Cat Skeleton Facts – What Makes Them So Special? Pictures And Diagrams

cat flexibility

The reason cats are so agile and can perform incredible acrobatics is because of their unique bone structure and skeleton. 

Their amazing cat skeleton is what allows them to twist, turn or leap gracefully while also being able to do things that other animals might not be capable of doing!

To find out how many bones there are within a feline’s skeleton we will examine each part with you through this interactive journey inside your favorite pet.

Before we get started, can you guess how many bones are in a cat’s skeleton? 

Let’s find out below!

How Many Bones Do Cat’s Have?

A cat has 230 bones including some very unique bones that only felines have. They also have many that are identical to those in a human skeleton, just on a smaller scale.

To give you an idea of how similar they are, cats have 13 ribs whereas humans have 12. Clavicles are the bones at the top of the neck, but unlike human clavicles, they are not connected to any other bone in felines. 

Together with an amazing skeleton, cats have muscles that are strong and coordinated, contributing to their agility as hunters. Essentially, the muscles of the cat were designed for walking, running, leaping, and twisting.

What does a cat’s skeleton look like? Check out this cool cat skeleton model below.  

4D Vision Orange Tabby Cat Skeleton & Anatomy Model Kit
  • A "Must Have" for cat lovers
  • Remove the animal's bones and organs and...
  • A 30cm length model contains 25...

What Makes A Cat’s Skeleton So Unique?

What makes a cat’s skeletal structure so unique is their collarbone isn’t attached like humans as well as an incredibly flexible spine that has 30 vertebrae. 

Cats are one of the most dexterous animals on earth, capable of performing amazing feats like jumping high and acrobatically landing without breaking a sweat. 

Surprisingly, cats have the same number and types of vertebrae as humans, but their bodies are much more flexible because their collar bone is not attached to other bones. 

The cat’s lower backbone is extremely flexible allowing them to fit into small spaces. Their spines and ribs also allow for a cat’s body to expand and contract when it is breathing in or out.

It takes strength comparable only to humans being contortionists but our furry friends manage this feat effortlessly thanks mostly to not having bones that get in their way. They have a few additional bones that we don’t have, which gives them added flexibility.

Cats have a special landing ability called the “righting reflex.” It’s what allows them to land on their feet and it has developed over time as they possess retractable claws which help with this process.

The Bone Structure Of A Cat’s Skeleton

cat bones diagram

A lot can be said about a cat’s bone structure in just two words- flexibility and balance: With their flexible spine they’re able to arch back while simultaneously raising both hind legs off the ground at an angle near 90 degrees or more. 

Cat Skull Bones

A cat’s skull is unlike any other in the animal kingdom. It consists of 24 bones all fused together, but still mobile and able to move as one large unit. 

In addition to providing protection against injury by allowing collision absorption with their surroundings when necessary, skulls also serve another important function: ventilation! 

Air pockets called sinuses are found inside each piece at varying distances apart along its length which allows air to circulate through them. 

A cat can cool itself by allowing hot air to escape from its body so that cooler new air can flow in and take its place. This is known as the “guttural pouch mechanism of temperature regulation” and it’s an important form of thermoregulation.

Domestic cat skulls can vary depending on the breed. Breeds such as the Kinkalow, have a very unique-looking face. 

Small cats tend to have rather narrow, domed skulls, whereas tigers, lions, and leopards, have elongated, rectangular skulls. Accordingly, domestic cats can have much shorter, broader, or domed skulls depending on their breed.

There were previously thought to be two distinct subgroups of modern cats, the small and large cats, based on evolutionary anatomy. However, there is no such sub-group, and the shape of the skull actually appears to show a gradual change from the smallest to the largest species.

A cat’s ear has 20 bones and 35 muscles. The inner ear is a complex structure made up of four major organs: the cochlea (the organ of hearing) and the vestibular system (which provides balance).

A cat’s ear is made up of 20 bones and 35 muscles. Since it is such a complex part of their body, it is important that you pay special attention to it. Cats can easily get ear mites that cause health problems if not treated properly.

