Cats are graceful and precise movers at all times whether walking calmly or exploding into action, caught up in the fury and excitement of the chase, cats use their muscles with superb economy, efficiency, and elegance. They are almost perfect hunting machines as their highly sensitive sight, hearing and smell senses are able to be acted upon by their equally highly attuned muscles and agility,
Cats are Agile
A cat’s ability to change almost instantly from a quiet, watchful mode to readiness to pounce is characteristic of the whole cat family and is evidence of the keenly balanced sensory world in which the cat lives. If a cat loses a limb in an accident it will usually adapt quickly to its changed circumstances. Although its movements will necessarily be more restricted than before it will usually acquire enough mobility to follow something closely resembling its former mode of life.
In normal walking, a cat puts forward its right foreleg first, followed by its left hindleg, left foreleg, and right hindleg, each foot placed in front of the other in a straight line. In a trot, the intervals between these movements decreases so that the opposite forelegs and hindlegs move at the same time. When the trot turns into a gallop, both powerful hindlegs thrust forward at the same time, leaving the forelegs to take the cat’s weight in turn and giving a characteristic bounce to the hindquarters.
During this change of speed, assuming it’s done as part of a hunting manoeuvre the claws are unsheathed ready for instant use. The one flaw in the cat’s movement equipment, however, is its inability to maintain speed over a long distance. They are sprinters, not long distance runners.
This is a feature that extends right across the cat family, with the sole exception of the cheetah which although by no means a long-distance runner can do an impressive long distance sprint. Prom the tiger to the tiniest Asian wild cat, the other cats’ mode of hunting is by patience and stealth, not speed.
Whether chasing prey or escaping from a threat a cat (except cheetahs) will always choose to jump or climb rather than run.
Jumping and Climbing
Cats can jump six times their height and often seem to enjoy climbing simply for fun. Climbing also enables cats to take up their favourite position of looking down on the passing scene. A cat at a vantage point such as a flat roof overlooking a garden will find enough activity to interest it for a considerable period, cats’ climbing behaviour is strongly linked with their survival instinct as most cat predators are not great climbers – and smaller cats can usually out climb larger cats as well.
At height at cat feels safe, and is able to survey their surrounds. In the home, a cat will often take refuge on top of a cupboard or in some similar refuge if, for example, a strange dog or noisy children arrive. The flexibility of the cat’s spine is another useful attribute if it is chased or threatened, enabling it to wriggle through small openings or escape into inaccessible corners.
Coming down from a climb is more difficult and usually less elegant than going up. The claws point in the wrong direction for a graceful descent, and usually the cat will lower itself backwards in stages until it is near enough to the ground to turn round make a final forward leap. Most of the time cats are able to judge whether they will be able to get down from a climb and when they are caught out high in a tree it’s because they were fleeing danger and didn’t consider getting down rather than chasing prey. Getting stuck up a tree is usually a novice error, with older cats having better appreciation of what is and is not possible, and they are not inclined to pursue a chase that looks like having only a slim chance of success.