It may not seem like it this week, but spring is truly coming. We are all eager to open our windows and doors and let the fresh air in. Unfortunately, this also opens the door to a cat danger so common that it has been named by veterinarians: High-Rise Syndrome. We see several cases per year just at Blue Cross Animal Hospital.
Cats and Falling
Cats have a phenomenal ability to balance. They are agile, well-muscled, and have fantastic depth perception. Their single-tracking foot placement, where each paw is placed where the one before it was, allows them to navigate narrow branches and ledges. Should they lose their balance, cats respond quickly: it’s a common adage that cats always land on their feet. Cats’ reflexes and flexible spine allow them to turn right side up as they fall, and the soft pads on their feet soften the landing. In a fall from a high spot, cats will spread out in a flying-squirrel-like position that slows the speed of the fall. These abilities have allowed some cats to survive multi-story falls. Unfortunately the key word here is “survive”. That survival is usually accompanied by terrible injuries: fractured jaws and teeth, punctured lungs, ruptured organs, broken legs, shattered pelvises, and head injuries.
Because cats so enjoy perching on heights and looking down, and because they are so comfortable manoeuvring around on high narrow edges, it easy to think that your cat can take care of him or herself and isn’t at risk, but this just isn’t true.
Here are the Facts:
- Cats don’t ever deliberately “jump” from high places–they fall accidentally from apartment windows, balconies or fire escapes.
- Many cats have fallen simply by accidentally twitching or rolling off of a sill or ledge while deeply asleep.
- Cats will focus their attention absolutely and completely on whatever interests them. Your cat’s intense prey drive can make any passing bird or flying insect so distracting that your cat will forget him or herself and miss the edge of a window or balcony and fall.
- The artificial surfaces of windowsills and balconies are much slipperier than the rough surfaces of trees and rocks that cat feet evolved to cling to.
- The “flying-squirrel” posture mentioned above means that cats land from a high height with their legs splayed apart, making it easier for their head and pelvis to make contact with the ground and be severely damaged.
- Cats are much more likely to be severely injured falling from a medium height, such as one or two storeys, as they do not have time to adjust their body position as they fall. Don’t believe that your cat is safe because you are only in a second-floor apartment.
- Remember that a cat that falls from a balcony or window is already traumatized and potentially injured by the fall, and may end up on sidewalks or streets that are dangerous and unknown.
- Never assume that your cat has survived or not survived the fall. If your cat has fallen, you should rush them immediately to a veterinary hospital that can see him or her at once, and assess your pet for injuries and prognosis. There is a substantial survival rate for cats who are high-rise syndrome victims if they receive immediate and proper medical attention.
High-Rise Syndrome Prevention
- Install tight-fitting and sturdy screens in all your windows and balcony doors. Standard screening isn’t sufficient. We have had cases at Blue Cross Animal Hospital where a cat jumped straight through a standard screen in pursuit of a bird. Make sure that adjustable screens are tightly wedged.
- Make sure that your balcony door closes securely behind you when entering and exiting, and that your cat hasn’t escaped past you.
- Many childproof window guards have gaps big enough for a cat to slip through””these don’t provide enough protection.
- We don’t recommend allowing your cat onto your balcony. A cat can so quickly jump and be over the edge before you can get out of your chair to stop them. We’ve seen too many unfortunate accidents to feel that cats should be out on balconies at any time, even if you’re with them.
- If construction or the removal of an appliance such as your air conditioner creates an opening that your cat will fit through, make sure that the hole is covered securely.