Cat and dog lovers alike delight in comparing their animal companions’ abilities as much as they enjoy comparing their temperament. But when it comes to jumping ability, cats seem like a clear winner. After all, cats jump around regularly. They can’t seem to resist putting their jumping and pouncing skills to the test. So, can cats jump higher than dogs?
An average cat can jump higher than dogs. Cats can jump approximately 6 times their body length, and average 7-9 ft jump range. Most dogs max out being able to jump about 6 ft. Small dogs, in particular, have a more limited jump, and even large breeds with good overall jumping skills can’t quite keep up with cats.
Of course, the distance or height of a jump isn’t the only way to measure it, and there are many reasons that cats are the better jumpers. In addition to distance, cats tend to be able to jump more precisely, and can safely land on more challenging surfaces. They only need a small space to land on, and the curves of a tree branch are no trouble.
Why Cats Are Better Jumpers Than Dogs
It’s all thanks to their anatomy. Cats of all sizes are predators that like to jump and pounce when they make the kill, and they’ve developed a highly specialized body plan to make that easier.
On the other hand, dogs are designed for a wide variety of different jobs and don’t need to be nearly the jumpers cats do. Since wolves, the ancestor of dogs, are group hunters, they can use vastly different tactics.
It’s All in The Legs
One of the most significant differences between cats and dogs is that cats have a much wider range of motion in their legs. They also have a finer sense of balance, even using their tails to help stay steady on their feet.
Think about it. Your cat can curl their legs under themselves and release a lot of coiled tension in their legs and back very quickly. Their whole bodies are designed to provide a lot of leaping power.
Dogs have a more limited range of motion. And while their balance is outstanding, it’s not nearly as good as most cats.
Since dogs are more about being able to run across the ground, and many breeds are designed with tasks like sheep herding and hunting in mind, they’re much further from their actively prey-hunting ancestors.
Evolution of Leaping Felines
There’s another reason dogs don’t tend to have the leaping power cats do. They are descended from pack hunters, so they didn’t need to be able to stun and immediately kill a prey animal. Dogs, and their wolf ancestors, could rely on there being backup to help them land their prey.
Cats, on the other hand, are mostly solitary hunters. Lions are by far the exception, not the rule. Domesticated cats are all descended from desert cats, which were solo hunters and needed to have the physical abilities and fine reflexes to take down prey on their own.
There are few things as effective as a leaping tackle, a jumping ambush, or taking their prey out from a hiding spot in a tree. Leaping gave cats a serious advantage, so the trait persists today.
Should You Let Your Cats Leap Around?
Many pet owners worry that letting cats leap around too much might be bad for them. If you’ve ever watched a kitten make their first few shaky leaps (and the first dozen, and the first hundred, frankly), you’ll probably understand where this concern comes from.
It’s easy for cats to miscalculate, jump onto a space that isn’t quite big enough, or decide that your grandmother’s vase doesn’t need to be on that particular shelf.
However, your feline friends need to spend a little time leaping around, just like it’s important for them to spend some time sleeping, stretching, eating, and running.
It’s Stimulating Exercise
Domesticated cats don’t get nearly as much exercise as their wild counterparts. But they are still designed to be predators and to be relatively active in short bursts. A cat that doesn’t get enough good exercise is a cat that’s likely to be bored, moody, and even downright angry.
Jumping flexes a lot of muscles, and your cat also has to think quite a bit before leaping. The little wigglebutt motion most cats make before they leap is a way to check a ton of information to make sure it’s safe to leap.
While you’re oohing and awing over your cat’s cute behavior, your cat is checking to make sure its muscles are ready to leap, that the surface under it is stable enough for the jump, and lining themselves up to make sure they land where they want to.
All that work is very satisfying to your cat, even if they aren’t making the kinds of gravity-defying leaps that they would in the wild.
It Helps Them Stay Slim
Cats carrying too much weight is a common problem. Domesticated cats mostly have access to far more food than their wild counterparts, and need to go to far less effort to get it. Letting your cat leap around and play, especially when they’re starting to pack on a couple of extra pounds, can help them stay slimmer.
While a severely overweight cat probably won’t run and jump as much, using a toy that will help them jump and run while they play can help them lose some weight.
How to Help Your Cat Jump Safely
While it’s essential to give your cat opportunities to jump, it can sometimes be hard to convince your cat to jump where you want them to. If your cat seems to find themselves perched among your decorations and books, here are a few things you can do to help them find the right places.
Buy Some Cat Furniture
The first and often easiest way to get a cat jumping where you want them to is to buy a cat tree or two. Ideally, for active jumpers, you should buy a relatively tall cat tree with a lot of different levels and platforms.
Bridges between different towers, lots of perches, and even small cat hammocks are a fantastic way to convince your cat to jump on their furniture, and less on yours.
Catnip, relaxing cat pheromones, or your cat’s favorite toy can be used to convince them to get on the cat tree for the first time.
You should also look for something that gives you cat places to hide and place to warm up and get some sleep. Both of those features will appeal to your cat’s hunting and survival instincts, making it even more likely that they’ll spend their time on the cat tree, and their jumping skills climbing it.
Make Problem Spots Inaccessible
Even if your cat can reach a space (and they Can), that doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll go to the effort. If there are particular shelves or areas you’d prefer your cat didn’t jump to, try to make them harder to get to than other, acceptable, perches.
Making a spot inaccessible usually means moving it higher, moving other furniture further away, or crowding it with heavy look objects near the edges.
For instance, bookshelves can be made more inaccessible by moving them away from couches and other furniture and by buying bookshelves that are all the same height.
Decorative shelves on your walls can also be moved higher, but you may want to invest in some additional small decorations, or even make yourself a popsicle stick fence, to convince your cat that there isn’t enough room on the shelf for them.
Provide Safe Perches For Them
If your cat seems to always get into trouble in one particular area, and no amount of yelling, spray bottles, or distractions seems to get them away, it’s time to consider what else might be motivating them.
Are there plants on that shelf that your cat likes to chew? Are they able to watch you while you work on your computer from that particular perch?
Cats are willful creatures, and sometimes the best option is to find a replacement perch that works for both of you. For instance, if your cat is jumping onto the top shelf of your desk, consider putting a cat bed or tree nearby. There’s a good chance that your cat is spending time on your desk not because they want to be on that spot, but because being there puts them closer to you.
If your cat seems to have a specific motivation for their jumping habits, try to replicate that motivation somewhere else, and you’ll likely find them much more trainable.
Plants, specific toys, or a way to feel close to their owners can all be provided. But one thing is true; you shouldn’t try to train your cat out of jumping. Cat ownership is often about compromises, but with these tips, hopefully, you’ll be able to find a jumping outlet that works for you and your feline companions.