Cats don’t run often. Often when we catch a glimpse of these independent animals, they are lazily sunning themselves while bathing for another endless hour. Some may wonder if cats run at all aside from sprinting to the water fountain or a quick dash when something unsettles them. Yet, if a cat ran full throttle, it could move much faster than a human. According to Animal Wised, it’s not the speed a cat runs; it’s the way they run. A cat’s body is designed for speed. One of the main differences is that the cat’s gait changes when they run. Typically, a cat uses a pacing gait, moving legs from one side to the other as they walk. This unique characteristic is how cats maintain such excellent balance even if they make an impossible leap off the refrigerator. However, when a cat runs, they change to a diagonal gait; opposite legs on the front and hindquarters move simultaneously, allowing them to run much more freely. Additionally, when a cat is at full speed, they do a double suspension gallop, meaning their feet are entirely off the ground. This gives them less friction and air resistance and allows them to propel themselves forward more freely. These factors can vary depending on a cat’s size and weight.
Biochemist Michael Gunther and scientists decided to study laws that dictate maximum running speeds in the animal kingdom. According to Wired, the Journal of Theoretical Biology published a new study introducing a formula that uses an animal’s leg length and muscle density to determine “which body design elements are the most important for optimizing speed.” The majority of the study focuses on the evolution of the animal as well as their gaits. It’s thought an ecologist will use this study to learn what speed restrictions on animals affect population, habitat, and community in various species. The scientists working on this study feel that understanding these things will advance bipedal walking machines and prosthetics.
German Center for Integrative Biodiversity Research, Myriam Hirt led one of the former studies. One of the things Hirt discovered was that speed has a lot to do with metabolism. Scientists found that larger animals are slower because they run out of energy more quickly. After all, it takes more momentum to accelerate. In theory, this is why a human could outrun a Tyrannosaurus Rex. When Gunther and his team looked at the findings, they were unsure of the validity. They felt that physics might provide better insight. So, they designed a biomechanical model which used forty different combinations of body design, running geometry, and balance. Gunther added a mathematician to the mix to help explain the theory they were working towards.
Math and logic
University of Koblenz-Landau mathematician Robert Rockenfeller co-authored Gunter’s study. Rockenfeller looked at air resistance, also known as drag, the counterbalancing force on each leg; used as the body is propelled forward. He discovered pain doesn’t increase with mass. Instead, it’s what dominates top speed in smaller animals. Thereby, if you were heavy, you would run infinitely fast according to the principle of air drag. Inertia is the second thing that needs to be considered; the resistance of an object when it begins to run. Rockenfeller determined there is a time limit during which animals can accelerate using their own body weight. This happens between the time the foot is on the ground and when it leaves to begin running. Many larger animals are limited because they have more weight to put forward. This leaves animals smaller animals at an advantage. The study found that the optimal weight for superseding air drag and inertia is approximately 100 pounds.
Faster than a speeding cat
Using Rockenfeller’s formula, Gunter determined that a hundred-pound cat could run at approximately fifty miles an hour. The idea of your house cat weighing that much may sound ridiculous. Even Maine Coons only top at 20 or so pounds. However, other studies have shown that not only can a cat top at fifty miles an hour, but this speed is also double what a human being can accomplish. The person to accomplish the fastest land speed record was Olympic star Usain Bolt in 2009, running almost 30 miles an hour. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori co-authored the book, Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet? Which goes into further detail about the fastest breeds of domestic house cats. Since the felines we know and love come in many different shapes and sizes, some can certainly run faster than others if they decided they felt like it. Becker and Spadafori concluded the fastest breed of housecat is the Egyptian Mau, and slower ones included American Shorthairs and other species with shorter limbs and a rounder shape. Yet, even with the different bodies, there is only a fraction of the difference in overall speed. Some of the other fast breeds of cats include Abyssian, Savannah, and Oriental. Humans are slower than cats because we are plantigrade, walking with our toes flat on the ground, allowing us to maintain an upright position and keep our stamina. Cats, on the other hand, are digitigrade; step on their toes. This type of walking will enable them to move much more quickly, similar to how humans sprint on the balls of their feet.
Even though we like to think we are faster than our cats since they lay in the sun all day and go to work and many other things. We could still never outrun a cat if they decided to rouse themselves and make a bee-line somewhere, typically if they hear a can of tuna opening. Humans like to think they have a monopoly and are at the top of the evolutionary hierarchy. Still, we are only as fast as our bodies allow, which pales in comparison to your cat, which is probably lazily watching you as you finish this article.