Do cats understand gravity?

My neighbor three doors down in my apartment complex has five black cats and two whitish ones.

I have seen one of the whitish ones on the roof above the door and he/she has to leap a distance from a nearby tree to get on/off the roof. Today I saw the cat climb the tree and stand there on the limb for a few moments as if he/she is thinking about the situation.

I wonder if they understand that the higher they are up the faster they will hit the ground? and causing more pain than a short fall. Or curiosity killed the cat and that particular cat just doesn’t care and only wants to be at the highest point to lay down?

Cats get trapped in trees.
Cats don’t get trapped on top of shoe boxes.

Ergo, cats recognize that higher distances are scarier/more dangerous.

I’m not sure how often that actually happens, this cat isn’t scared at all of being in a tree and just runs up and down it.

Most cats seem to be pretty good at judging distances and have some idea of their own physical capabilities so in way they must understand gravity. Even people who have never heard of the word “gravity” tend to quite reluctant to jump off cliffs. There must be something hard-wired into the brain.

If you use a laser pointer to play with a cat they probably think it’s an insect or an animal and have no idea it’s a laser or what a laser is.

When the cat is on the roof and looks down the ground is far away. Do they understand the dynamics of that though? or just that the ground is far away? I think all the cat understands is that it needs to be on a surface to go up and down and not that a higher height means more pain.

I’ve heard it speculated that squirrels are really really good at 3-D spatial understanding, which probably includes the effects of gravity.

Birds probably have a good understanding of gravity, which might be very different from our understanding. Fish probably don’t know much about gravity.

The distance at which falling is dangerous to a cat is much higher than a human. They have a terminal velocity that’s low enough that they can survive from a fall of any height. Your expectation of what’s dangerous for them might not match what they feel for themselves.

A species heavy enough to fall and be seriously injured / die that had no appreciation of the danger of heights would not last very long.

But I doubt that they understand gravity in the sense of accelerating towards earth.

In humans for example our fear of heights is closely associated with our visual system. If the ground is far enough away that there is no noticeable parallax, or our body is rotated so that the ground is not seen by looking straight down, a lot of the fear response is diminished.
So even in humans, the instinct is not based on an awareness of gravity per se.

We don’t understand gravity. Are cats supposed to be some quantum physics geniuses? :stuck_out_tongue:

Cats and most humans alike are completely ignorant of any of the mathematical description of gravity, so in that regard, we’re tied.

On the other hand, most cats are much better than most humans at jumping and landing precisely where they want to, and so in that sense have a better understanding than we do.

They may have been aware of gravity waves long before us. :wink:

Of course cats understand gravity. On a much deeper level than humans. It’s just part of their unfathomable nature. Why do you think Schrodinger put a cat in the box and not a dog? Why would Dr. Seuss make his story the CAT and the hat, not the “Dog on a Log”? Cats are a mysterious race. :wink:

They must be aware of something like gravity because they take it into account when jumping. If they didn’t factor in gravity, they would have far less accuracy.

These catronauts certainly seem to be at a loss in a near zero G environment:
They may not care as much about gravity as we do because they are less vulnerable to injuries from falling a few meters given the square-cube law, paw pads and four-leggedness.
Bonus slow-motion footage of cathletics:

Animals seem to develop a fear of heights at a very specific developmental stage. Experiments with glass floors over a pit with kittens and babies seem to indicate that you can point to an age when the infant critter will cheerfully crawl/walk over the glass, and a later age when they will refuse to budge. Suggests that the innate fear of falling/heights is wired in and gets turned on at defined point in brain development.

Anyone who has tried to rescue a cat out of/off a tree/roof will know that they really really don’t like heights unless they are firmly in control of things. Heavy gloves and a firm grip are prerequisites for completing a rescue unscathed.

Even at short ranges, cats are effective judges of heights. My cat will jump off short heights (couch, etc.) without hesitation; medium heights (bathroom counter) with a short pause; and for higher jumps, will make preparations (such as stretching her body down the side of the dresser to reduce the distance between her center of mass and the floor and give her more length to decelerate).

I have my doubts about squirrels. They clearly don’t understand fractions. I’ve noticed that if a squirrel is 2/3rds of the way across the street and spots a car heading toward it, it will invariably reverse course and run back the way it came instead of simply completing the remaining 1/3rd of the distance. Or maybe that’s a depth-perception problem? :confused:

I had a Time Life book on animal behavior once upon a time with an image of a kitten hesitant to cross such a “barrier”. Apparently this experiment is called a “visual cliff” and has been tested on not just humans, kittens and rats but also cows and turtles. In case you ever wondered if turtles understand gravity.

If the age old truth about cats always landing not their feet I would say they have a better understanding then most.

If a predator catches a squirrel a long away from a tree, one if its common escape techniques is to rapidly change directions with a speed and agility that animals like dogs, and even cats, can’t duplicate.

Unfortunately for the squirrel, it is a less effective way of dealing with cars, but evolution hasn’t quite caught up with the industrial revolution.

The problem with squirrels crossing the street is that they don’t understand the curbs as boundaries, and that cars are constrained within those boundaries. That, and not having a mental compartment for “big thing that’s dangerous but which isn’t actively trying to kill me”.