You can’t be a cat lover without being familiar with the concept of, “If I fits, I sits.” We’ve all seen our cats cram their furry bodies into the most ridiculously tiny spaces. And on more than one occasion, you’ve probably wondered if your cat is in fact more liquid than solid. Squeezing into tight spaces is every cat’s specialty. Videos and pictures of the phenomenon keep the Internet in business, and watching our cats practice this magic trick with boxes, bags, and baskets is part of why we love them. But how exactly do they do it? You don’t see dogs contorting their bodies to fit into random places. The secret has to do with feline anatomy along with their determination to make it work.
Our domesticated cats are built like the perfect predators…if the perfect predators weighed only ten pounds and had a weakness for chin scratches. They are incredibly strong and flexible, and their bodies are designed to climb, jump, and pounce with ease.
From the outside, feline bone structure and general anatomy looks self explanatory. They have four legs, a tail, a spine, and all their body parts are exactly where you’d expect them to be. What makes cats different from other pets, however, is how those parts are put together and how flexible they are.
The biggest advantage cats have when it comes to squeezing into tight spaces is a floating collar bone. It sounds problematic, but a cat’s collar bone is not attached to any other bone in the cat’s body.
While the human collar bone connects to both the breast bone and shoulder blade to keep it in place, the feline collar bone is held in place by only a few strands of muscle. This gives the cat incredible flexibility. Their collar bone can move and change position without causing the cat any harm. It also means cats can fit their bodies into any space that is big enough to fit their head. They don’t have to worry about the fact that their shoulders are naturally wider than their head, because their collar bone will move and twist to help them squeeze into tight spaces.
A cat’s natural flexibility extends from their collar bone to their spine. The spine itself is made up of individual bones that are sandwiched between discs of elastic cushioning. Humans have these discs too, but in cats, they’re much more flexible.
It’s normal for a human to be able to rotate their torso only about 90 degrees. Some contortionists can do more, but those are special cases. For cats, it’s completely natural for them to rotate their bodies a full 180 degrees. If you’re having trouble visualizing, this means a cat can twist themselves so that it looks like the top half of their body was put on backwards. In other words, their head and shoulders can face the opposite direction of their hips.
If a human did this, it would look extremely painful. But thanks to the flexible discs and the loosely connected back muscles, healthy cats can twist and contort with zero pain or discomfort. This makes your cat a pro at squeezing into tight spaces.
Why They Do It
Besides their physical capability, we also have to take into account a cat’s sheer determination to stuff themselves into a child’s shoebox or miniature flower pot. Even with their flexible anatomy, it’s not always easy. So why do they do it?
To Feel Safe
Your pampered house pet doesn’t have much to worry about in terms of deadly threats, but their instinct to protect themselves is still there. It comes from their wild ancestors and tells them they’re safest in small, enclosed spaces.
The four sides of a box are like 360 degree protection from predators. And the smaller the box, the less chance there is that an unwelcome entity will slip inside. Squeezing into a small space is like wrapping themselves in a security blanket, or better yet, an invisibility cloak. You think they look silly, but they feel perfectly protected.
To Feel Sneaky
Besides protection, boxes and other small spaces are also great for stealth. Cats have a natural instinct to sneak around and pounce on unsuspecting prey. For domestic house cats, that prey is usually a human ankle or catnip mouse and not a much-needed meal. But the concept and motivation are still the same.
Like a lioness crouched low in tall grass, domestic cats use small spaces like hunting blinds. They think if they can hide most of their bulk, their prey won’t know they’re there. Boxes, bags, and under the couch are perfect, because they also have openings where the cat can peer out.
To Stay Warm
Finally, your cat might be squeezing into tight spaces in order to stay warm. Cats know that a little bit of warmth could be the difference between life and death. And even if the situation inside your home isn’t that dire, cats still love to feel warm and cozy.
Squeezing into a tight space makes them feel perfectly content. It’s a safe, warm spot to take a much-deserved cat nap. And thanks to their flexibility, they won’t even wake up feeling sore.
With their combination of physical flexibility and instinctual motivation, cats will continue to squeeze into tight spaces whether the Internet is obsessed with them or not. When your cat does it, feel free to take a pic and show all your friends. It may be a natural behavior, but there’s no denying it’s cute and worth sharing!