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Feline High-rise Syndrome

Feline High-rise Syndrome  refers to the range of injuries that a domestic cat will suffer when he or she falls from a great height off the balcony or through a window of an apartment.

People living in apartments in high-rise towers with their domestic cats need to be very careful when their cat goes out onto the balcony because they cannot assume that their cat knows best.  Domestic cats make mistakes notwithstanding that they are incredible athletes and very skilled at manoeuvring along narrow ledges at great heights.  Also cats like to sit at apartment windows looking outside.  Is the window closed?  Is the window secure?  Perhaps there is some sort of device inserted into an open window which is loose and through which a cat could fall.
Persian cat in Mumbai India at open window in high-rise apartment.
Photo: Rudolph Furtado. The cat is "Matahari"

Although it is probably rare, cats and kittens can and do fall out of apartments.  Sometimes they're killed on impact with the ground.

However, it may surprise you that cats are not only excellent climbers they are also superb at falling from a great height, thankfully, but don't test it whatever you do.

Apparently, 90% of cats that fall out of apartments survive.  They survive because when they impact the ground they are relaxed.  Also, the domestic cat will fan out his or her body like a flying squirrel to break the fall and the terminal velocity for a domestic cat falling from an apartment balcony is 53 mph while skydivers fall at 140 mph, as I recall.

The interesting thing about this is that if a cat falls off a balcony between the second and seventh floor and survive the fall, their injuries may well be greater than if the cat has fallen from the eighth floor and higher.

This is because when falling from a lower floor the cat does not reached terminal velocity and because of that the vestibular system in the inner ear tells the cat to brace itself for a landing in which case the legs are stiffer, whereas once the cat reaches terminal velocity the vestibular system does not send this message whereupon the cat is in a relaxed state.  This ensures that less bones are broken (src: The Cat Its Behavior, Nutrition & Health).

The sort of bones that are broken are of course legs and jawbones.  The lower jaw hits the ground at about the same time as the legs and is pushed up into the upper jaw causing fractures and injuries to the face.  The chest can also be injured and this is a priority for a veterinarian to deal with as it can be life-threatening.

The remarkable fact, though, is that when falling from such a height, perhaps 100 feet, the can is able to survive.

Cats on balconies should wear a harness and be tethered to the wall so they cannot go over the edge (sounds gross I know but safe). Windows should be firmly closed and locked. Or if open, secure systems put in place to keep the cat safe.


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