The Cat In Motion (The Essential Cat)

The Cat In Motion

The movement of a cat must match its role as a hunter, often of fast moving and agile prey. The cat's body must provide rapid acceleration, a burst of high speed and nimbleness in order to change course smoothly and to cope with variations in the terrain. It must be silent and allow for attacks with paws or bites with jaws while the cat is still in motion. It must also permit athletic leas and jumps. The cat's particular built is perfectly designed to achieve all this.


Because the feline predator must save its strength for the brief dash of the finale charge, it has learned how to conserve energy at other times.

The cat therefore walks with minimum expenditure of energy. it places its feet in a diagonal pattern, left hind foot followed by right hind foot and finally left fore foot. The fore and hind limbs do not move simultaneously, but slightly out of phase, with the hind one moving slightly in advance of the fore.

The animal's centre of gravity it set towards the head, with the fore limbs supporting the frame and actually exerting a slightly retarding effect. The push forward comes from the hind legs.

As mentioned earlier, true cats have digitigrade feed; they walk on the tips of their toes. Such an arrangement, comparable with the human athlete who sprints along on the tips of his or her toes, is ideal for running.


The cat is a sprint specialist, a Carl Lewis rather than a Sebastian Coe. When it runs its limbs are totally extended in the air. While the fore feet are on the ground, the highly flexible spine bends like a spring allowing the rear end to continue moving forwards in an uninterrupted fluid fashion. This system enables a cat to increase its speed by stretching its trunk fully and lengthening its stride, rather than increasing the number of times the feet hit the ground. At the gallop the retardation forces exerted by the contact of limbs with the ground completely disappear.

While domestic cats can cover about three times their own body length per cycle at full speed (around 31 mph or 50 kph) the cheetah can briefly attain 70 mph (112 kph) and perhaps a little more. it is interesting that the cheetah has unique grooves on the pads of its feet that act like the tread of a tyre in giving the animal grip when sprinting, and particularly when changing direction at high speed. Other cats, including domestic ones, have tough, but "treadless" pads.

The arrangement of the limbs of the cat shows adaptations for running, with long feet and relatively short bones near to the chest. The absence of a collarbone and the narrow chest are features which give the animal a longer stride.


The powerful back and hind leg muscles of the cat make it an efficient climber. The fore limbs, stretched forward with their hooked and extended claws, act like a mountaineer's crampons. If they can get a grip, the clawed hind feet will power the body swiftly upwards to another hold. Most climbs begin with an initial leap to gain height.

Good as they are at going up, cats are not any great shakes at coming down! The muscles of the hind limbs cannot be employed to hold the weight of the body back, and the claws curve the wrong way. That is why cats frequently find themselves stuck up trees or are seen letting themselves slither down, rear end first, in rather ungainly and haphazard fashion, relying on their claws to stop them making too undignified a landing.


Curiously, cats stay in trim without having to spend any time working out in a gymnasium or jogging round the park. The luxurious stretching which all cats indulge in may somehow provide all the exercise necessary to keep the animals in tip-top condition.

A complete lack of conventional exercise, combined with gross over feeding by doting humans eventually produces obesity, but this generally does not bring with it the ill-health and curtailed life one would expect in dogs and their owners. Cats seem to have mastered the secret of a life of leisure.