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How Far Can Cats Fall Without Hurting Themselves? What Science Says

Written by: Lindsey Lawson

Last Updated on January 5, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

Blue Point Siamese cat looking up in an apple tree

How Far Can Cats Fall Without Hurting Themselves? What Science Says

It’s no secret that cats enjoy climbing. As owners, it has the potential to cause a great amount of anxiety to watch our beloved companions reach heights we know would hurt us if we were to fall. You have probably heard of the saying, “Cats always land on their feet,” and many believe it, as cats are notoriously agile and do land on their feet most of the time.

Exactly how far can cats fall without getting hurt? The answer to this question isn’t so simple since there is no exact distance that a can can be safe. In this article, we will go over what has been observed, what the experts have to say, and how to best keep your cat safe.

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How Far Can Cats Fall?

The truth is, there is no exact distance a cat can fall without the risk of getting hurt. There are so many different factors at play there is no way to definitively determine a safe distance.

study completed in 1987 and published in the journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association studied 132 cats that had fallen an average of 5.5 stories and survived. However, without emergency veterinary care, one-third of those cats would have died from the injuries sustained in their falls.

Injuries from falls less than 7 stories were actually worse than those seven stories and above. The researchers believed this was due to the cats reaching terminal velocity and being able to better distribute impact. Cats have been recorded to have fallen over 30 stories and still survived, though this is very rare, and a fall from this distance would typically result in death.

Regardless of what the studies suggest, safety measures should always be in place to ensure cats do not fall from these kinds of heights.

tuxedo cat on tree
Image by: bookwurmee, Pixabay

Additional Risk Factors

Age

Cats typically don’t develop their reflexes until they are several weeks of age. Newborn kittens shouldn’t be moving around too much, regardless, and should not have access to heights. They should be nestled safely in a comfortable area with their mother. Senior cats are at a higher risk of injury due to falls. This is due to wear on the body because of age, seniors can develop arthritis and are not as nimble as their younger counterparts.


Weight

Obese cats are going to be at a greater risk of falling just because the extra body weight will not only limit their flexibility and overall agility but there is also more impact behind the fall. It’s important to ensure your cat is at a healthy weight for their size and activity level for the sake of their overall health and to avoid any weight-related health concerns.

Ginger kitten about to jump from a tree
Image by: sspiehs3, Pixabay

Claws

Cats that are declawed are more likely to fall due to the lack of traction. Declawed cats are unable to grip surfaces as securely as those with their claws naturally intact. It’s important to discuss the declawing process in detail with your veterinarian before deciding on this procedure, as it is a very controversial subject that certainly has negative aspects.


Environment

The environment surrounding a fall can have a large impact on the fall itself. This includes surface type, height, surroundings, and more. It is important to always keep your cat securely indoors to best ensure their overall safety.

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Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet?

Just like the age-old saying, cats do have a reputation for always landing on their feet when they fall. This can mislead people into believing it’s always true, and while cats are naturally adapted to handle falls from greater distances compared to other species, they do not always land on their feet and can be injured by falls. Here, we will discuss the reasons why cats are so famous for their landing abilities.

Toyger cat in a tree
Image by: Kutikova Ekaterina, Shutterstock

Righting Reflex

Cats have what is called a righting reflex, this reflex is an automatic bodily response that corrects the body’s orientation when it is in an abnormal position so that they can safely land on their feet. This is largely due to the vestibular system in the inner ear that controls both hearing and balance. This reflex has been observed in a kitten as young as 3 weeks of age.


Flexibility

Cats have a unique skeletal structure that makes them extremely flexible. They had to adapt to life in the wild, where they frequent trees and higher surfaces. Cats don’t have a collarbone, and their spine is significantly more flexible than most other animals. The flexibility of the spine also contributes to having agile and graceful cats move. This allows them to physically twist and turn their bodies when in mid-air during a fall.


Dangers of Falling

Cats do have an impressive knack for landing on their feet and surviving falls from surprisingly high places. It doesn’t always work out that way. Cats are at risk of serious injury and even death if they were to fall.

Falling Risks
  • Broken teeth
  • Shattered jaw(s)
  • Broken legs
  • Fractured spine
  • Punctured lung(s)
  • Permanent disability
  • Death

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Keeping Your Cat Safe

One would naturally assume that because cats are naturally accustomed to navigating heights and have an affinity for climbing up to high places, they would be safe. Falling from any height poses a potential danger to your cat. Thankfully, cats are little survivalists with excellent instincts. They can typically gauge whether they will have a safe landing from any given height.

Persian Cat and tree
Image by: lindarczyk, Pixabay
  • Discourage climbing
  • Use window locks
  • Secure your screens
  • Keep your doors tightly shut
  • Do not allow them to roam outside

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Conclusion

There is no exact distance from which a cat can safely fall without being injured. Cats are impressive little creatures with incredible reflexes and flexibility that give them a unique ability to land on their feet and survive falls from greater heights than most animals. Falling still comes with great risk of injury and death, and your cat should be kept safe and secure inside the home to prevent any accidents.


Featured Image Credit: Reimar, Shutterstock

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