Everybody who has spent some minutes watching how cats play, move or behave, will have realised their precision and coordination, especially when they are compared to other animals.
Cats own a lot of sensors inside their bodies like the ones in their pads which indicate to them in which position the different parts of their bodies are and also the data provided by their hearing and visual capacities together with the balance organ located in the inner ear.
Multiple data is processing continuously and an almost perfect system of integration in the cerebellum allows them a very fast and efficient capacity to respond.
This system provides cats with reflex responses towards certain stimuli; for instance the stimulus of falling, so if there is enough distance to the floor, they will always fall on their feet. Such a reflex is called a ‘straightening reflex’ because when cats receive information from their vision and balance organs, their head and neck are automatically turned in order to get their head and column straight and balanced, turning the rest of the body and legs from head to tail, getting their forelegs down to semi-flexion to soften the impact. At the same time the tail is counterbalancing.
This reflex is very useful, but it is not infallible. There are times that cats fall into a bad position, especially when the turns are not straight and the body twists. Also there must be enough space for the cat to turn; if not, it will fall on its side. On the other hand, if the distance is very high, the cat may fall on its feet, but it may fracture its legs, head, spine, etc. Kittens will soon learn which is the right way to jump down off a surface, but as in all things, there are times that things go wrong.
Undoubtedly, cats own many skills, although living nine lives is not one of those. In the same way, they are very skilful enabling them to climb up, jump, hunt and fall on their feet, although they are especially clumsy in their behaviour towards cars. It is common to see cats get into the middle of a road when cars are passing. I have been able to watch some cats that have stopped when they got into the road and then they have got themselves killed because they have stopped there suddenly when cars were passing.
Cats will teach their kittens how to play and what is the right way to do things, but if you have a kitten it is up to you to train it so they don’t hurt you or themselves when they are playing. What is fun in a kitten can become very annoying in a full grown cat. A gentle nip from a kitten can become a blood-drawing bite from an adult cat and it is much easier to train a kitten than retrain an adult. They have no way of knowing what is right or wrong unless they are taught.
The games that kittens love to play are those that will help develop their natural instincts; games like chasing and pouncing on things help train them to catch their own food such as mice. Be prepared for your kitten to practice on you. Kittens love to hide behind things and leap out at you as you walk past. As kittens, they are not really aware of the significance of what they are doing. To them, it is just a fun game. However, it is essential for their growth and maturity that they be allowed to practice this behaviour.
Article written in conjunction with Paco,
Clinica Veterinaria, Puerto de Mazarrón