If you’ve ever seen or heard news about cats falling from buildings several floors high, you may be wondering how high can a cat fall and still live through it. Cats, in fact, have been reported to survive falls from as high as more than ten stories. Aren’t cats simply amazing?
Knowing how high cats can fall isn’t just a matter of curiosity; it’s also about finding out how remarkable felines are. If you know exactly how your pet can survive a fall, you’ll be less worried about your pet’s penchant for hanging out in extremely high places, but don’t take this to mean that you can be negligent about your cat’s safety—which is why it is important to understand when you should be worried and when you may not need to.
In this article, we’ll first talk about documented reports of cats falling from high places and amazingly surviving, then move on to the physics that allowed that to happen. We’ll then discuss the high-rise syndrome in cats, and then we’ll give you some tips on how to prevent it from happening.
Stories of Cats Surviving Terrifying Falls
The question of how high can a cat fall is a difficult one to answer, since obviously, no one would want to find out the hard way: by throwing cats off of great heights in the name of science. The best way we can answer this is by looking back in history and drawing information from past incidences.
Back in 2009, a cat named Lucky lived up to his fortuitous moniker. Lucky, who was three years old at that time, sneaked out through an open window. Unfortunately, Lucky and his owner lived in a Manhattan skyrise, and the window through which Lucky crawled out was located more than 30 stories high.
Across the building, two window washers working on windows more than 30 stories high saw Lucky and were able to take pictures of Lucky’s adventure.
One photo showed the cat walking on a narrow ledge just outside their apartment window. The next photo showed Lucky mid-fall. And the third one, miraculously, showed Lucky after his landing. In total, Lucky fell 26 stories and survived with just minor injuries. Lucky ended up having a broken jaw and a broken toe. But, he did survive the fall.
Hei Hudie, a Chinese name meaning “black butterfly,” was cruelly stepped on and then thrown from an apartment building located in Chongqing, China. Unfortunately, Hei Hudie fell nine stories high, fracturing her spine. She was only a kitten when this happened in 2015.
Through the goodwill of many people, Hei Hudie received a total of four major surgeries. A wheeled contraption is attached to her back to serve as her back legs since she lost the use of her hind legs when she fell. Despite the cruelties Hei Hudie suffered, her will to live and the outpouring of love and support from numerous people enabled her to survive.
In another cat falling incident, Sugar, a white cat, dropped to the ground from the window of a 19th-floor apartment. The Animal Rescue League of Boston took care of Sugar, saying she was lucky she landed on soft grass and mulch. Sugar suffered a minor bruising of the lungs due to the fall but is otherwise alright.
The Physics of Cats Falling
How cats can fall from such dizzying heights and still survive have long been bewildering vets and scientists alike. Back in 1988, a scientific study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association reported on the results of 132 cats falling.
Although more than a third of these cats needed emergency treatments to sustain their lives, 90% of the 132 cats were reported to have survived their falls. What’s even more amazing is that a third of these falling cats did not require any medical treatment at all.
In another study, 119 cases of falling cats were reported from 1998 to 2001. What was truly incredible about this study is that a 96.5% survival rate was reported. This may be in part due to the fact that the average height that the cats fell was just four stories. Nevertheless, that’s a formidable height to fall from for humans.
How do cats survive these falls? There are several factors that come into play:
#1: Terminal Velocity
When something falls, whether it’s an object or your beloved pet, there’s a thing called terminal velocity. Gravity and air resistance have something to do with it, but to put it simply, it just refers to that point in time when the speed of a falling object can no longer increase.
According to scientific studies, cats may have lesser injuries when they fall more than seven stories high as compared to when they fall from lesser heights. Apparently, this is because cats achieve terminal velocity after falling around 21 meters or approximately seven stories.
Once terminal velocity is reached, a falling cat stops accelerating. At this point, falling cats start relaxing, which allows them to instinctively better distribute the impact of falling.
#2: The Cat’s Falling Position
Another theory that might explain why cats suffer fewer injuries if they fall more than seven stories high has to do with the cat’s position during the fall. A falling cat will tend to arch his back when accelerating. When a cat arches his back, the cat’s body is very tense.
This kind of form is supposed to be alright for absorbing the impact of short falls, such as when your cat falls from the kitchen counter. However, this arched form is said to be very dangerous for high-velocity impacts, such as when a cat falls from a height of 3 stories.
When the cat’s body is greatly tensed up, it will also greatly increase the chances of injuries. Moreover, when a falling cat has his back arched, this will further increase the cat’s falling velocity by around 15 miles per hour. Meaning, they fall faster, and the impact is greater.
