By Adam Lee-Smith
Published: 10/04/2021, edited: 10/04/2021
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Cats can be quick on their feet, whether they're chasing a fly or zooming around your bedroom at 3 AM. While it's easy to think of cats as lazy critters that sleep all day, they're actually superstar sprinters when they want to be. If you've ever seen Fluffy bolt across your yard, you might be wondering exactly how fast your cat can run at full speed.
After all, big cats have a reputation for being quick, with cheetahs chasing down their prey at 75 miles per hour. So, how fast can house cats run?
A domestic cat's running speed maxes out at 30 miles per hour (48 kilometers per hour). That's 2 to 3 miles per hour faster than Usain Bolt! Of course, this speed varies depending on your cat's age, size, and breed. 30 miles per hour is also the max speed of a cat in tip-top shape — your average cat only runs between 20 and 25 miles per hour.
How does my cat run so fast?
Whether they're jumping, falling, or running, cats are incredible athletes. Their bodies are well adapted to hunting, and sprinting plays an important role in a successful hunt. Cats also run very differently from humans, helping them pick up some extra speed.
Cats walk by moving both legs of the same side together to provide more balance. However, cats run with a diagonal step. A diagonal step means their front leg moves simultaneously to the hind leg diagonally across, giving them more freedom while running and an extra long bound.
This change in stance means a cat can run much quicker by being airborne during their gallop. Staying airborne reduces a cat's air resistance and friction, while a diagonal step allows them to accelerate from their front and back legs. Greyhounds and Whippets use a similar running technique in dog races.
Cats have very flexible spring-like spines that can compress and be used to burst forward with extra power. A cat's hind legs can generate tremendous power, which roboticists and scientists try to reproduce when making artificial limbs.
Are some cat breeds faster than others?
As mentioned, your cat's size, age, and health can play a part in how fast they run. For example, a cat with patellar luxation won't be able to run as fast as a healthy cat. While it's clear these factors affect your cat's sprinting, you might be surprised to learn their breed does too.
The fastest domestic cat breed on the planet is the Egyptian Mau, whose running speed has been clocked at 30 miles per hour. These cats are known for their strong hind legs, which can propel them up trees with ease.
Absyssians, with their long legs and slender frames, are lighter and more aerodynamic than most breeds, making them fast runners. Savannah cats, which are closely related to wild Servals, are also fast sprinters. Other speedy cat breeds include Orientals, Bengals, Siamese, Somalis, and Manx.
Shorter, stockier breeds tend to be slower runners, like American Shorthairs, Ragdolls, and Maine Coons. Some cats with hereditary health problems may also be slower runners. For example, brachycephalic breeds like Persians and Himalayans may not run as fast due to breathing difficulties.
But what about wild cats? It's well-known that cheetahs are the fastest mammals on the planet, but what about other large felines? Surprisingly, the second-fastest wild cat is the lesser-known Jaguarundi.
Native to Southern and Central America, Jaguarundis can run at a speedy 60 miles per hour (96 kilometers per hour). This means Jaguarundis are quicker than African lions, Servals, and mountain lions, which run at around 50 miles per hour (80 kilometers per hour).
Is my cat faster than my dog?
As you might have guessed, the answer to this question depends on the breed. Your average Greyhound will outpace any cat, clocking in at an impressive 44 miles per hour (72 kilometers per hour). The same goes for a Dalmatian, which can run at approximately 37 miles per hour (59 kilometers per hour).
However, smaller and lumbering dog breeds will have a hard time keeping up with your feline friend. Shih Tzus are among the slowest dogs, with a running speed of around 6 miles per hour (9.5 kilometers per hour), while stocky St. Bernards reach top speeds of approximately 17 miles per hour (27 kilometers per hour).
If you look at the most popular mid-sized dog breeds, like German Shepherds and Labradors, they run at around 30 miles per hour, meaning a foot race between most dogs and cats would be a close call. Lucky our feline friends know how to climb trees!