Head movement during walking in the cat

Neuroscience. 2016 Sep 22;332:101-20. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2016.06.031. Epub 2016 Jun 23.


Knowledge of how the head moves during locomotion is essential for understanding how locomotion is controlled by sensory systems of the head. We have analyzed head movements of the cat walking along a straight flat pathway in the darkness and light. We found that cats' head left-right translations, and roll and yaw rotations oscillated once per stride, while fore-aft and vertical translations, and pitch rotations oscillated twice. The head reached its highest vertical positions during second half of each forelimb swing, following maxima of the shoulder/trunk by 20-90°. Nose-up rotation followed head upward translation by another 40-90° delay. The peak-to-peak amplitude of vertical translation was ∼1.5cm and amplitude of pitch rotation was ∼3°. Amplitudes of lateral translation and roll rotation were ∼1cm and 1.5-3°, respectively. Overall, cats' heads were neutral in roll and 10-30° nose-down, maintaining horizontal semicircular canals and utriculi within 10° of the earth horizontal. The head longitudinal velocity was 0.5-1m/s, maximal upward and downward linear velocities were ∼0.05 and ∼0.1m/s, respectively, and maximal lateral velocity was ∼0.05m/s. Maximal velocities of head pitch rotation were 20-50°/s. During walking in light, cats stood 0.3-0.5cm taller and held their head 0.5-2cm higher than in darkness. Forward acceleration was 25-100% higher and peak-to-peak amplitude of head pitch oscillations was ∼20°/s larger. We concluded that, during walking, the head of the cat is held actively. Reflexes appear to play only a partial role in determining head movement, and vision might further diminish their role.

Keywords: head fixation point; locomotion; posture; vestibular.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acceleration
  • Animals
  • Biomechanical Phenomena
  • Cats
  • Female
  • Head Movements* / physiology
  • Male
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Postural Balance
  • Rotation
  • Vision, Ocular
  • Walking* / physiology