Do you live in a multi-story apartment building? What about a two-story house?
Whether you live on the 30th floor or the third, your cat may be at risk of High Rise Syndrome, particularly during the warmer weather months.
Wait, what is High Rise Syndrome?
Don’t panic: It’s not some weird brain parasite that only lives in high rises. The term is used to refer to injuries sustained by cats who fall from high places. What kinds of places? Balconies, window ledges, and even open doorways.
“High rise” injuries can happen from nearly any height; it’s all about the landing. A cat who falls from the second story could potentially be hurt far worse than a cat who falls from the fifth, depending on how he lands.
And in case you’re wondering why something as simple as cats falling deserved such a hyperbolic nickname? High Rise Syndrome as a concept exists because it’s an unbelievably common injury in cats!
But I thought cats always landed on their feet?
Well, they often do. That said, any cat who falls from any height over two stories – meaning he didn’t intentionally jump – is likely to need medical attention. Sure, you’ll hear stories about cats who jump off their 12th floor balcony in a fire and miraculously survive…but these cats are almost never uninjured.
The kinds of injuries cats can and do sustain from falls run the gamut. In one study of 119 cats who fell from an average of four stories, nearly 97% survived. Almost half suffered bone fractures of some kind, and many suffered head and/or chest trauma, particularly if their fall was from a higher height.
I don’t think my cat would fall, though.
A number of factors make your cat more likely to be on the wrong end of high rise syndrome. Cats under one year of age are far more likely to unexpectedly fall, and hurt themselves worse when they do. Their motor reflexes aren’t quite perfected yet and they also tend to have less spatial awareness and depth perception than grown cats.
Cats who live in high rises, of course, are most likely to fall from great heights. That said, most falls happen from windows, such as when a screen suddenly pops out or a cat falls asleep and loses its balance. Some cats fall when a bird or squirrel gets to close to an open window and they overextend their swipe. The warmer the weather, the greater the risk because windows and doors are more likely to be left open.
What should I do if my cat falls?
First and foremost, get your cat to a veterinarian. Never assume that if you can’t see injuries, they aren’t present. Many of the most common fall-related injuries affect the internal organs: lung punctures, severe bruising, pancreatic trauma.
If your cat falls, try to stabilize his body with a board (if he’ll allow you to) and wrap him in a clean towel to try and stave off shock. More than a two-story fall or the injuries seem serious? Get your cat to an emergency veterinarian as quickly as possible.
Should I move out of my high-rise building?
That’s not necessary! The most surefire way to keep your cat safe is to keep all doors and windows closed at all times. If that’s not possible, be sure all your doors and windows have screens – and check that they’re very firmly attached!
Can’t have screens? Supervise your cat at all times when doors and windows are open, and don’t let your cat fall asleep against any windows or railings. It’s simply too easy for him to snooze past his balance and wake up mid-air.