How Fast Can A Cat Run?

Many cat parents often think of their cats as lazy furballs that like to just lounge around the house all day. Cats can sleep up to 20 hours a day, and this is true not only for our domestic house cats, but for wild cats like lions as well (NSF). But we are also aware that cats are highly athletic and agile. Many cats are ambush predators, meaning they stalk and chase their prey. Cats conserve their energy for these intense bursts of activity so that they are able to run down their food (NSF). In order to chase down their prey, cats have to be skilled runners. We all know that cheetahs are fast, but have you ever thought about how fast other cats, including our pet cats, can run?

How Fast Can A Cat Run?

On average, a domestic cat can run up to 30 miles per hour.  However, factors such as age, breed, gender, health status, and motivation will affect running speed.

While the average running speed for cats is 30 miles per hour, not all cats are built the same. Some cats may be faster and more agile than others, and the  factors mentioned above can certainly affect a cat’s ability to run and influence their overall speed.

How Does Age Affect A Cat’s Running Speed?

Animals of different ages have different physiological abilities, and this includes running ability. In humans, running ability can peak in the mid- to late-20s for most people (Lara et al., 2014). It can be assumed that this same pattern is seen in other mammals as well. When animals are younger, they are still growing and developing their brains and bodies. It might take animals through puberty and into early adulthood to gain full strength and ability. Racing horses and greyhounds often will not start training for races until they are about 1 or 2 years of age, and many are retired by the time they are 4-5 years of age, as that is when physical ability begins to decline (GRA; Gramm & Marksteiner, 2010). The same can be assumed of cats. It may take cats 1-2 years to fully develop their brains and bodies to running, then their performance may start to dwindle by the time they are 4 years of age.

How Does Breed Affect A Cat’s Running Speed?

Similar to dogs, domestic cat breeds were bred and used for different purposes, which may affect their athletic ability and running speed. The Egyptian Mau is the fastest cat breed and can reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. Other speedy breeds include the Abyssinian, Somali, Bengal, Savannah, Manx, Siamese, Ocicat, and Oriental (Becker, 2015). Many of these breeds are high-energy cats with muscular, lean bodies, which helps them perfect their sprinting abilities. If you have any of these breeds at home, you can probably attest to their high levels of energy!

On the other hand, some of the bigger cat breeds, such as the Maine Coon or Ragdoll, may not be as quick and agile. Breeds of cats with different physiological characteristics also may not have great athletic abilities. They include cats with short legs, such as Munchkins, or brachycephalic cats, like Persians and Himalayans.

How Does Gender Affect A Cat’s Running Speed?

Studies on running speeds in humans and mice have shown that on average, males are faster than females (Rezende et al., 2006; Cheuvront et al., 2005). The reasons for differences between male and females in their athletic ability are due to their aerobic capacity, muscular strength (Cheuvront et al., 2005), and the overall mechanical differences of their bodies (Ferber et al., 2003). These differences likely carry over to other mammals, including cats. However, lionesses are known to be faster than lions, reaching speeds of 45 miles per hour compared to 35 miles per hour, respectively. This is likely due to the fact that they are smaller and that their role in the pride is to catch prey, whereas the role of the lion is to use his brawn to protect the pride from outside threats.

How Does Health Status Affect A Cat’s Running Speed?

Cats that are sick or injured will be less physically capable of reaching top running speed than healthy cats. Cats are great at hiding their illness and injuries. A cat who likes to run around the house but is suddenly less active should be monitored closely, and possibly brought to the veterinarian if other symptoms are noticed.

How Does Motivation Affect A Cat’s Running Speed?

Wild and feral cats depend on their athletic abilities to survive, whether for hunting prey to eat or running away from predators. Cats in a life or death situation will be much more motivated to reach top speeds than house cats that are merely chasing toys around the house.

Why Are Cats So Fast?

Cats have a number of physiological features that make them so fast. Cats have an aerodynamic body shape, which reduces wind resistance when they are running, helping to improve their efficiency. Cats also walk on their toes, known as digitigrade locomotion (humans walk flat on their feet, known as plantigrade locomotion). Digitigrade locomotion helps cats spring into action in a matter of seconds, which is helpful for stalking and ambushing prey. Cats have powerful back legs that help propel them forward while running. If you watch closely when a cat runs, you can see that the back legs extend outside of the front legs. The spine and tail of a cat help it to move quickly and sharply while maintaining their balance.

