Cat reaction time: How fast are cats?

Cats are remarkably fast animals both on their feet and with their paws. If you've ever been in a confrontation with your fluffy friend, then you would have noticed this extraordinary reaction time - but how fast are they really?

A cat's reaction time makes it a god of speed.
A cat's reaction time makes it a god of speed.  © Collage: Unsplash/Farhan Azam/Đồng Phục Hải Triều

If you've ever owned a cat, then you would have been scratched at least a few times.

Whenever it happens, it leaves you wondering, "How did it do that so fast?" The answer is actually quite simple. It all comes down to cat reaction time, reflexes, and a small pinch of grumpiness.

In this cat guide, TAG24 will take a look at cat reaction times. How fast are cats, and how do their reflexes compare to snakes? Do they have the fastest reaction times in the world? Let's take a look!

How fast are cat reflexes?

A cat's brain has the capacity to react to any stimulus within only 20–70 milliseconds. For context, there are 1000 milliseconds in a single second, meaning that your kitty can respond to something in significantly less than a tenth of a second. Of course, different cats will have different reaction times, but they'll all fit within this timeframe.

Now, your cat's reaction time is a combination of its brain's processing speed and its ability to physically respond. As a result, it's important to also know that cats can reach running speeds significantly higher than even Usain Bolt, often moving in excess of 30 miles per hour.

This, combined with your cat's ability to move its arms and legs even faster when fighting, means that you're never going to be able to beat a cat in a race or move away from an angry kitty quickly enough to avoid danger. They are truly speedy creatures!

Why is cat reaction time so fast?

Cats are natural hunters - and also complete nervous wrecks. To fulfill the requirements of each of these roles, a cat needs to be fast on its feet and fast in its responses. A cat has an impressive reaction time so that it can be better at hunting and better at protecting itself.

While cat reaction times will, of course, vary between breeds and individuals, the main variation will come between cats that have been allowed to go outside, hunt, and explore and those that have not. Housebound indoor cats often have slower reaction times and can't run as fast because they haven't been given the opportunity to practice.

It is, of course, also about fitness. A cat needs to be agile, strong, mentally robust, and relatively fit if it wants to even come close to its fastest peers. Again, this is another reason why outside cats are often much more capable and much faster than indoor cats.

To summarize, our beautiful feline friends have impressive reaction times because they evolved to hunt and to be able to protect themselves in the wild. The more that a cat is able to practice these skills, the faster they will become and the better their reaction times will be.

Cats are incredibly fast, but are they faster than snakes?
Cats are incredibly fast, but are they faster than snakes?  © Unsplash/Josh Couch

Cat vs. snake: Are cats faster than snakes?

Yes, while cats have a reaction time of around 20–70 milliseconds, snakes only react in around 44–70 milliseconds, making cats the faster animal. These speeds are, when you really look at them, actually quite similar. While our feline friends are far less likely than we are to be bitten by a snake, it's not impossible.

After all, there's a crossover. A slow cat whose reaction time sits at around 70 milliseconds could easily get bitten by a fast snake who's sitting at around 50 milliseconds. These numbers are on a scale for a reason, because not every cat is the same and not every cat is going to be capable of the same reaction times.

In recent weeks and months, videos of "Cats vs. Snakes" have become very popular across all corners of the internet. Most of these videos show a cat managing to evade a snake bite just in time, recoiling away, giving the snake a slap, and then wandering off as if nothing had happened.

These videos show what they do because the cats in question are quite clearly (you can tell by looking at them) very fit, healthy, and agile. You shouldn't trust that your pet cat is going to be able to stand its own in the same way, so don't go putting it into such a dangerous situation.

Still, the videos are extremely entertaining and quite impressive. Cats are remarkably fast both with their paws and on their feet, and much to the snake's chagrin, those slippery serpents were easily avoided in these clips.

Cats don't have the fastest reaction times in the world!

However speedy cats might be, the title of fastest reaction speed in the world belongs to an obscure genus of fly (Condylostylus) that can respond to things in less than five milliseconds. In fact, your cat doesn't even come close to having the fastest mammalian reaction time; that title belongs to the star-nosed mole.

Humans seem increasingly slow as you dive further and further into the hierarchy of animal reaction times. Sure, we aren't exactly sloths, but there are surprisingly few animals in the world that we'd be able to outrun!

Cover photo: Collage: Unsplash/Farhan Azam/Đồng Phục Hải Triều

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