The two main reasons why cats can jump so high is because most of their muscles consist of fast-twitch fatiguing cells. They give the cat its speed and these muscles allow them to jump several times their own length in a single bound but they use up all the energy in an instant. The second main reason is that they have long levers and flexible bodies.
Muscle tissue consists of three different types of cells:
- Fast-twitch fatiguing cells. These work very quickly but they tire quickly as well;
- Fast-twitch fatigue-resistant cells which work quickly and tire more slowly and;
- Slow-twitch cells which as the name suggests work relatively slowly but also tire more slowly.
A cat’s hindquarters are very powerful but the body works in unison so it is not just the hindquarters which are pushing off but the rest of the body is thrusting forwards. The domestic cat is a sprinter rather than a long-distance runner. They are poor endurance athletes. The sort of energy they expend in order to make high jumps and run fast would mean that they would overheat if they did this for any length of time. The cheetah overheats after about 400 yards.
The domestic cat has a floating shoulder. The forelimbs are connected to the rest of the body by muscle. The cat’s clavicle floats and is anchored in place by muscle. This anatomy allows the cat to lengthen its stride and enhances its range of motion. I would argue that this also helps in jumping.
The domestic cat’s skeleton has evolved to allow it to burst into high-speed action and to be highly agile and dextrous. The cat’s foot is the entire portion of the leg below the hock. Their feet look as if they are part of the leg. They have a very long foot if you like and as they walk on their toes (digitigrades) it adds leverage to the jumping and leaping action. Long levers are the bones which allow people and animals to run faster and jump longer. The physics can be seen in those devices that you can buy to throw a tennis ball further for your dog to chase. You place the ball at one end and you hold onto the opposite end and employ a throwing action. They are about 2 feet long. This adds an extra lever.
Savannah cat jump
The F1 Savannah cat has the best jump of all the domestic cats:
Power to weight ratio
I don’t think this is written about a lot but it is clear that cats have a higher power to weight ratio than normal. It’s a bit like cars. If you build a car with a lightweight material such as aluminium it will accelerate much faster than a vehicle made with steel with the same engine as there is less enertia. Cats are well endowed with muscles and levers and they are relatively lightweight. I am speaking primarily of the domestic cat here.
The lion is not the best jumper among all the other cats because it is built quite heavily with very strong forelegs and shoulders (for grabbing and holding massive prey animals). They are like middle-weight boxers in human terms. Whereas the more lightweight cats such as the caracal, the serval and the cheetah are better jumpers. The leopard, too, is a fantastic jumper as is the mountain lion a.k.a. the puma.
The caracal, a medium-sized wild cat species, in my opinion is the most powerful vertical jumper of all the cat species and attains the highest height in a single jump. Their prowess in this respect allows them to catch birds in flight on take off. As to horizontal jumping I would reckon that the puma is the most impressive.