All across the world, cats have been making mad dashes out of windows, falling freely through city skylines into uncertain fates. As many as four cats a day fall out of high-rise windows in New York City. While it’s not quite enough to necessitate a Kevlar umbrella, it has caused many to ask why cats are falling out of windows so often. And, when you learn that many of these cats survive falls well over 100 feet, a more important question arises: how do cats survive these falls?
High-Rise Syndrome is the tendency of cats to fall out of high-rise windows, terraces, or fire escapes. You should know that they are not jumping; rather their quick descents are triggered by evolutionary habits of hunting from tall branches. All it takes is one visiting bird perched on a windowsill to send your cat flying down towards the city streets.
Surprisingly, cats have the capacity to fall well over 10 stories and survive. One cat at a New York City veterinary clinic survived a fall from 42 stories! The survival mechanics of cats are relatively simple to comprehend. Once in free-fall, cats turn their heads and move their bodies according to messages received by their eyes and inner-ear canals. With these messages, cats turn their spine and align their rear quarters to balance out their bodies. Before impact, they arch their backs to reduce the force of impact.
This makes sense, as domestic cat’s ancestors evolved to fall from tall trees while hunting. But for a while, veterinary scientists were left with one confounding conclusion: cats that fell from greater heights sustained fewer injuries than cats that fell from roughly the fifth to ninth floors. It wasn’t until recently that an explanation was discovered. Within the first five floors of free-fall, the speed of falling is not quite fast enough to cause maximum damage, although some damage may occur. The real problem heights lie between the fifth and ninth floor, where the speed of falling is still increasing and the cat is still rigid and intense.
The most common occurring injury for cats who incur High-Rise Syndrome is broken bones, more specifically the jaw bone, which is the classic sign (along with broken teeth) that a cat’s chin has slammed the ground upon landing. Other injuries include joint injuries to the legs, ruptured tendons, ligament injuries, and internal injuries to the organs.
There are ways that pet owners can prevent High-Rise syndrome, and if done properly, can make this syndrome 100 percent preventable. Veterinarians recommend installing high and sturdy screens into your high-rise windows. If your current screens are adjustable, you want to make sure they are tightly wedged into the frames. Vets also warn even though child-proof window guards are safe for children, cats can find ways to sneak past them, so don’t rely on them for absolute protection. Finally, if you want your cat to be safe in any city, its best to keep them indoors where they can’t roam freely and find new ledges or ceilings to hunt birds from.