Feline Anatomy – Muscles
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Feature of feline anatomy are fast-acting, flexible muscles which ensure them graceful movements. Cats are good sprinters, but poor endurance athletes. The righting reflex allows cats to handle falls from a great height.
The cat’s balletic grace is due to both its skeleton and its highly flexible muscles, which are divided into three basic types. One is cardiac muscle, found only in the heart. The involuntary muscle that controls the other internal organs is called smooth, or non-striated, because this is how appears under the microscope.
The rest of the body’s muscles are called striated, or stripped and are controlled at will in all conscious or instinctive movements.
Each individual muscle is made up of many muscle fibers held together by connective tissue. Muscle tissue consists of three different types of muscle cells.
Fast-twitch fatiguing cells. A cat’s muscle consists mostly of these cells, which work quickly but also tire quickly. They give a cats its speed and ability to leap several times its own length, but use up its energy in an instant.
Fast-twitch fatigue-resistant cells. Cats are poor endurance athletes. This is because they have relatively few fast-twitch fatigue-resistant cells, which work quickly but tire more slowly.
|Cat Righting Reflex
The reflex that allows a cat to flip right-side-up depends on a flexible spine, resilient musculature, keen sight, and an efficient hearing apparatus.
Vets have observed that falls from five to ten floors are often fatal – cats reach 100 km/h after falling five floors, and the force of impact is too great to absorb.
Curiously, falls from even greater heights sometimes cause little injury, because, once the cat has righted itself, it assumes the skydiver’s free-fall position.
The muscular relaxation, taken with the deceleration effected by outstretched limbs, lessens the impact and injury.
Slow-twitch cells. These cells work and tire slowly and produce slow, sustainable contractions. They are called into play during hunting activities: they enable the cat to move almost imperceptibly slowly and stealthily, or wait for long periods in a ready-to-spring position.
Striped muscles are symmetrical across the body and under the control of the nervous system. Generally, striped muscles are arranged in opposing groups, performing opposing actions.
Feline anatomy: a Floating Shoulder
The cat’s shoulder is a feat of muscle, in that the forelimb is connected to the rest of the body only by muscle. Unlike our collarbone, which connects the shoulder and breastbone, the cat’s vestigial clavicle floats, anchored in place by muscle. The shoulder’s freedom of movement effectively lengthens the cat’s stride and enhances its range of motion.
When a cat walks, most of it forward movement comes from its hindlegs. Its forelegs act like brakes when they hit the ground, almost negating the slight push forwards they give on leaving it again.
The same is true when a cat trots. In this gait, the legs move in what is called contralateral fashion: the right front moves forwards together with the left hind, and vice versa.
The cat’s pliant muscles and flexible spine allow it to curl up, or to rotate its body by 180 degrees in mid-air. This flexibility also gives the cat a repertoire of graceful leaping movements suitable for different circumstances.
When pouncing, a cat springs with its hindlegs, arches its back, and lands with its forepaws on its prize. Its refined wrist muscles allow it to rotate its wrists to grasp prey and to climb efficiently.
For a vertical jump, a cat judges the distance to be covered and calculates how much propulsive power from its hindleg muscles is needed.
This movement is different from the impromptu jumps a cat makes when chasing or being chased, and these, in turn, are different from the startle jump. In this, extensor muscles in all four legs activate simultaneously, and all the feet leave the ground at once, as if on springs.
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