Ask a Vet: What Happens When Cats Fall Out of High Windows?

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Cats love views. Pay attention as you walk through any neighborhood and you will notice cats sitting in windows surveying their domains.

Cats’ affinity for windows sounds like a dangerous thing at first blush. Can they not fall or jump through them? Our feline companions are graceful creatures, however, and they generally know their limitations. They rarely suffer injuries when they jump through windows — because they rarely jump if the window is too high. They are armed with natural defenses (good situational awareness, good reflexes, and good balance to name a few) against accidental falls.

However, there are exceptions. A cat who is distracted, frightened, asleep, or suffering from a clumsy moment may fall out of an open window. A sudden gust of wind may offer an unhelpful push.

The consequences of falling from height are well-documented in cats. In fact, there is a name for what happens to cats when they fall from heights, including sometimes vast ones. It’s called high-rise syndrome.

High-rise syndrome occurs most commonly in urban areas. It is most common on warm or hot days in places like New York City, where large numbers of cat owners live in non-air conditioned apartments on high floors. Young cats are more likely to fall than their older and more experienced compatriots.

All manner of injuries may occur when cats suffer from high-rise syndrome, but some are more prevalent than others. This is because of cats’ natural ability to right themselves — it is common knowledge that cats land on their feet. This means that cats who fall from windows usually land with their ventrums (their undersides) facing down. Spinal fractures (which are not uncommon in dogs who fall from height) are rare in cats because the spine rarely impacts the ground.

Because cats generally land on their feet, broken legs and over-extension of the carpus (the feline equivalent of the wrist on the front limb) are common in cats with high-rise syndrome. But when a cat lands at high velocity, the legs often crumple without breaking. In such cases the majority of the energy from the fall is absorbed by the chest.

Thoracic (chest) injuries are the most common injuries seen in high-rise syndrome. They are also the most common cause of death from the syndrome. Bruised lungs, collapsed lungs, fractures of the sternum (breast bone), and broken ribs are common.

The ventral (lower) aspect of the head often also suffers significantly at the time of impact. The feline jawbone’s weakest point is so-called mandibular symphysis, known colloquially as the chin. Fractures at this site are very common in cats who fall from height. Similarly, the energy of the impact may be transferred into the roof of the mouth; hard palate fractures also are common.

Other internal injuries are less common but still a very real risk. Internal bleeding may occur from rupture of the spleen or fracture of the liver. Rupture of the pancreas has been reported in a number of cats. Rupture of the urinary bladder may occur.

The news, however, is not all bad. The seminal study on high-rise syndrome in cats, published in 1988, reported that 90 percent of cats who were treated for high-rise syndrome survived. In other words, cats who don’t die on impact have a good chance of living through the ordeal.

That same study is legendary in the world of veterinary medicine for publishing a highly counterintuitive fact about high-rise syndrome. The paper reported that cats who fell more than six stories (including all the way up to 36 floors) generally had less extensive injuries than cats who fell fewer than six stories.

This paradox has been the source of much speculation in the world of veterinary medicine. Many people have hypothesized that it takes cats approximately 50 feet, or five floors, to right themselves, spread, and relax their bodies to increase drag, and thus achieve a reduced terminal velocity.

Another, more sinister theory also exists. Studies such as the one in question can easily fall victim to a statistical phenomenon known, appropriately in this case, as survivor bias. Deceased cats can’t benefit from veterinary care and likely won’t be taken to the emergency room. They thus are excluded from the data, and their numbers are unknown. It could be longer falls are in fact deadlier, and that cats survive them only when they land on softer or more forgiving surfaces that result in fewer injuries overall.

Whether you live in a single story ranch-house or a 40th-floor apartment in midtown Manhattan, no good can come of your cat getting through a window. Even if he is not injured when he lands, he will be at risk of getting lost or suffering one of the myriad unhappy endings that are common for cats in the outdoors.

The solution involves remembering that cats can and do fall from open windows. Never open a window wide enough for a cat to squeeze through.

Plus, trying to rescue a cat in a tree? Check out these tips >>

Learn how to live a better life with your cat on Catster:

Other stories by Dr. Eric Barchas:

Got a question for Dr. Barchas? Ask our vet in the comments below and your topic might be featured in an upcoming column. (Note that if you have an emergency situation, please see your own vet immediately!)

20 thoughts on “Ask a Vet: What Happens When Cats Fall Out of High Windows?”

  1. Hi my cat 2 years old fell out my 3rd floor window I don’t know what to do he’s bleeding from his mouth and he keeps sneezing.

