Why Do Cats Jump High When Scared? (the simple truth)

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Cats are great hunters and explosive animals. We’ve seen them jump high when scared, we wondered why they jump so high when they get startled.

The Short Answer

Long feet are a characteristic of animals that can jump high, like cats and rabbits. This enables them to work much better as a lever, transferring greater force. Combined with the back muscles, they can jump like a spring, which is much easier than running away when startled.

They rely on ambush and escaping danger, which they adapted through evolution. Because of this, cats will often jump instead of running or standing their ground.

A deep-rooted instinctive reaction, when cats get scared, the sudden vertical jump serves not only as a quick escape but also as a way to potentially disorient or momentarily deter a perceived threat, buying them a moment to evaluate their next move.

white black and brown cat in mid jump

How Can Cats Jump So High?

A cat’s physiology allows it to coil its muscles and, to some extent, its spine like a spring. They sit back for a second, gather a lot of potential energy, and then release it all in one jump. Because of this, cats can leap high into the air, many times their height.

In the wild, this ability to jump extraordinarily high when scared could make the difference between life and death, allowing cats to quickly reach higher grounds, like tree branches, away from ground-level predators.

Humans did not evolve to be good jumpers. Our legs are made for walking upright, so keeping our balance is easy. The plantaris is the specific muscle that they use to jump. It is huge in cats but not at all impressive in people.

Cats could also try running. However, running is a strenuous activity that demands good physical coordination. Jumping is easy and only involves activating minor muscles on a simple routine. 

Friction also limits acceleration when running or jumping sideways. The amount of traction available depends on the surface and determines how soon you can get out of harm’s path. Moreover, by taking to the air when scared, cats can avoid terrain obstacles that might slow them down or trip them if they were to run instead.

There are also fundamental structural differences between cats and humans. 

Human legs are created for endurance running, so they are slow but can perform at full strength for extended periods. Cats’ legs are designed for short, intense bursts of movement and are fast and strong but tire rapidly.

Cats are ambush predators. When threatened, the forelegs immediately elevate ahead of the hind legs, allowing the back legs to respond instantly. The quick elevation and springing action when cats jump upon sensing a threat are deeply ingrained reflexes, built over generations of feline evolution where rapid reaction often equated to survival.

Why Are Cats Scared So Easily?

Cats are easily scared because they cannot combat the majority of bigger and presumably faster predators in their surroundings, so they compensate with hyper-awareness and intuitive avoidance.

It comes down to how they evolved. When a cat was wild but not scared, it was easier for a predator to catch it. Cats that were more fearful and withdrew from danger lived and passed their genes down through generations. 

Being scared is one of the most important things that have helped them stay alive. Those friendly and cuddly cats you see today are here because of domestication. It’s fascinating to realize that the jump we see in our domesticated cats when they get scared is a behavior echoing from their wild ancestors, who lived in environments riddled with constant threats.

One reason your cat might be scared when you pet it could be because she is deaf. Before discovering she was deaf, my buddy had a cat for two years. She’s fearless of everything except you pet her and doesn’t even wait for your hand to approach her before jumping.

To avoid a cat being scared, avoid approaching the cat from above. Most predators come from above, so it’s natural for them to be afraid of that. Start by putting your hand where the cat can see it. Before moving to the back, pet the chin, then move to the area between the ears.

Does It Hurt a Cat When You Scare Them?

Scaring a cat by accident should not be stressful because cats understand when things go wrong. This is especially true if you afterward apologize and comfort the cat.

multicolored cat in mid jump

But if you scare a cat on purpose over and over again, it will become scared, suspicious of you, and probably aggressive when it sees you. Try not to do this because it harms cats and is often considered animal abuse.

As to whether the jump hurts them physically, it does not injure them in general. The cat’s hips are not connected to its spine by bone but by a ligament. This means that hitting the ground hard doesn’t hurt as much. Cats are accustomed to leaping and landing from great heights.

How High Can House Cats Jump?

Cat’s jump will also depend on the breed and whether we’re talking about how high they can jump while standing still (vertical leap) or when they jump with a running start. On average, an adult indoor cat can jump five to six times its height, roughly 4-5 feet (122-152 cm), but exceptions exist. 

Do Cats Remember Traumatic Events?

Most pets know what to do when accidents happen. I accidentally bumped into my cat while walking in the dark, but she doesn’t seem to mind and lets me pet her as if nothing happened. But some cats might not trust you and could change their behavior around you.

Cats are like little sponges that soak up feelings. If you freak out, an already nervous/neurotic cat can panic and attack you. As a result, you must strive to remain calm, or else the cat will continue to respond in this manner.

If your cat gets scared, then it’s normal if they also run away and hide. But hiding all the time is not normal and shouldn’t be considered fine. According to Jackson Galaxy, the author of Total Cat Mojo, if your cat is hiding all the time, this is a problem.

It’s not in nature for cats to keep hiding constantly, and admitting it’s a problem is the first step to its resolve. Your job is to comfort and show love, but not in hiding spots.

Do Cats Forgive Their Owners for Small Incidents?

If you accidentally injure a cat, she may become fearful and require time to trust you again. However, you might try to make things right by offering her sweets and apologizing. She’ll come to know you didn’t scare her on purpose.

I took in a stray cat, and many things that used to scare her no longer do. For example, I can now jump on the bed just inches from where she is sitting or play music loudly without scaring her. Once the cat realizes that the owner is not a threat, she won’t react to most things you do.


Why are cats afraid of cucumbers?

The cats get scared of cucumbers behind them and jump because the last time they looked, there wasn’t anything there. They will respond with shock when they see the object, whether a cucumber, a lizard, a snake, a small mouse, or another object.

Cats aren’t necessarily afraid of cucumbers. Cats are skittish animals who rely on being able to run away at the first sign of danger. The danger means anything unexpected. It would be best if you did not intentionally terrify your cats because it stresses them out and can be seen as animal cruelty.

Do cats jump higher than dogs?

Cats are much stronger than dogs for their size, so a cat of the same size can jump much higher than a dog. Cat’s legs have evolved to jump incredibly quickly, both horizontally and vertically. Though there are exceptions, most dogs have not been adopted in this manner. Small dog breeds are even more limited in this.

How to tell if a cat has been traumatized?

Cats, like humans, can be traumatized and develop PTSD. Symptoms of a traumatized cat include being particularly aggressive, scared, trembling, or shaking, decreased food followed by weight loss, decreased interest in playing, and abnormal urination.

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