Dozing atop a high bookshelf or leaping between tall pieces of furniture are common feats for most cats. But while cats seem to possess superior balance and agility, they aren’t immune to falling. When the weather’s warm and your indoor cat becomes fascinated with gazing outdoors, cat falls from windows or balconies can occur and have serious consequences.
Emergency veterinarians often see cats suffering from High Rise Syndrome, a term that refers to the injuries incurred from a fall: broken limbs or pelvis, injured jaw or palate or internal injuries.
“I’ve seen cats with all four legs in a cast,” says Dr. Ann Hohenhaus of the Animal Medical Center in New York City. Other cats don’t survive the fall, or sustain injuries severely impacting their quality of life.
What Cats Are At Risk?
Indoor cats who like to lounge with an outdoor view are most vulnerable.
“Most cats fall from unscreened windows, or (from) fire escapes or balconies,” says Dr. Louise Murray of the ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital in New York City. Don’t be fooled into thinking cats have a protective instinct. “The opposite is true. A cat’s instincts drive them to leap after any moving object.” In addition to chasing prey, falls also occur when a napping cat rolls over or is startled, perhaps by a barking dog or siren.
Becky Blanton learned this the hard way, when her mixed-breed Maine Coon cat fell from her balcony not once, but twice. After the curious kitten got a little too close to the edge and tumbled about 15 feet, Blanton quickly screened in the balcony. Soon the cat learned to climb the 4-foot screen to perch on the railing. When another fall occurred, sending her unharmed on an awning several feet down, Blanton restricted her cat to supervised balcony use only.
“I thought I’d done everything to keep her from falling, but cats are smart. I was so lucky she was never hurt,” Blanton says.
Cat-Proofing for HRS Prevention
High Rise Syndrome is preventable with vigilant cat-proofing. For windows, use a window lock to restrict the amount a window can open, or, reinforce the entire window with strong screen or wire. If you have a sliding glass door, lay a dowel in the track to limit opening. A good rule of thumb is to keep all openings smaller than your cat’s head; if her head fits through, her body will follow.
Because cats climb and jump, enclosing only the lower half of a balcony is insufficient. To fully safeguard your balcony, run chicken wire or strong netting inside the railings, from floor to rooftop, and inspect it regularly. It isn’t safe to enclose a fire escape; keep that strictly off-limits.
You can use a harness on your cat on balconies, but with care: it should stop your cat several inches short of the balcony’s edge, and the area must be clear of any obstacles in which your cat can become entangled. A harness is best used with supervision.
What To Do If Your Cat Falls
If your cat takes a fall, check with your vet even if she appears uninjured; internal injuries may not be readily apparent. Give the vet as much information as you can, says Hohenhaus. “Some owners are embarrassed, but we can best treat the cat if we know what happened.” Prompt medical attention has saved the lives of many High Rise Syndrome sufferers.