Do cats really have nine lives?

A cat in the US city of Boston survived a fall from a 19-storey window and only bruised her chest. This cat was lucky but many, if not most, would have severe lung damage, would have a broken leg or two or three or four, maybe have damage to the tail, and maybe more likely than any of that a broken jaw or dental damage.

The cat’s owner Brittney Kirk, a nurse, left the window open a crack on Wednesday morning to give Sugar some air. Sugar got out and either fell or leapt off the ledge and hit a patch of grass and mulch.

An animal rescue service found her and traced her back to Ms Kirk through a microchip embedded in her skin.

“She’s a tough little kitty,” Ms Kirk told the Boston Globe newspaper.

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How do cats survive falls from such great heights?

Cats’ remarkable ability to survive falls from great heights is a simple and predictable matter of physics, evolutionary biology, and physiology, veterinarians and biologists say.

Cats are essentially arboreal animals: when they’re not living in homes or in urban alleys, they tend to live in trees. Sooner or later, they’re going to fall, biologists say. Cats, monkeys, reptiles and other creatures will jump for prey and miss, a tree limb will break, or the wind will knock them over, so evolution has rendered them supremely capable of surviving falls.

If given enough time – cats are able to twist their bodies like a gymnast, astronaut or skydiver and spin their tails in order to position their feet under their bodies and land on them. Cats can also spread their legs out to create a sort of parachute effect.

However, house cats in urban or suburban areas tend to be overweight and in less than peak physical condition. That detracts from their ability to right themselves in midair.

The lesson learned: safety screens, please, on the windows.