  2. My kitten fell from the 3rd floor balcony and had her back left leg amputated, last night she snuck out the door again. I didn’t know she had gotten out. I thought she was in bed sleeping when I went into the bedroom she wasn’t there I frantically searched the apartment and she was no where to be found. I quickly grabbed a flashlight and went downstairs, I found her under a table one the first floor balcony I scooped her up and brought her indoors.
    I am going to take her to the vets soon as they open. Can a three legged cat still right it’s self?
    As the night progresses her breathing is a bit more raps and her only back leg is her but I don’t know to what degree. If she has hurt that leg badly what treatment would be possible since she only has that one back leg left?
    Please I would really appreciate some insight cause I’m so scared of what might be wrong.
    Toni

    1. Hi there,

      Yes, please take your kitty to the vet ASAP — even an emergency vet if you are concerned!
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/when-should-you-call-an-emergency-vet-and-how-do-you-find-one-for-your-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/how-do-cats-always-land-on-their-feet-cat-video-photos
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/how-to-care-for-a-three-legged-cat

  3. Hi

    My cat fell from 4th floor 2 days ago, I went out to look for her heard her cry once could not find her. She was seen running under a car after the fall. I also heard having a fight early hours friday.

    I have been out up &down every half hour including at night, she is an indoor cat and was from a rescue centre, she is scared. Ive been through bushes, biins and all places. Left used cat litter as a trail.

    Any suggestions?? Please I am sooooo worried she is hurt and I cannot find her.

    1. Hi there,

      Please call your local vet for the best advice. You may also want to check out these articles on lost cats:
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/how-to-find-a-lost-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/missing-lost-cat-care-tips-9-steps-to-take
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/13-tips-what-to-do-cat-goes-missing

  4. My cat fell from 2nd floor landed on feet .. he seems perfectly alright … not showing any symptoms of having any injury .. should i still need to take him to vet??

  5. Hi,

    My can fall down from the second floor yesterday and after that to dogs attach on her now she is not able to walk properly and since yesterday she is not having anything. what to do please suggest? yesterday we went to pet doctor also they injected two injections .now she is not able to have anything.

    1. Hi Jensy,
      We suggest taking your cat back to the vet and continually checking in with your vet. We hope your cat feels better!

  6. Hi,
    My cat fell from a window on 3rd or 4th floor 2 days ago. He doesn’t have any scratches or doesn’t seem to have broken anything but he walks kind of wobbly and seems very confused. He also doesn’t eat much and sleeps a lot. I’m planning to take him to a vet soon but before that I just wanted to ask if these things might be a symptom of any internal damage or concussion and if so, what could I do to make my cat as safe as possible until I take him to the vet? Please answer asap. Thank you

    1. Hi Alicja,
      Please get your cat to the vet ASAP. Here’s how to find an emergency vet:
      https://www.catster.com/cat-health-care/when-should-you-call-an-emergency-vet-and-how-do-you-find-one-for-your-cat
      https://www.catster.com/lifestyle/11-cat-health-emergencies-immediate-veterinary-attention-ask-a-vet

    2. Hi Alicja – My cat had a very similar instance and symptoms. He is at the vet now but I’m curious what happened with your cat? Any insight/help would be greatly appreciated. Thank You!!

    1. Michaela Conlon

      Hi there!

      We are sorry to hear what happened to your cat. We suggest bringing your cat to the vet ASAP so he/she can examine your cat.

  7. My cat died a few days after falling from the 4th floor of a not so high residential building. My father left the window open, the window was icy. Poor little cat slipped on ice and fell. He broke his leg and was brought to the vet but they said because he was a bit heavy, he had several internal organe failures. He died after a few days of pain. I could not stop crying it is gruesome and distressing i was so mad at my father for leaving the window open. He was such a wonderful buddy this cat it pains me so much that he died this way I’m still in shock. Rest in peace Gary :'(

  8. My cat died a few days after falling from the 4th floor of a not so high residential building. My fatger left the window open, the windiw was icy. Poor little cat slipped on ice and fell. He broke his leg and was brought to the vet but they said because he was a bit heavy, he had several internal organe failures. He died after a few days of pain. I could not stop crying it is gruesome and distressing i was so mad at my father fir keavibg the window open. He was such a wonderful buddy this cat it pains me so much that he died this way I’m still in shock. Rest in peace Gary :'(

  9. My cat fell down from 4th floor of the apartment and now it is breathing very fast
    Can you suggest me something I can do with which it feels better

  10. My cat has fallen from three storied building one month back. I took him to vet and he applied pain killer injection. Day by day my cat is loosing weight. It was about 4 kg but now one and half kg. Stopped eating. High fever. Black stool. I guess it has internal bleeding. It got hurt in right side. I also another vet. He injected for internal infection for five days. But it’s condition is getting worst. What should I do now?

    1. Hi Sadia,

      So sorry to hear that your kitty isn’t doing well. We suggest following up with your vet or finding another vet who might give you more insight. Best of luck and hope your kitty feels better.

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