We’ve all heard of cats falling from ridiculously high places. Many fall from quite a number of stories up in high rise buildings, and unlike if we humans were to have fallen from such a high place, a large number of these cats live to see another day. It’s an incredible quirk of their biology, and of physics. Want to know why this happens? Here’s an pretty succinct 5 point breakdown.
Sadly, there are also many tales of cats falling from high places and not making it. Stories of kitties surviving, but being badly injured from high falls also exist. So what’s the difference? How high can cats fall from and survive, albeit injury? From how high can cats fall without injury? Is there a Which Heights Are More Dangerous (More Injuries + Lower Survival) for Cats to Fall From??
It’s impossible to study these questions scientifically besides looking at the aftermath of accidents that happen – no one will and no one should be dropping cats from high rise buildings in order to learn more about how far cats can fall. That being said, there is quite a lot out there already to help us get a good overview of what’s going on here, more than you might think. From research on high-rise syndrome, to newspaper articles on cats that have fallen from very high places and reports on whether they survived unscathed, sustained an injury, or were not able to make it, there’s plenty out there to help us fill in the blanks about the height cats can fall from, and what the risk of injury & death happens to be.
How High Can Cats Fall & Survive?
In terms of the highest cats have fallen from and survived, word around the block seems to be: 32 storeys. A cat has fallen from an apartment 32 storeys high and lived to clean her tail.
Since a storey is roughly 14 feet, or 4.3 meters in height, this means cats have survived falls round about 448 feet or 136.6 meters – crazy!
Where do I get this number? And is it just one cat?
Oddly enough there seem to be a number of cats who have fallen from 32 storey apartments in particular. Here’s the story of one who was thrown (insane, I know; some incredibly terrible people out there), and still lived, albeit losing the use of her hind legs, poor thing 🙁 In terms of the details of the fall’s aftermath:”…the resilient feline survived the fall, which fractured her spine, and after four major operations in six months the eight-month-old kitty she is able to get around again using a wheeled brace.” Not a small feat considering such a terrible accident from so high.
There was also at least one other cat who’s fallen from a 32nd storey window: “32 stories above the streets of New York City, a cat fell from a window and lived. After vets treated the cat’s chipped tooth and collapsed lungs, the feline was sent home two days later.” So 32 storeys and a few non-fatal injuries, all patched up at the vet’s clinic, and off to live back at home literally two days later? Crazy. Cats are awesome.
There’s a 1987 study that actually took a direct look at high-rise syndrome in cats i.e. “the phenomenon of cats falling from higher than two stories” (definition from Wikipedia). Aptly named, High-rise syndrome in cats. the study by J Am Vet Med Assoc mentions in its abstract that of the 132 cats the study followed over a 5-month period: “Ninety percent of the treated cats survived.”
Yet another study on high-rise syndrome in cats popped up in 2004, one called “Feline high-rise syndrome: 119 cases. In this one, “High-rise syndrome was diagnosed in 119 cats over a 4-year period. 96.5% of the presented cats, survived after the fall.”
Time to reiterate. These cats all fell from higher than two stories, that’s above 28 feet / 8.5 meters, and over 90% survived.
I’ll let that sink in.
Now back to reality – yes, the only cats who were studied were ones who made it looking alive enough to be taken to a vet, as this article aptly puts it: “The potential flaw is this: the study was based only on cats that were brought into the hospital. Clearly dead cats, your basic fell-20-stories-and-looks-like-it-came-out-of-a-can-of-Spam cats, go to the Dumpster, not the emergency room. This may skew the statistics and make falls from great distances look safer than they are.”
So we absolutely do not know the actual percentage of cats who survive these types of falls since there’s no doubt cats exist who are obviously beyond help after they’ve fallen from such heights. Still, all things considered – those are great numbers if you ask me.
Picture from post The Pesky Houseguest: Weiss the Cat
How Far Can a Cat Fall Without Getting Hurt?
Okay so a lot of cats survive high falls, fair enough, but how many of them can survive a fall from that height (over two storeys) without being injured at all?
While I can’t answer that question exactly, there don’t appear to be many cats who fall from high places without being injured.
In the research provided, it seems the question wasn’t which cats were and were not injured, but more or less, how bad the injuries were, and which cats needed emergency treatment to help keep them alive versus less serious treatment, and finally, which cats were injured, but didn’t need treatment at all.