It’s recommended to regularly check and clean your cat’s ears as much as possible.

Check out the diagram below to get an idea of just how intricate a cat’s ear bone structure is. 

cats ear diagram

Inner ear canals contain semicircular canals filled with fluid that are responsible for maintaining balance. A cat’s excellent sense of balance and agility is due to these highly developed muscles.

Did you know that a cat’s jaw can’t move sideways? This is why they always seem to be forever chewing on their cat food. It’s also what makes their bite incredibly powerful.

Their teeth are able to cut through flesh very easily while the shortness prevents bone fragments from getting stuck in their gums.

Take a closer look at a set of cat’s teeth below. 

cat teeth diagram

Adult cats should have a total of 30 teeth. There are 12 incisors, four canines, 10 premolars (six on top, four on the bottom), and four molars. In a kitten, there are 26 deciduous teeth.

The number of incisors, canines, and premolars are the same but there are no molars in kittens.

To summarise, a cat’s skull is made of the following bones:

  • Premaxillary and maxillary bones
  • Nasal and ethmoid
  • Vomer and palatine
  • Interparietal and occipital bones
  • Sphenoid and the presphenoid
  • Temporal bone
  • Zygomatic bones
  • Lacrimal bones
  • Frontal plate

Cats Spine

The seven vertebrae in each of the lumbar and cervical areas and 13 thoracic vertebrae of a cat are flexible and cushioned by dissolvable elastic disks between them. This allows for greater rotation and twisting of their bodies when compared with mammals.

These additional three vertebrae, as compared to a human spine, are what give cats their extra bend and flex. With that flexibility, they can reach objects that are moving at high-speeds, like a bird flying past, and can change direction mid-air.

The spine is inherently what makes the cat skeleton so special. It’s why cheetahs can run as fast as they do and what allows our domestic cat to spring into action.

There are 33 pairs of spinal nerves in a cat. These nerves carry information from the brain to every part of the body except the eyes.

Spinal nerves originate in the base of the brain and travel down through the center of the spinal cord before branching out to various parts of the body. This makes the cat very sensitive to pain.

With their flexible spine, they’re able to arch back while simultaneously raising both hind legs off the ground at an angle near 90 degrees or more.

In addition to allowing cats to arch their spine into a U shape and perform graceful acrobatic feats, this limber spine also makes domestic cats fast runners.

Cats can run at speeds of up to thirty miles per hour, by extending and flexing their backs alternately when sprinting.

Surprisingly, cats have the same number and types of vertebrae as humans, but their bodies are much more flexible because their collar bone is not attached to other bones.

Their lower backbone is extremely flexible allowing them to fit into small spaces. When it comes time to relax, these extra bones allow for them to stretch out lazily, often arching their backs at jaw-dropping angles.

Leg Bones

There are about 29 bones in a feline’s leg. Going from his ‘hips’ down there is the coccyx, then femur and patella or kneecap, tibia, and fibula, just like us.

Then you get to the ‘foot’, or his paw, there are seven tarsal bones in his ankle, and of course another round of metacarpus and phalanges. Now that’s a lot of bones to make a song about.

What’s that all mean?

Well, it means they’re capable of immense flexibility, agility and strength. This means that they can make huge leaps, often multiple times higher than their body length. It also gives them superior abilities to land smoothly, without jarring joints or causing injury to themselves.

That doesn’t mean they will never suffer injuries though. Some of those joints and ligaments are more susceptible to injury than others.

For example, the feline shoulder blade is attached to the rest of the body only by deltoid muscles, not by bone.

Cats have a more natural range of motion than humans. This is due to the fact that they don’t possess fixed collarbones as we do. Instead, the cats’ tiny rudimentary ones allow them to squeeze through tight openings with ease!

Like us, their hip and shoulder joints are ball and socket and they are able to move forward, backward, sideways, and in a circular motion. 

With each thoracic limb, there are 31 bones connected. From the shoulder joint, these are the scapula, clavicle, and omoplate, into the humerus, radius, and ulna. From here there are another seven bones that make up the paw, or carpus.

