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Among mammals, cats are able to land safely when falling from great heights. For example, when compared to dogs or humans they can survive drops from relative large heights. How do they manage?

A 1987 study from the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Two vets examined 132 cases of cats that had fallen out of high-rise windows and were brought to the Animal Medical Center, a New York veterinary hospital, for treatment. On average the cats fell 5.5 stories, yet 90 percent survived.

See wiki on cats.

How can cats do this?

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    $\begingroup$ insanely good reflexes; too high = broken cat. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 3 '15 at 9:50
  • $\begingroup$ I edited your question quite extensively. If it doesn't reflect your intentions anymore feel free to roll back. $\endgroup$ – AliceD Feb 3 '15 at 10:25
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisStronks - in a study of 132 cats falling from an average height of 5.5 stories (most: 32 stories), about 2/3 required some sort of medical treatment as a result of their fall, and about half of those that required treatment (1/3 of the total cats brought in) would have died without medical aid. $\endgroup$ – anongoodnurse Feb 5 '15 at 5:13
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    $\begingroup$ @ChrisStronks can you add the link to that article? $\endgroup$ – WYSIWYG Feb 5 '15 at 6:33
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that there's a selection bias issue here: If a cat falls out the window and dies, it's unlikely the owner takes it to the vet. Also, if a cat falls out the window and doesn't look hurt, the owner doesn't take it to the vet. This was explored on the podcast/radio show Radio Lab: radiolab.org/story/102525-vertigo $\endgroup$ – jerepierre Feb 5 '15 at 21:11
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The reason why cats are superb jumpers has not received much attention, but one article in Nature was entirely devoted to just this (Diamond, 1988). Here follows a partly quoted and partly adapted text from this article:

First , because mass increases as the cube, but surface area as the square of linear dimensions, falling large animals are in general more injury-prone than small ones, as they suffer greater impact stress, their bones experience greater stress, and they reach higher terminal velocities in free-fall because of a less favorable area/mass ratio. While a small drop breaks an elephant's leg, a falling mouse reaches terminal velocity in the atmosphere much sooner and at a much lower value than do falling elephants.

Second, falling cats have a superb vesti­bular system and make gyroscopic turns such that all four feet are soon pointing downwards, regardless of the cat's orientation at the start of the fall. Hence cats dissipate the impact force over all four limbs. Falling human adults tend to tumble uncontrollably but land most often on two feet, next most often on their heads. These facts contribute to the low mortality of falling cats and to their low chance of breaking limbs after the fall.

Third, a cat falling in the atmosphere reaches a terminal velocity of about 60 m.p.h. (compared with 120 m.p.h. for adult humans) after only about 100 feet. As long as it experiences acceleration, the cat probably extends its limbs reflexively , but on reaching terminal velocity it may relax and extend the limbs more horizontally in flying-squirrel fashion, thus not only reducing the velocity of fall but also absorbing the impact over a greater area of its body. This may explain the para­doxical decrease of mortality and injury in cats that fall more than 100 feet.

Finally, cats that land with their limbs flexed dissipate much of the impact force through soft tissue. Parachutists are trained to dissipate impact forces by landing with knees and hips flexed, then rolling.

Reference
Diamond. Nature 1988; 332:586-7

Further reading
BBC news

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