Cats are capable of some breathtaking feats of athletics. There’s the “I’ve caught a nice fat vole and my owner’s coming after me” dash, the “Just heard the fridge opening” sprint, the 3 am hallway marathon and, of course, the “I was on top of this cat tree first” wrestling match. As well as these displays of speed and strength, cats are also capable of balletic grace. They daintily walk along fence-tops, balance their entire bodies on narrow shelves and take death-defying leaps to get over barriers or from one high spot to another. The Kitty Olympics could be a televised sporting event.
How high can a cat jump? With a run-up, a young, healthy cat can jump roughly five times her own length (measured from nose to hindquarters, excluding the tail). An average-sized cat can often clear two and a half meters (just under nine feet) with a running jump. Larger cats can sometimes leap even higher.
If you’ve found this page, you probably have questions about how high a cat can jump.
- How high can a cat jump straight up?
- How high can cats fall without injury?
- Which cats can jump the highest?
Perhaps you’re thinking about escape-proofing your yard to give your cat a secure “catio” so she can play outside. Maybe you’ve seen some of your cat’s high-jumps and are concerned she might get hurt. Whatever your questions, you’ve come to the right place. Just read on to find out more about your cat’s amazing abilities and how you can make her environment safer.
How high can a cat jump?
How high a cat may be able to jump will depend to a large degree on the cat’s size, age, and state of health. A long, lean, muscular cat will be able to jump much higher than a small cat with a chunky frame. A fit and healthy one-year-old animal will be able to jump significantly higher than a small kitten or a senior cat who is developing arthritis.
It’s much easier to state the maximum length of a cat’s jump. According to the Guinness Book of Records, the record for the longest cat jump is 213.36 centimeters. This is held by Waffle the Warrior Cat, who lives in Big Sur, California, USA.
Estimates of a cat’s high-jumping ability vary. One figure commonly bandied around is between five or six times the cat’s length (taken from the animal’s nose to the base of her tail but not counting the tail itself). Based on my experience of cats, this sounds about right. While I have seen particularly long and agile cats clear a six-foot fence from a standing start, most kitties would struggle with anything higher.
The figure of “five or six times a cat’s length” is obviously subject to certain limitations; as a cat gets longer, she also tends to be heavier and thus needs more strength to get off the ground. A generously proportioned Maine Coon should theoretically be able to leap as much as three and a half meters — a feat I find rather dubious. With a decent run-up, it might be possible for a particularly agile cat to get over a 3.5m fence but it would be a scramble. On the whole, I would say that most cats would not manage anything close to that kind of height.
The commonest reason for wanting to know a cat’s vertical jumping ability is the desire to cat-proof your backyard or some other enclosed space. This might be to keep strange cats out of your garden. More usually, it’s to keep your own cat in. I fully endorse the use of the “catio” as a way to give indoor kittens some fresh air and a change of scene. That said, you’ll need more than a high fence. A cat-proof enclosure should at least have a fence that is angled inwards at the top; you can get hinged elements for the top of your fence that will bend inwards if your cat grabs them, deterring further climbing.
I would also recommend covering the enclosure with a mesh or at least strings or wires a few inches apart. It might sound excessive but it will help keep your cats from climbing out. It also means that your pets will be safer. Cats are surprisingly vulnerable to attacks by birds of prey; kittens and young adults can even be carried off. Even common birds such as gulls, crows and magpies can harass a cat and may cause some nasty injuries. Mesh or lines over the enclosure can thwart these attacks.
How high can a cat jump straight up?
The very highest leaps that a cat can produce are those assisted by a good run-up. From a standing start, it’s much harder to gain height — even so, some nimble kitties can achieve surprising heights. As we have seen, much depends on the animal’s physical fitness and configuration. The animal’s breed is important too — some breeds are just excellent jumpers regardless of their age.
One example is the Burmese, a particularly agile breed. I once observed an elderly Burmese sitting under a skylight that was a good meter and a half from the floor, chattering angrily at some birds who had perched on the exterior frame where she could see them. This seasoned huntress suddenly hurled herself upwards toward the skylight, managing to bat it with her paw. Sadly — or fortunately, from the perspective of the birds — she was thwarted by the glass. If the window had been open I have no doubt she would have got her intended prey. Even in her late teens, she could rocket into the air without the need for a run-up.
Because cats can be such champion jumpers, their play equipment needs to be generously sized so that they can exercise their muscles to the fullest. I really like cat trees and multi-tiered habitats that go up to 1.8 meters or more. Even a high shelf of suitable breadth and with a cat-friendly covering gives a cat something to jump for.
Highest jumping cats
To find the highest jumping cats in the world, we’d need to look outside of the domestic sphere and consider the house-cat’s mighty feline cousins: the big cats.
Lions and tigers are notable jumpers but are known more for the distance they can cover than the heights they can attain. Leopards are impressive jumpers, able to travel six meters (20 feet) in a single bound. The lion can cover seven and a half meters in a leap (around 25 feet), while tigers can jump even further: over nine meters, or 30 feet. None of them, however, can really jump very high — at least not in comparison to other members of the great cat tribe.
No, the high-jump champion of the feline world is the puma (Puma concolor), also known as the cougar or mountain lion. These magnificent animals have been known to leap to some extraordinary heights. It’s difficult to pin down a realistic estimate as there are many tall tales; one figure mentioned is an astonishing five and a half meters (18 feet) straight into the air, while a more conservative estimate would be four and a half meters (15 feet). This makes them one of the highest jumping animals on the planet, out-jumping even the impala and the fabled klipspringer. It’s lucky that domestic cats can’t jump quite that high or we’d never be able to keep them in the yard. The puma can also run at tremendous speeds: pumas have been clocked at 80 kilometers per hour (50 mph), although they can only sustain this kind of performance over shorter distances. The key to the puma’s jumping abilities and turn of speed is the powerful muscles in its hind legs.
How high can cats fall?
There’s some truth to the old saw that cats always land on their feet. Domestic cats can survive falls from terrifying heights; although they may sustain significant injuries, they can make a full recovery from a fall that looks impossibly dangerous.
It’s important to state here that falling is never good for cats. Even a poorly landed jump from a modest height can leave your pet with a strained limb or two, while falls from greater heights can cause significant, and even life-threatening, injuries. The falls discussed in this section are presented as examples of what a cat may survive, not what is safe or tolerable for your beloved pet.
Much of the information we have on the domestic cat’s ability to survive a fall comes from a study that appeared in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. This looked at 132 cats who’d been brought to the vet after sustaining a serious fall.
A lot will depend on the cat’s size, age and state of health. Because the average domestic cat is so small, her terminal velocity (the maximum velocity attainable by a falling cat) is quite low — just under 100 kph or around 60 mph. This means that while she may strike the ground with enough force to sustain serious injuries, she’s got a good chance of surviving the incident. Cats have even survived falls from tower blocks and other dangerously high locations.
To make things even more bizarre, cats who fall from heights over 7 stories are less likely to sustain serious injuries than cats who fall from heights of five stories or so. It’s theorized that this is because the extra distance allows the cat to swivel in the air and adopt a “flying fox” posture, which slows her decent. Cats have been known to fall from over 20 stories up and survive. It should be reiterated, however, that no falls are truly safe for cats. If you live above the ground floor, keep your cat inside and supervise her if you have a window open.