This includes the scaphoid, capitate, pisiform, trapezoid, trapezium, and the hamate. And this is just in puss’ arms; his legs are just as amazing.

Tail Bones

Wondering how many bones are in a cat’s tail? It’s estimated that most cats will average between 18 and 23 caudal vertebrae in their tail.

Think of a cat’s tail as an extension of its spine. There are seven vertebrae at the end of the lumbar region from the spine to the pelvis.

Cats use their tails for more than just expressions of emotion. They also use them to keep their balance on narrow surfaces, like fences.

In order to increase their stability, they counterbalance the weight of their hips with their tails!

Does every cat get the same tail?

No, some cats have shorter tails, and some breeds are known for having longer tails.

Does that mean that cats with short tails can’t jump?

Not at all, however, it does mean that your cat is less likely to jump as high as other longer-tailed cats. These shorter-tailed cats have other remarkable abilities that are better suited to life on the ground or at sea.

For instance, the Manx cat is known for its hunting skills, making it legendary for seeing the world as a ship’s cat back in the days of long sea-voyages.

Paw Bones

Rounding out the cat skeleton are the cat paw skeleton bones. There are five metacarpus bones and fourteen phalanges at the paw’s front. These are some of the smallest bones in a cat’s skeleton, yet they give our cat their dexterity and defenses.

It’s these bones that make our cat’s paws almost human-like. With them, they can catch, carry, hold on to things, and pull things apart. At the ends of their ‘fingers’ are of course their claws.

What a lot of people don’t know is that these claws are directly connected to phalanges, the tiny little bones at the end of puss’ paw.

When cats are declawed, they cut this bone from the paw. If you’d like more detailed information on declawing a cat, we have a great article linked.

Bones Disorder In Cat Skeletons

Whilst bone diseases and conditions are relatively rare, there are a few that are predominant. These include; Osteomyelitis, Osteogenesis imperfecta or brittle bone disease, and Osteofibrosis.

Osteofibrosis is usually seen in older cats and is caused by a lack of calcium. This can be readily treated with increased vitamins and minerals in their diet. This condition usually manifests in fractures and misshapen or malformed bones. Early diagnosis is encouraged, so look for limping, or if your cat is struggling to get up for a cuddle.

Osteogenesis is more common in dogs than cats and is usually inherited. It appears as bone fractures that can happen easily, along with loss of hearing, hypermobility of joints, a blue-tinge to eyes, and defective teeth. 

Treatments do exist for all of these, some are much more complex and lengthy. In the case of osteomyelitis, this type of infection is born from bacteria entering the bloodstream, so sanitation and antibiotics will be involved. Early detection and action are essential.

Do Cats Suffer From Bone Infections?

Sadly, yes. Inside every bone is bone tissue, and although this is extremely resistant to infection, it can happen. Most cats will never have any type of bone infection, as the most common cause is contact with bacteria when surgery has been performed, regardless of how minor or major.

Cats can also inherit bone diseases from their predecessors. These can be diagnosed, and are usually known to a reputable breeder if this is a concern. One tell-tale sign to watch out for is limping or favoring a limb.

If your cat is showing any tenderness towards any area of their skeleton, whether arms, legs, back, or head, take them to the vet for a thorough check.

One way to help prevent bone conditions is to ensure a varied diet that includes essential vitamins, minerals, and fibers. Diets should also include appropriate fats and oils for joint health, especially as your cat gets on in years.

Where Was The First Domestic Cat Skeleton Found?

It’s believed that the first domestic cat skeleton was found in Kazakhstan based on archaeological evidence. Analysis of the ancient skeleton found in Dzhankent, Kazakhstan, confirms it is the region’s first domesticated cat (Felis catus).

The Conclusion On Cat Skeletons

So if you had any doubts before about how amazing your cat is, by now you’ll be as astonished as I am. Between the sheer number of bones, the evolutionary design that allows them such incredible movement, and the intricate abilities of even the tiniest bone is stunning.

Last update on 2021-10-18 at 08:05 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API