In late 2022 and early 2023, various social media users shared what appeared to be a large, long-haired cat sitting in an uncannily human manner on top of a dresser, with its hind legs dangling over the side. Here's an example of the image posted on the platform Reddit:
Comments on the post called it a "sleep paralysis cat" or a djinn, spirits originating in Arabic-speaking cultures that are most commonly referred to as "genies" in English-language pop culture.
Our reverse image searches performed on both TinEye and Google show that the image appears to have been first published on the image and meme sharing and hosting site Imgur in early November 2022. Around that same time, it was also posted on Reddit. It appears the photo originated with this Instagram account, where more of the same can be found.
Although we aren't cat range-of-motion specialists, the image appears to us to be the result of digital manipulation. Cats' hind legs don't appear to be able get into that position very easily (if at all).
The bones and joints in their hips and hind legs naturally form a "Z" shape, and when they sit, they typically fold their hind legs underneath them. The hind legs of the cat in the image also appear to be too long.
Needless to say, we're skeptical, but for good measure we have reached out to some experts to consult about whether it's physically possible for a cat to sit that way.
We got an emailed answer from Dr Nathalie Dowgray, head of the International Society of Feline Medicine, the veterinary division of the cat care professional society International Cat Care. Dr. Dowgray expressed skepticism that the image was real, but stated that it isn't impossible for a cat to sit that way:
Anatomically it is possible for cats to sit in positions similar to this, though there is a good chance this photo has been augmented. I would expect the legs to stick out more than they do – this is a bit too close to 90 degrees to be realistic! More significantly, cat owners should be aware that this isn't a normal posture for a cat and may indicate a problem. The cat in the picture looks like a Maine Coon, a breed that is genetically predisposed to hip dysplasia. If your cat sits in a posture similar to this, it's important to have them checked by a veterinarian for underlying musculoskeletal disease.
A second veterinarian, Dr. Bruce Kornreich of Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine, and director of the Cornell Feline Health Center, agreed with Dowgray's assessment, and pointed to a number of features from the image that had him skeptical of the image's authenticity:
The first is that I have never seen a healthy cat sit in a position that in any way approaches the posture seen here, and its difficult to imagine why a cat would choose to sit this way. Assuming such a posture would, in my opinion, take significant effort and be uncomfortable for a cat, and in my experience, cats don't generally choose to do difficult things that make then uncomfortable willingly.
Kornreich also pointed to the length of the hind limbs, which appear too long in relation to the cat's body, and some suspicious blurring and light angle issues that added to his suspicion that this isn't an authentic image.