How Strong Are Cats?


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When looking at our soft little furballs sleeping on our lap it’s easy to forget that they’re also keen hunters that are capable of surviving wild nature and even urban settings.

Underestimating a cat’s strength might have to do with their small size, but if you’ve ever had to hold your kitty still during a vet consultation, then you know that they’re much stronger than they look.

But how strong are cats? Cats have strong and flexible bodies, quick reflexes, they’re also equipped with sharp teeth and retractable claws, which makes them tough and capable hunters. Thanks to the powerful muscles in their back legs, they can also jump about six times their height.

If you want to know more about how strong your cat is and how they use their unique strengths in their favor, then let’s get right into it!

How Strong Are Cats?

Our cat’s strength lies in their musculoskeletal system. Their light, but incredibly sturdy bone structure and their lithe muscles have evolved for a lifestyle that’s based on sudden bursts of speed, combined with dexterous agility.

We’ve all seen our cats jump to what can seem like impossible heights and observed their fast reflexes during play or as they catch a bird as it tries to fly away. Our feline companions have a complex network of muscles which gives them their sleek look, but their muscle power also helps them make swift and agile movements, and it provides them with the ability not only to catch their prey but also to escape from potential predators and threats.

Cats also have a relatively strong bite force, which studies have shown that it’s influenced by their overall body mass. It’s also important to remember that cats don’t go for large prey, instead, they look for small-sized animals like mice, rabbits, and birds that they can eat in one sitting, so being quick as well as lethal is crucial to their survival.

How strong a domestic cat is also depends on their breed, gender, size, and their nutritional history. For instance, large breeds like a Maine Coon or a Norwegian Forest cat will most likely be stronger than a small or even an average-sized cat. If we were to compare them pound for pound, then there wouldn’t be much difference since they’re a part of the same feline group of domesticated cats.

Are Cats Stronger Than Dogs?

Once again getting a clear answer isn’t easy. If a cat gets into a fight with a large or even a medium-sized dog, it has some advantages and some disadvantages. Cats have sharp claws; quick reflexes and they experience the world through a dual lens, meaning they’re both hunted and they’re the hunter. One quick sprint and a single jump can help them escape even the most confident dog, and if they decide to climb a tree then the deadly canine jaws become useless.

Our feline companions could also disable a dog by blinding them and hurting their nose, and while the attack won’t be fatal it should push the dog away. But if a cat gets caught then the dog’s attack can become fatal, clearly because of the size difference and the dog’s force bite. Research that studied cranial dimensions and forces of bite in the domestic dog showed that “the effects of cranial shape interact with those of size, particularly in small dogs, in which brachycephalic breeds appear to have lower bite forces relative to short-faced dogs of larger size.”

So, the amount of damage a dog could do to a cat will also depend on the breed, and it’s possible that a feline retaliation against a small dog can prove far more dangerous for the dog. It’s important to remember that large dogs are used to hunting cat-sized prey, cats, on the other hand, avoid large animals, and hunt for much smaller prey.

Canines and cats rely on different strengths, David Attenborough states that the wild African dogs, “are the ultimate endurance hunters and the most efficient predators in Africa, relying on teamwork and stamina to bring down some 80 percent of their prey.” Most cats on other hand “are solitary hunters that prey on rodents and other small animals,” says Gary M. Landsberg, BSc, DVM.

A study of 2000 fossils also revealed that “felids – the cat family –  have historically been much better at surviving than the “canid” dog clan, and often at the latter’s expense.” So, while cats might not be physically stronger than a large dog, they definitely have a lot of advantages, especially if we don’t take their size into consideration.

Even if the pound-for-pound strength comparisons between dogs and cats are close, the big difference is that cats have evolved to focus on agility and the evolution of canines has focused on other traits.

Are House Cats Stronger Than Wild Cats?

Of course, in a fight between a wild cat and a domestic cat, the big cats do have a strength advantage, but if we are to compare them in relation to their weight then things are not as straightforward.

Let’s take jumping for example. Domestic cats are known for their strong hind legs that help them jump, and both of my feline companions surprise me now and again by jumping to amazing heights just to get the toy mice I’m dangling above them or when they’re running after a flying bug.

It’s natural to assume that if domestic cats can jump so high up to 8ft ( 2.4m), then their larger cousins should be even better jumpers. To an extent that is correct, since the biggest cat, the Siberian tiger is able to clear 13ft (4m) in one bound, smaller cats like cougars, can reach 18ft (5.5m) in a single upward leap.

Recent research has shown even though cats and wild cats share most of their functions “larger felids have relatively weaker hindlimb muscles than those of their smaller relatives.” Another study published in the Journal of Anatomy also supports this by saying that “larger felid species have relatively weaker anterior postcranial musculature compared with smaller species”

So, while our furry couch potatoes might be stronger jumpers than a large lion, according to a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, “wild cats are much more aggressive by nature, whereas house cats are more likely to form memories and learn through reward-based stimuli, as well as tolerate and even enjoy human interaction and contact, and living with the family dog.”

In other words, a cat’s strongest trait might not be necessarily physical, but it’s their ability to love us!

Are Cats Stronger Than Humans Pound For Pound?

Cat skeletal muscles are quite similar to other species, and according to research, they lie somewhere between “those of frog, rat, and rabbit on the one side and monkey and human on the other side.” So, there is this vague similarity between humans and cats in the way they’re built, but a cat’s skeleton has evolved to be flexible, and capable of quick bursts of speed to hunt and run away from predators. While human skeletons are distinguished by their size and stability, and of course, in comparison to cats, humans are far larger and more powerful.

