smaller and tighter spaces. It also is ideal for helping them ambush their prey.
  • The Shoulders: Compared to humans and dogs, cats don't have shoulder blades that are attached to their body via bone, but rather through their muscles. When used in tandem with the other aspects of a cat's skeletal system, they can lengthen their bodies while also increasing their overall flexibility. This is also why their shoulder blades can be seen moving so prominently as they walk.
why are cats so flexible

Why A Cat Needs To Be Flexible 


The first reason cats require so much flexibility is, balance is incredibly important. One of the reasons why cats are precious about their tails is that their spine extends out into them. As such, they play a significant role in affecting a cat's overall posture and balance. 

By extending their tail, cats are able to maintain balance while walking along narrow platforms and spaces. It's similar to how a human might hold their hands out to either side to similarly keep themselves upright and balanced. 


In addition to the impressive overall range of motion and balance, cats use their flexibility to stay incredibly agile. Cats can jump upwards of nine times their height and will (almost) always land on their feet. 

Not only that, but, between their elastic cushioning discs, body structure, and the pads on their feet, cats are able to brace themselves for the impact of falling, ensuring that they don't suffer any injuries.

Speaking specifically about their electric short bursts and jumping prowess, a cat's flexibility is required to help them launch themselves into trees or jump from surface to surface even if there is a considerable distance between the two areas. 

If you watch a cat as they're jumping, you'll likely see them arching its spine before extending its legs out. Then, once reaching their location, they'll land with their legs bent, this again meant to reduce any chance of harming themselves.

how flexible are cats

Natural Predators

As far as handling actual wildlife issues, cats require a more flexible body to better stalk and pounce their prey. As cats are naturally predatory towards very small and very fast animals, they need to be able to attack them quickly before they can escape. 

Animals like different rodents, reptiles, and birds are all known for their speed and agility. It's because of this that cats have adapted to hunt and stalk their prey before ambushing them.

When spotting prey, cats will stretch out their spines, lengthening them and extending their back. 

This is required to give them longer strides (able to reach as high as 20-30 miles per hour). Cat flexibility and multiple vertebrae allow cats the ability to move into smaller and tighter spaces such as through relatively small openings that you'd otherwise not expect them to move through.

Cleaning Themselves 

Lastly, it's understood that cats are clean and hygienic creatures. And while we'd like to say it's simply because they like to look their best, the reality is that cats are often the prey of other larger animals and are known for having a particularly noteworthy smell (an easy example of this is their cat feces). 

Cats have to clean virtually their entire bodies in order to eliminate any body odor or smell to better protect them while out in the wild.

As a result of this, cats have a 180-degree rotating torso that allows them to reach virtually every part of their body. This can range from their genital and anal regions to the small of their back and lower hips. 

When you compare the cleaning process for cats and other felines with dogs, birds, and just about any other animal, you'll see that cats pretty much take the win in terms of how much of their body they can reach.

how are cats flexible

Read this next: Why Is My Cat Limping?

Why Are So Cats Flexible? Summary

Cats are an incredible species with fascinating anatomy. Whether it's how fast they are, some of their actions done throughout the day, whether they walk without limbs, or even just how flexible their bodies are, it's obvious that they are wholly unique among the entirety of the animal kingdom.

Now that you've had a chance to see how and why cats are so flexible, you'll have a lot more appreciation for why he can pretty much clean his entire body or do some incredible rotational movements while also being so incredibly agile

Oh, and one interesting fact: For fans of yoga, the "cat pose" (also known as the Marjariasana) was actually inspired by the cat's more common stretching movements. 

You can often see cats doing this stretch after waking up from a nap or after laying down in a particular area for a long time. This stretch is known for being great on the lower back as well as the core muscles of the body.

In other words, even in real life, we can be seen benefiting from a cat's stretching.

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.