Have you wondered how cats can contort their bodies the way they do? The muscles of a cat are powerful and interesting. You may have experienced this when trying to get a toy away from one of these furry powerhouses. It’s not as easy as it may seem when their paws are gripping the object and their jaw is open to defend.
We closely examine cat muscles in this article, including how many they have and why they’re so athletic. Let’s pounce in!
Cats Are Magnificently Strong Creatures
Cats are strong and powerful animals, despite their small size. The muscles of a cat allow them to be graceful and agile, unlike other animals.
The small but mighty felines are among the strongest of domesticated creatures. Their muscular build has a high proportion of fast-twitch muscle fibers, enabling them to have energy bursts to pounce, run, and climb. Up to 50 percent of the fibers are fast-twitch fatigable. In other words, the fibers provide powerful forces for short durations and fatigue quickly.
A cat’s lean, small body also gives them excellent precision and control when jumping, running, and climbing. Their athleticism is defined by speed and agility, coupled with their natural hunting instincts. Cats’ physical abilities help them chase and catch prey in the wild. Or a mouse in your house. In addition, their senses help them detect slight movements around them to dial in on the prey.
What Kind of Muscles Do Cats Have?
A cat’s body has three types of muscles: striated, smooth, and cardiac. Humans also have these types, but there are differences in the overall muscular system, functionality, and size.
Striated muscles are what move the limbs and parts of the body under voluntary control. In contrast, the smooth or unstriated muscles are connected to involuntary body parts, such as the wall of the intestines and blood vessels. The cardiac muscle is in the heart and helps it contract and expand with rhythmic action.
How Many Muscles Do Cats Have?
A cat’s body contains numerous muscles that are responsible for various functions, such as movement, breathing, and digestion. While it’s difficult to give an exact number of muscles in a cat’s body, it is estimated that an adult cat has over 500 skeletal muscles.
These muscles are attached to the bones of the cat’s skeleton, and they work together to provide the cat with a wide range of movement and agility. Each has a specific job and extends or flexes the joint. The major ones are in the head and neck, back, chest, abdomen, pelvis, tail, forelimbs, and hind limbs. Each plays a role in powering cats to do those acrobatic moves and death-defying stunts.
Additionally, cats have smooth muscles in their internal organs and cardiac muscle in their heart.
If you’re up for a quick science lesson, let’s get into some specifics of the major muscles of a cat in this section.
Head and Neck Muscles
The head and neck muscles work together to facilitate hunting, grooming, eating, and communication. First of all, and likely the most impressive muscles of the head are the estimated 30 small muscles found in each ear, which is far more than most other animals. These muscles are very sensitive and allow the cat to rotate, tilt, and move their ears independently, enabling them to pinpoint the exact location of sounds with remarkable accuracy. This is one of the reasons why cats are such skilled hunters and can often catch prey even in complete darkness.
Cats have muscles in their eyebrows and around their eyes to control their eyelids. When your cat is dilating its nostrils, there is a muscle called the levator nasolabialis that raises the upper lip and affects the nostrils. The masseter muscle and temporalis muscles move the jaw for chewing. Unlike humans, the cat’s jaw does not move side to side to grind its food, just up and down to slice. Domesticated cats also have a bite force of around 20 to 75 PSI (pound per square inch) compared to humans, who have a bite force of 155 to 165 PSI. Cats have a sharp bite to help them catch prey. While it’s not as strong as a human bite, a feline’s jaw muscles are powerful.
Some of the most prominent muscles in a cat’s head and neck include the sternomastoid muscles. These help control the movement of the head and neck on the shoulders. The brachiocephalicus is the muscle that extends from the head down next to the shoulder, and a cat’s trapezius muscle raises its head and shoulder. The latissimus dorsi flexes the shoulder. The thoracolumbar fascia is the connector to many of the cat’s back and abdomen muscles.
Chest & Abdomen Muscles
Cats have a strong and muscular chest and abdominal area that plays a crucial role in their mobility and balance. These muscles work together to help the cat move, jump, run, and perform other physical activities.
Some of the most prominent muscles in a cat’s chest and abdomen include the intercostal muscles. These connect the ribs and aid breathing. The external abdominal oblique muscle forms part of the abdominal wall. A cat’s rectus abdominis goes from the sternum into the pelvis, which provides support for the abdomen and helps the cat with movement, balance, and stability.
Cats have a muscular and powerful set of forelimbs that enable them to perform a wide range of physical activities, including climbing, jumping, scratching, and hunting. While it’s difficult to give an exact number of muscles in a cat’s forelimbs, it is estimated that cats have over 20 individual muscles in each.
Starting in the powerful shoulders, the brachiocephalicus is one of the forelimb muscles on a cat that helps to extend the shoulder for reaching, pouncing, and landing. Meanwhile, the infraspinatus supports the shoulder joint and the deltoidus flexes the shoulder.
Some of the most prominent muscles in a cat’s forelimbs include the biceps brachii, which control the movement of the elbow joint; the triceps brachii, which extend the elbow joint; and the flexor carpi radialis, which control the movement of the wrist.
Some of our favorite muscles in this group are the ones found in their adorable but deadly paws. Digital flexor and digital extensor muscles control their retractable claws. These muscles enable the cat to extend and retract their claws quickly and efficiently, making them powerful tools for climbing, hunting, and self-defense.
Pelvic Limb Muscles
The final part of our science lesson brings us to the pelvic limb muscles. The muscles in a cat’s pelvic and hind limb area are responsible for their powerful jumps and leaps, which they use to catch prey and climb trees. Additionally, the muscles in this area help the cat maintain their balance and coordination while walking, running, and climbing.