We also know that  “a cat has roughly 250 bones in its skeleton, compared to the 206 bones of the human skeleton.” These extra bones are responsible for the cat’s flexibility and agility that we as humans obviously lack. We also have 32-34 vertebrae while our kitties have 52 to 53, which once again gives them the advantage of turning and twisting and being slippery, and since they don’t have collarbones and they have a free-floating set of bones in their shoulders they can squeeze through most spaces.

In truth, domestic cats can’t overpower humans, because of the size difference, but they can still cause harm if they try to attack, and they’re capable of escaping. But if our cats came in human sizes then they’d definitely win the fight since they’re pound-for-pound stronger than humans.

What Makes Cats Strong?

Size might be what puts cats at a disadvantage when it comes to larger animals, but that doesn’t mean they can’t put up a fight or show other innate strengths that have helped them survive in this world.

A Dr. Daniele Silvestro, of the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, found that in North America “cats have played a significant role in making 40 dog species extinct, outcompeting them for scarce food supplies because they are generally more effective hunters.”

So, what made cats so successful at outsmarting stronger hunters and catching prey?

Strong Sense Of Smell

We’ve all believed for a long time that dogs have a greater sense of smell than most cats, and to an extent they do. Dogs have more scent receptors than their feline counterparts, however, scientists have also found that “the noses of cats are more sensitive than dogs.”  This is because cats have more receptors responsible for distinguishing between scents.

The sense of smell is extremely crucial when it comes to a cat’s survival, and veterinarians can agree that it’s more advanced than ours by saying, “the human nose contains about 5 million olfactory receptors that detect aromas, while a cat’s nose has 45 to 80 (possibly up to 200) million scent receptors.”

So, their keen noses help them detect prey and predators, keeping them fed and safe!

Strong Sense Of Sight

Another advantage to their agile body, muscle strength, and quick reflexes is their vision. Cats are crepuscular animals, which means that they can see better than most animals and humans during dawn and dusk.

They also have a wider field of view, about 200 degrees, compared to humans which is a 180-degree view. This gives them a greater range of peripheral vision and helps them spot a tasty mouse or a dangerous fox.

Strong Sense Of Hearing

Dr. Carly Patterson, a clinical assistant professor at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences, explains that “cats hear sounds of varying frequencies and they are especially adept at hearing high-frequency sounds.”

This means that the hearing of cats is stronger than that of humans and dogs alike, and it’s one of the broadest hearing ranges among mammals, as it extends from 48 Hz to 85 kHz, meaning that they have both high and low-frequency hearing.

That’s why our feline companions always know when they’re about to be fed no matter where they’re hiding, all they have to do is point their ears towards us and the can we’re about to open!

Strong Sense Of Touch

While the sense of taste isn’t a cat’s strongest feature, touch on the other hand is!

The whiskers that are located in several places on their body are especially sensitive to touch. “The Whiskers are strategically located on a cat’s face to transmit critical sensory information, such as the ability to fit through passageways, potential obstacles, and even a sense of overall balance,” as Dr. Carly Patterson explains.

Their paws are also extremely sensitive to temperature changes and different textures, which explains why they rarely enjoy it when we touch their paws and they’ll be extra protective of them by tucking them in.

Cats Are Incredibly Flexible

While flexibility isn’t necessarily associated with power, it still is what makes a cat a strong and capable hunter.

According to Cornell Center for Materials Research, “from a sitting start, they can spring up to nine times their height, and they can narrow their shoulders and chest to squeeze through almost impossibly tight spaces. In an eye’s blink, they can right themselves in midair and land on their feet and make sudden changes in direction while pursuing and capturing prey.”

Cats are also incredibly fast, thanks to their flexibility, “to reach top speed—about thirty miles an hour—cats lengthen their stride, and thus increase their speed, by alternately extending and flexing their backs.”

If you don’t believe it just check this cat’s 7 feet jump!

This goes to show that a cat can easily escape any “stronger” opponent or attack with incredible speed and ferocity.

How Can You Make A Cat Stronger?

Now I know what some of you might be thinking, how can my cat be this strong if they spend most of their day sleeping? But cats naturally sleep between 12 and 16 hours a day, and as they get older, they might even sleep up to 18 hours or more per day.

Of course, if a cat is overweight, and if they don’t have any physically and mentally stimulating outlets then they’re probably not as strong as they could be, and also not as happy. To make sure that your cat reaches their full strength potential it’s important that you spend a few hours a day playing with them. You could also take them out for a walk if they’re comfortable with a leash. These activities will not only help them release their hunter’s energy but also burn the extra fat.

Proper nutrition should also help keep your kitty strong. To avoid overfeeding you’ll need a food that has no unnecessary fillers, is protein-rich, and has plenty of vitamins. And let’s not forget that a happy and loving environment will help strengthen your relationship and give your kitty a wholesome environment where they can thrive!

Closing Thoughts

I think after this wild ride none of us will ever underestimate the power our cats possess. I mean who knew they were capable of so many things and that their strength could be compared to much larger animals?

I for one will forever see my cats as two brave warriors, even if they spend most of their time sleeping and looking at their bowl for extra refills!

What about you? Did you know how strong cats are and would you trust them to protect you?

Marina Titova

Marina was cat-struck 8 years ago. It was early autumn when Dante, her grey cat, found her and adopted her. They’ve been inseparable ever since. Dante has been a great cat-teacher and BetterWithCats.net seemed like the perfect place to share his cat-knowledge.

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