Horse vs Cat. Which Four-Legged Animal is Faster?

Introducing the Topic

There is an age old question that has sparked many debates: What is faster – a horse or a cat? On one hand, horses are known for their incredible speed and racing abilities. On the other, cats are agile predators capable of explosive bursts of speed. This article will examine the top speeds, acceleration, endurance, and other factors to finally determine which animal is truly faster – a horse or a cat.

Defining Speed

Speed is a measure of how fast an object is moving. For animals, speed is typically measured in miles per hour (mph) or kilometers per hour (km/h). Speed can be calculated by dividing the distance traveled by the time elapsed:

Speed = Distance / Time

For example, if a cheetah runs 100 meters in 10 seconds, its speed is 100 meters / 10 seconds = 10 meters/second. Converting this to mph gives a speed of around 23 mph.

There are various ways to measure an animal’s speed in the field. Radar guns, like those used by law enforcement, can accurately clock speeds. Camera traps placed a known distance apart can also determine speed by timing how long it takes the animal to travel between the cameras (Source). Measuring acceleration and knowing physics formulas allow scientists to calculate top speeds as well.

The Horse

Horses have a number of features that allow them to run at high speeds for sustained periods of time1. Their long, slender legs and streamlined bodies reduce air resistance while running. Their powerful hindquarters generate tremendous forward thrust. Horses also have very large lungs and hearts to deliver oxygenated blood to the muscles during exertion. Their flexible spines allow their legs to move freely underneath them. Additionally, horses have tough elastic tendons in their legs that act as springs, storing and releasing energy with each stride2.

The Cat

Cats are well known for their quick reflexes and ability to sprint at high speeds over short distances. Several features of their anatomy allow them to run very fast (WagWalking, 2022):

  • Powerful hind legs – A cat’s strong back legs and thighs contain explosive fast-twitch muscles that provide tremendous power for sprinting and leaping.
  • Flexible spine – Cats have an extremely flexible spine that allows their front and back legs to move farther with each stride.
  • Lightweight build – Cats have a lightweight, streamlined build that improves their speed and agility without sacrificing power.
  • Sharp claws – A cat’s sharp claws grip the ground firmly to prevent slipping at high speeds.

The fastest domestic cat breed, the Egyptian Mau, can reach speeds up to 30 miles per hour over short distances. However, they tire quickly and can only maintain top speed for about 30-120 yards before they start slowing down (Catster, 2022).

Top Speeds

When looking at top speeds, horses are generally faster than cats. According to the Speed of Animals website, the top speed of a Thoroughbred racehorse is 43 mph. In comparison, the fastest land animal in the world is the cheetah, which can reach top speeds of around 75 mph.

The average domestic house cat tops out at around 30 mph according to the Quora article “Do big cats run faster than horses?”. So while cheetahs are faster than horses, the average house cat falls short of a thoroughbred racehorse’s top speed.

In general, horses have longer strides and are built for speed over moderate distances. Cats are extremely fast in short bursts but tire more quickly at top speeds. Over longer distances, horses have greater stamina and can maintain higher speeds.

Sprinting vs Distance

When it comes to sprinting, cats have a clear advantage over horses with their incredible acceleration and agility. Cheetahs are the fastest land animal and can reach top speeds of 70 mph over short bursts (Source). Horses are not built for explosive sprints and their top speed is around 55 mph.

However, over longer distances, horses have greater stamina and endurance compared to cats. Horses are capable of maintaining a canter at around 35 mph for miles without tiring (Source). Cats tire quickly when running at top speed and must rest after short bursts. When it comes to running marathons, horses have the clear advantage.

In conclusion, cats are faster sprinters over short distances, but horses have superior stamina for long distance running.

Reaction Time

When it comes to reaction time, cats are incredibly fast. According to research cited on Reddit, “Cats have the fastest reaction time of all animals at between 0 – 70 milliseconds. That’s 0 – 0.07 seconds.” Cats can go from completely still to moving extremely quickly thanks to their fast-twitch muscle fibers. Their reaction time allows them to pounce on prey rapidly.

Horses also have quick reaction times, but not quite as fast as cats. According to India Today, “horses can go from standing still to full gallop in just a few strides.” However, their reaction time is slower than cats at around 150-300 milliseconds.

Overall, cats have the edge when it comes to reaction time and acceleration. Their fast-twitch muscles allow them to react and pounce in a split second, giving them lightning-fast reflexes.


When it comes to long distance endurance, horses have superior stamina compared to cats. Horses have an incredible capacity for aerobic exercise due to their large hearts, lungs, and conditioned muscle tissue. According to an article on Slate (, horses are migratory ungulates well-adapted for endurance running over long distances. Their muscles are rich in myoglobin, allowing for oxygen storage and sustained energy. Horses can run fast for miles at a time.

In contrast, cats are sprinters built for short bursts of energy. While agile and quick, cats lack the physiological specializations of horses that enable superior stamina. The Reddit discussion ( highlights that a cat’s smaller size means lower overall strength and endurance compared to a much larger horse. For marathon-like distances, a horse’s respiratory and cardiovascular systems give it a decisive edge in stamina over a cat.

Environmental Factors

The environment and terrain play a significant role in determining the maximum speeds of horses and cats. Horses evolved as plains animals adept at running long distances across open grasslands, while cats are agile predators that rely on bursts of speed to catch prey (Air Pollution and Domestic Animals).

Horses thrive on flat, open terrain like racetracks or fields where they can fully extend their long stride and build momentum. Studies show their top speed decreases substantially on uneven or slippery ground (Horses as Part of One Health).

Cats are naturally gifted at accelerating and changing direction rapidly. Their flexible spines and muscular hind legs make them agile in all environments, able to zigzag between objects and sprint up inclines. While cats can reach high speeds momentarily, horses have greater stamina for sustained running (Environmental Aspects of Horses).

The Verdict

Given all factors, cheetahs are the fastest land animal and clearly faster than horses. According to research by Hildebrand published in 1959, cheetahs can reach top speeds of 112 km/hr over short distances, while thoroughbred racehorses top out at around 88 km/hr (see Hildebrand 1959). Over longer distances, the Arabian horse is faster at 40 km/hr compared to a cheetah’s 32-40 km/hr. However, cheetahs have greater acceleration and can reach their top speed of 112 km/hr in just 3 seconds. Horses require much more time to reach top speed. In short sprints up to 400-600 meters, the cheetah would beat any horse. At middle distances around 1,500-3,000 meters, the top racehorses may be able to catch up to the cheetah. But for any race longer than that, bet on the cheetah.

In terms of reaction time, cheetahs again have the edge. A cheetah’s reaction time to visual stimuli is just 0.12 seconds compared to 0.15-0.4 seconds for horses. Cheetahs also have superior stamina for short bursts, allowing them to maintain top speed longer than horses. When all factors are considered, cheetahs demonstrate faster maximum and average speeds over short and medium distances. For these reasons, cheetahs are considered the faster animal compared to any breed of horse.

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