That blurry ball of fur that just zipped past, that sleek titan of velocity is your cat. You could buy a radar gun if you wanted to figure out how fast he’s running, but the top speed of domestic cats is fairly well established.
Despite the variety of pedigreed fancy cats out there, all domestic cats are members of the same species. On average, they can run at speeds approaching 30 mph, though only in sprints. Outdoors or indoors, feral or tame, cats can be extremely territorial. As a matter of practicality, their sprinting ability allows them to flee disputed territory or chase trespassers out of their areas. Their speed also helps them capture a wide variety of prey. It's an evolutionary vestige that ties them to their big cat relatives, who deal with larger territories and faster speeds.
Run Like An Egyptian
From cat fancier associations to National Geographic, a gamut of sources dub one purebred cat as the fastest of them all: the Egyptian Mau. They've been clocked at speeds in excess of 30 mph, accoring to Animal Planet.com. Other figures put their top speed around 30 mph. The Cat Fanciers' Association notes the Egyptian Mau's cheetah-like gait and spots, their medium-sized, long, muscular bodies and their stunning reflexes. Egyptian Maus have longer hind legs than most domestic shorthairs -- the mutts of the cat world -- and a practically unique skin flap that facilitates a longer gait, thus affording them an increased capacity for speed. They may be closer descendants of African wild cats -- the probable common ancestor of all domestic cats -- than other breeds.
Bigger Cats Vs. Domestic Cats
Among big cats, no feline can run faster than the cheetah -- no other land animal, for that matter, either. Cheetahs top out around 70 mph -- more than double the top speed of the fastest domestic cats -- during the course of 200- to 300-yard sprints. By way of comparison, lions run at about 50 mph, not quite double that of domestic cats. Think your house cat gets the zips? Cheetahs can go from zero to 60 mph in three seconds with strides that cover 23 to 25 feet apiece, according to National Geographic. That's not just because they're bigger -- cheetahs have the same skin flap that helps Egyptian Maus lengthen their gait and boost their top speed.
The fastest human runner in the world, Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt, can keep up -- and maybe even beat -- most domestic cats. That's in the context of a 100-meter sprint, which would be a severely limiting qualification save the fact that all cats, domestic and big, are likewise limited to sprinting. When it comes to long distances, though, humans far surpass cats. In fact, the only animals that could beat Ethiopian world marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie's 12 mph pace are certain sled dogs and horses, according to the Wall Street Journal. And if you happened to pick up that copy of the paper, it's far more likely that your cat tried to lay down on it than getting up, going outside and trying to prove it wrong.