What Are The Ranges Of Running Speeds In Cats?

Below is a chart to provide perspective on where the house cat ranks.

Cats

Top Running Speed (mph)

Cheetah

75

Jaguarundi

60

African Lion

50

Caracal

50

Lynx

50

Mountain Lion

50

Serval

50

Clouded Leopard

40

Snow Leopard

40

Ocelot

38

Jaguar

37

Leopard

37

Fishing Cat

34

Bobcat

30

House Cat

30

Sand Cat

25

Tiger

24

 

Why Do Cats Run Around Like Crazy?

You may notice that your cat occasionally gets sudden bursts of energy and runs full speed all around the house. This is lovingly called ‘zoomies’ by pet professionals. Cats are ambush predators and will spend most of their day resting to conserve their energy for short bursts of hunting. Our house cats typically do not do much hunting so kitty zoomies are a way for them to blow off some of their pent-up energy. If your cat is prone to doing this at night when you are trying to sleep, then try to redirect their energy by playing with them during the day. This will help them burn off energy and hopefully encourage them to curl up with you at night.  However, there are other reasons why your cat might be running like crazy.

Some cats may also run around the house because there are animals inside or outside the house. If your cat is running around at night, it is possible that they have found mice or rats and are stalking and hunting them. If your cat is running between different windows of the house, chances are that they see an animal outside, such as another cat or maybe even raccoons or possums.

If your cat’s running bouts are coupled with scratching, licking, or twitching of their fur, this could be a sign of a flea infestation or a medical condition known as Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Feline Hyperesthesia Syndrome is not fully understood by veterinarians, but the symptoms of it include short bursts of activity that involve widened pupils, intense scratching and licking of the fur, flailing of the tail, and running around the house. These behaviors may also be accompanied by vocalizations or irritability if you approach. This condition is not life threatening and is thought to be a seizure disorder (CFHC).

Conclusion

Cats are fast and agile predators built for running down prey in short bursts of energy. Even though our house cats may not need to hunt for their food like their ancestors and wild counterparts, they are still specially designed to reach speeds of up to 30 miles per hour. The speed of cats can be influenced by a number of different factors such as breed, age, gender, health status, and motivation, but cats remain incredible athletes. The next time your cat gets a case of the zoomies, admire them as you watch one of the planet’s greatest predators run around your house with their excellent form and agility.

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Works Cited

 Becker, K. 2015. The 9 Fastest Cat Breeds. Healthy Pets Presented by Mercola. Retrieved July 10, 2019.

Buckley, C.E. 2013. Speed is relative (human and animal running speeds): Are you a cheetah, a chicken, or a snail? Faculty and Staff Publications – Milner Library, 46.

Cheuvront, S.N., Carter III, R., DeRuisseau, K.C., and R.J. Moffatt. 2005. Running performance differences between men and women. Sports Medicine 35(12):1017-1024.

Cornell Feline Health Center (CFHV). Hyperesthesia Syndrome. Retrieved July 13, 2019.

Ferber, R., McClay Davis, I., and D.S. Williams III. 2003. Gender differences in lower extremity mechanics during running. Clinical Biomechanics 18(4):350-357.

Gramm, M., and R. Marksteiner. 2010. The effect of age on thoroughbred racing performance. Journal of Equine Science 21(4):73-78.

Greyhound Racing Association of America. Farm Life. Retrieved July 12, 2019.

Lara, B., Salinero, J.J., and J.D. Coso. 2014. The relationship between age and running time in elite marathons is U-shaped. Age 36(2):1003-1008.

National Sleep Foundation (NSF). Sleep habits of cats. Retrieved July 5, 2019.

Rezende, E.L., Kelly, S.A., Gomes, F.R., Chappell, M.A., and T. Garland Jr. 2006. Effects of size, sex, and voluntary running speeds on costs of locomotion in lines of laboratory mice selectively bred for high wheel-running activity. Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches 79(1):83-99.


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