Don’t Count on Your Cat to Land on its Feet Every Time

September 15, 2015 | Reece Alvarez

Cat looking out window
Photo credit:

Any cat owner knows how much their pets love window sills, but the attraction can actually be deadly for kitties, particularly in summer.

Cats are known for their ability to land on their feet and get out of, or into, seemingly impossible situations — National Geographic has even profiled a cat who fell 19 stories virtually unscathed — thus the famous expression, “cats have nine lives.”

But in reality, cats are not the invincible acrobats we might think they are.

“It’s not totally correct that cats always land on their feet,” said Roswitha Steinbacher, a veterinarian at the Clinical Department for Anaesthesiology and Perioperative Intensive-Care Medicine at the Vetmeduni Vienna.

“Sometimes such a plunge has no consequences for the cats. But often they suffer serious injuries,” she said. “It mainly depends on the height of fall. If it is too low, the animals often hit the ground on the side of their body. When cats fall from very high, they can correct their body position and land on their feet, but often their legs can’t hold the bounce. Their joints are heavily [bent], single bones break and the cat’s head and thorax hit the ground.”

According to a 2010 study by the Clinical Unit of Small Animal Surgery at the Vetmeduni Vienna, summer is an especially dangerous time for curious cats who like to lounge by open windows.

The study found that, statistically, June, July and August are the most dangerous months. On average, accidents are more frequent among younger cats, and males are more likely to fall from very high places.

Frequently, the falls can cause internal injuries to the lungs as well as broken bones and traumatic brain injuries.

Fractures or breaks in the pelvis, forefoot and midfoot bones are also common, according to the study.        

“Bone fractures and dislocations cause a severe pain for the animals. As a consequence, one or several surgeries can be necessary which might cause quite high costs for the keepers,” Steinbacher said.

House cats fall out of unscreened windows frequently enough that the veterinary profession has a name for it — high-rise syndrome.

According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), cats don’t deliberately jump from heights that would be dangerous — most fall accidentally from high-rise windows, terraces or fire escapes. Cats have a natural affinity for heights as well as the ability to focus their attention intensely on an array of distractions. This laser-like focus on the outside can cause them to lose their balance and fall, particularly from window ledges and other concrete or brick surfaces which are difficult for their claws to grasp.

Animal care professionals emphasize the importance of having screened windows. Even seemingly safe childproof window guards don’t provide enough protection for the curious felines, and tilted windows can be especially dangerous.

According to a warning issued this summer from the Vetmeduni Vienna, cats often wedge themselves in tilted windows during the warmest months to try and reach the outside world. The situation can be very dangerous because, as the animals try to free themselves, they slip even deeper into the gap. This clamps the blood supply in their rear legs and crushes vital organs.

“Depending on the duration, being stuck in the window gap can lead to a life-threatening situation for cats,” Steinbacher said.



If the death defying case of Sugar “The Miracle Cat” wasn’t enough to prove it, the ASPCA advises pet owners to never assume that a cat hasn’t survived a fall and to immediately rush the animal to the nearest animal hospital or veterinarian.

There is a 90 percent survival rate for cats who are high-rise victims if they receive immediate and proper medical attention, according to the ASPCA.


Hot Topics

Facebook comments