Let’s go back to the 1987 study for a second. As the BBC points out, “In a 1987 study of 132 cats brought to a New York City emergency veterinary clinic after falls from high-rise buildings, 90% of treated cats survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to keep them alive. One that fell 32 stories onto concrete suffered only a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung and was released after 48 hours.”
Thus, while 90% of cats survived, 37% needed the emergency treatment to patch them up, helping them stay alive. The ones who remained typically needed something done – like that cat with the collapsed lung that needed fixing – but nothing as serious as emergency surgery.
The abstract of the 1987 study itself points out: “Emergency (life-sustaining) treatment, primarily because of thoracic trauma and shock, was required in 37% of the cats. Nonemergency treatment was required in an additional 30%. The remaining 30% were observed, but did not require treatment.”
So to reiterate: 90% of the cats survived. 37% needed emergency, life-sustaining treatment to help get them there. Non-emergency treatment was required in 30% of cases, and the remaining 30% of cats were observed, but didn’t need treatment. So that’s actually a substantial amount of cats that didn’t need treatment after such high falls.
What we should take away from this, however, is – you really don’t know if your cat will need surgery after a fall from that height. He or she may need emergency surgery, or something less dramatic, but still important to do, like repairing a collapsed lung. If you happen to be around when a cat falls from this height, or your cat falls, or whatever the case may be, get that cat checked out at the vet – no matter what height! Because chances are high that cat has been injured, and may need help from a vet ASAP to help get him or her to the point where they walk away from the vet’s with that 90%+ survival rate.
Which Heights Are More Dangerous (More Injuries & Lower Survival) for Cats to Fall?
The 2004 study points out there is a point after which more serious injuries are incurred from cats who fall from high-rise buildings: “Falls from the seventh or higher stories, are associated with more severe injuries and with a higher incidence of thoracic trauma.”
So anything from the 7th storey onward (98 feet / 28.7 meters) is more dangerous for a cat to fall from.
Cats who fall from these heights are absolutely not beyond hope, and some still do come out of the terrible situation relatively unscathed, still – overall – they do suffer from higher incidents of trauma.
Which heights led to less serious injuries? An article on Business Insider mentions that the obvious holds true in this situation: “Comes as no surprise that cats who fell from the second floor had fewer injuries than cats who fell from the sixth floor.”
You’d assume this pattern continues past the 7th storey, where the higher up the cats fall from, the more serious the injuries a cat would incur. There, you’d be wrong: “But here is the fascinating part. Above the seventh story, the extent of the injuries largely stayed the same, no matter how high the cats fell.”
So between cats who fall from the 2nd to the 7th storeys, those that fall from lower storeys fare better in terms of injuries sustained.
But above the 7th storey, the extent of a cat’s injuries all the way until the 32nd story seem to stay around the same. Why?
Again, the very same Business Insider article to the rescue for the explanation: “Well, it all comes down to acrobatics or lack thereof. Cats that fell from two to seven stories up mostly landed feet first. Above that, however, cats used a different technique. Instead of positioning their legs straight down as they fell, they splayed out like a parachuter. And landed belly-first instead.”
Very cool. And absolute madness to visualize. Cats are pretty stinkin’ incredible.
The Final Word of Caution
Don’t risk your cats falling if you’re in a high rise building. If you have a balcony you let your cat onto, make sure your cat is not able to fall by fencing it in, or keep your cat on a pet harness with you out there to hold the leash of – stay out there with them. Don’t assume things will be alright just because your cat’s got amazing balance and you’ve left him or her outside un-monitored before and it went alright. Distractions happen. Cats can get caught up watching a nearby bird and fall to a pretty damn terrible fall, if not to their death. Accidents happen, and it’s absolutely not worth the risk.
Make sure your windows have mesh screens on them – make sure your cats aren’t scratching holes into those screens that make them able to get through and fall out a window. You know how to keep your pet safe, please make sure you take the precautions.
And if a cat falls out of a window, no matter whose it is and no matter what height – no matter how unharmed he or she looks – take that cat to the vet straight away.
Your Thoughts on High-Rise Syndrome in Cats?
What did you think the answers were to the questions presented before you read this article? Did you guess cats who fell from high-rise buildings had such a high chance of surviving? Did you think they sustained less injuries?
Have any stories, newspaper articles, or interesting research/information on this topic to share?
Love to hear any and all thoughts you have on how cats fall from incredibly high places in the comments down below!