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Signs of a Healthy Cat

Part 2: The Upper Body of a Healthy Cat


Drawing of the Muscle-Skeletal System of a Cat

Drawing of the Muscle-Skeletal System of a Cat

Image is Public Domain, Courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

The well-toned upper body of a healthy cat will give the impression of supple strength, which in movement translates to speed, agility, and grace. To see a cat crouched down on the hunt for prey, and moving in a slow motion "crawl" is poetry in motion. His frame is aligned perfectly, and every muscle, tendon, and bone move in tandem.

The Muscular-Skeletal Structure of a Healthy Cat

Standing at rest, in profile, a healthy cat will look evenly balanced. His head will be held high, supported by his neck and strong shoulder muscles. His rib cage encloses and protects the heart, lungs, liver, and gall bladder. At a healthy weight, a cat's ribs may be felt, but are not prominently visual. The bone structure is covered and supported by a systems of muscles, ligaments, and tendons, which work together to give the healthy cat's limbs strength, mobility, and speed.

The Front Legs and Feet of a Healthy Cat

The front legs of a healthy cat are used for balance, running, climbing, and catching prey. The elbows are held close to the body while standing and thrust forward when walking. When a cat is stretching laterally or scratching a scratching post vertically, the front lets may be fully extended, forming an almost straight line.

Walking Pattern of a Healthy Cat

Unlike humans who walk on the heels and balls of our feet, cats walk on their toes with the "heel" never touching the ground, which makes them digitigrade mammals. Dogs and horses are also digitigrade mammals; animals who walk on the whole sole of the foot, including humans, rabbits, and bears, are called plantigrade mammals. Cats have a unique way of walking, by moving the front and back legs forward in parallel tandem, i.e., right front and right back leg forward, left front and left back leg forward. In the next step, the cat will place his left back foot in exactly the same place the left front foot just vacated. This is an instinctive protective measure, which leaves a much smaller and quieter track, making it harder for predators to scent and follow.

Cats' Front Toes and Claws

A healthy cat usually has ten toes in front. The exceptions are polydactyl cats, often called "Hemingway Cats," which have multiple toes. Cats' toes are very strong; they use them to grip and hold surfaces when climbing, to pull their body upward. A cat chasing a rubber ball (or a mouse) can easily catch it with his toes, then hold it by curling his toes and claws inward.

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