However, when a falling cat relaxes after reaching terminal velocity, he will assume a flying squirrel stance. The cat will try to fall in a spread-eagle position, and this is actually good because this stance will reduce the falling speed.
In addition, the flying eagle stance will also result in the impact being distributed over a larger surface area, which could explain why the injury sustained after the fall is lesser than what one would have expected.
See Also: How Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet
Even NASA—yes, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration of the United States—has conducted a study to find out how cats flip themselves mid-air to land on their feet.
NASA wanted to understand how cats can do this, so they can teach astronauts how to do the same while they’re in outer space. Unfortunately, it seems that only a cat’s body is equipped to do this neat trick.
Apparently, because of the way a cat’s body is built, a cat is able to act like her front part and rear part are two separate objects. While in mid-air, the rear part will act as a balance and counter-force while the front part rights itself. Then the front part will act as the balance while the rear part rights itself.
That’s one way to explain it without going through all the details of force versus equal reaction, rotational physics, and so on. In short, cats are simply built to do it. And they do it in just a matter of milliseconds—which is another reason why cats are simply one of the most amazing creatures on earth.
#3: The Cat’s Build
When a cat assumes the spread-eagle position, this greatly increases the cat’s surface area. However, the truth is that in proportion to their weight, cats really do have a relatively large surface area.
If you were to let your feline pet lay down on the floor in a spread-eagle position and place a dog of similar weight in the same position, you’ll notice that your cat will occupy a larger area.
This simply means that the reason why so many cats survive falling from great heights is not just because of physics. It’s also because cats are physiologically built to survive great falls. Their bodies, over time, have evolved to allow them to fall from heights without getting scratched.
Moreover, cats have long and muscular legs. Their limbs actually extend from under their bodies. This also contributes to the uncanny ability of cats to absorb the shock of impact after falling from great heights.
Important to Know: High-Rise Syndrome in Cats
This summer, The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) is warning cat parents about the dangers of opening unscreened windows. You may feel the urge to open your windows to let in the breeze during the hot days of summer.
However, if your windows are unscreened, your cat may just get tempted to explore the world outside your windows. And this can definitely put your cat at risk of falling.
Although we have established how adept cats are at the art of falling, we still don’t want to put them in danger. It would perhaps be fine if you’re living in a single story house. But if you’re residing in a high-rise apartment, that can be extremely dangerous for your cat.
Your cat may not intentionally jump from dangerously high places. However, there has just been too many reports of cats falling accidentally from high-rise windows, terraces, and even fire escapes. So you’ll need to take precautions.
You see, there’s a thing called the high-rise syndrome in cats. When cats fall from extreme heights, they tend to land with their feet splayed apart. While, as we’ve mentioned, this spread-eagled position can help slow down their falling speed in mid-air, if they don’t land properly, this can actually result in various injuries such as pelvis and head injuries. In severe cases, it can even lead to death.
How to Prevent High-Rise Syndrome
It is true that cats love lounging and perching in high places. You’ll seldom see a cat that has a fear of heights. However, this doesn’t mean that cats can take care of themselves when they’re perched somewhere high.
Even if it’s true that cats can hang or cling well to tree barks using their claws, when your cat finds herself alone on a window ledge, your cat won’t be able to cling much to surfaces like concrete and brick. In addition, if something distracts your cat, like seeing a bird fly by, your pet may lose balance and accidentally fall.
Here’s how you can prevent the high-rise syndrome common in cats:
Bear in mind that your feline pet can be very focused on whatever catches her attention. If, for instance, you’ve got an open window and your cat happened to see a bird outside the window, your pet may go after the bird and accidentally fall from your window.
If you’re living in a high-rise apartment, one of the best things you can do for your feline pet is to have screened windows installed. This way, you can enjoy the breeze when you open your windows and yet still keep your cat safe.
If your screens are adjustable, ensure that the screens are always tightly wedged into your window frames so that your pet won’t be able to accidentally open the screens.
If you have the budget for it, have childproof window guards installed. Make sure they’re reinforced so your pet won’t be able to slip through. This is a really great idea if there are children living in your household, or if you have more than one curious and adventurous family member.
See Also: Cat Window Box DIY
Even if your pet falls from 20 stories high, don’t automatically assume that your pet didn’t survive the fall. Look for your pet and immediately rush to the nearest vet or animal hospital. It’s highly likely that your pet will need medical attention, but if treated right away, your pet will have a high chance of surviving.
Have you ever seen your cat fall from a great height? If so, did your cat need medical attention after falling, or was it one of those lucky falls? Do share your experience with us. Please feel free to leave your comments and suggestions. For other interesting cat facts, check out our article on how do cats sweat.