On average, a healthy adult cat can jump up to six times their body length in a single leap. This means that a typical domestic cat, which is around 18 inches long from head to tail, can jump up to about 6 feet in a single bound!
Some of the major muscles in a cat’s pelvic and hind limb area include the quadriceps femoris, which control the extension of the knee joint; the hamstrings, which control the flexion of the knee joint; and the gastrocnemius, which control the movement of the ankle joint and the extension of the hindfoot. The medial gluteal is the most significant muscle on a cat’s rump, and it flexes the hip.
Cats have many specialized muscles in their tails to help with balance, communication, and emotional expression. They have numerous small muscles and tendons that are responsible for controlling the movement of the tail with incredible precision. These muscles are arranged in a way that allows the cat to move their tail in a wide range of directions, from side to side, up and down, and in a circular motion.
Some of the most prominent tail muscles in a cat include the spinalis, longissimus, and iliocostalis muscles. These muscles are part of the cat’s spinal column and are responsible for controlling the movement and position of the tail. Other muscles in the tail area include the coccygeus muscles, which help control the movement of the tailbone, and the rectococcygeus muscles, which are involved in bowel movement and urination.
The tail muscles also play an important role in a cat’s communication. For example, when a cat is feeling threatened or aggressive, it may puff up its tail, which is caused by the contraction of the tail muscles. Additionally, when a cat is feeling playful or content, it may twitch its tail or wrap it around its body.
What Is the Largest Muscle in a Cat?
The largest muscle in a cat is the quadriceps femoris. It’s a group of muscles on the front of the thigh that are responsible for extending the leg. They cover about one-half of the thigh. These muscles play a significant role in felines’ pouncing and over-the-top playfulness. The quadriceps femoris are essential to powering a cat’s movement and mobility.
What Is the Difference Between Muscles of a Cat and Other Animals?
The basic structure and function of the muscles of a cat are similar to other mammals. But there are some differences in size and distribution between cats and other animals.
For starters, cats have a high percentage of fast-twitch muscle fibers, which contract quickly and powerfully. This allows them to make sudden and rapid movements, such as jumping and pouncing, with great precision and control.
Additionally, they have extra muscles, particularly around their spine and shoulders, that allow for fantastic ranges of motion and flexibility. We’ll dive further into this flexibility in the next section, as it is a huge part of the cat muscle story. Overall, they are lean mammals that are specialized for speed, climbing, jumping, and agility, making them arguably one of the most adaptable animals in the animal kingdom.
Flexibility: The Surprising Feline Super Power
We would be amiss to talk about the amazing cat musculoskeletal system without mentioning how incredibly flexible they are. A cat’s flexibility is like its superpower, enabling it to always land on its feet after a fall, fit into and under small gaps, as well as contort into the most incredible body positions.
A cat is so flexible due to a number of reasons. First, cats have extra muscles in their spine, allowing them to bend and twist their bodies in ways other animals cannot. The vertebrae are held by muscles instead of ligaments. Additionally, their spines also have special, flexible, elastic cushioning in between the disks, allowing the spine itself to bend and rotate further than normal spines.
Finally, cats’ collar bones and shoulders are connected to muscles instead of bones. This means they can extend them even further when they run without the limitation of a hard joint. This free-floating collarbone allows them to fit into any opening they can get their head into.
How Does the Muscular System of a Cat Change As It Ages?
Not unlike humans, the older a cat gets, its muscles and mobile abilities start to change. Some of these changes include muscle atrophy, a decrease in flexibility, reduced endurance, and reduced agility, meaning that their movements become less precise and graceful. Additionally, older cats can become more prone to injury and have an increased risk of developing a condition that affects their muscles.
Feeding your cat a good, age-appropriate nutritional diet, giving them regular exercise, and keeping up with vet check-ups can help prolong your cat’s musculoskeletal health. Providing a comfortable, senior-friendly environment, managing their weight, and performing any vet-recommended physical therapy and pain management will keep your fur baby comfortable well into their senior years.
Pro Tip: Learn 10 ways to increase the life expectancy of your cat.
What Injuries or Health Issues Can Affect the Muscles of a Cat?
Muscle injuries can seriously affect a cat’s mobility, strength, balance, and overall health. Injuries can occur because of a quick, abnormal movement or unusually strenuous activity, trauma, or diseases and disorders.
The most common muscular health issues are sprains and strains resulting from overextension or overuse. These are relatively minor conditions that will cause stiffness and mild pain and discomfort. Trauma to a muscle, such as from a big fall or accident, can cause muscle tears or ruptures. These are more serious and usually are more painful, with an increased chance of long-term mobility issues.
Finally, there are disorders and diseases that can develop in cats that affect their muscles. Arthritis is a common joint inflammation condition that impacts the muscles around joints. Muscular dystrophy, myositis, hypokalemia, and some cancers can also cause problems with muscles, including weakness, pain, or atrophy.
Proper nutrition, exercise, and regular veterinary check-ups can help maintain a cat’s muscle health and prevent many of these conditions. If you notice any signs of muscle pain, weakness, or mobility issues in your cat, it’s important to seek veterinary care as soon as possible to diagnose and treat the underlying issue
Felines Are Powerful Creatures
Cats are incredible creatures, inside and out. While their leaps and pounces look effortless, there is a lot more literally going on under the skin. Their cute and fluffy fur is just a facade for the spectacular athlete underneath. The next time you see a tilt of a tail or a jump up the cat tree, we hope you take a moment to appreciate your cat’s muscles and the lean, graceful power within.
Have you caught your cat flexing its muscles? If you have a video, we’d love to see it. Feel free to tag us on Instagram (@hypepets) and we may share it in our stories.
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