Cats and Summer Safety and High Rise Syndrome


Increasingly people do keep their cats indoors only, 76 percent according to the American Pet Products Association. Still, millions of cats are indoors-outdoors, and indoor only cats can get out. Cats being cats will climb trees in pursuit of a bird, or sometimes just because they enjoy climbing or being afraid – perhaps attempting to escape a predator – they simply scamper up the tree without thinking out how to get down. Going up is easy, it’s getting down that’s the problem.

Cats can land on all fours. Domestic cats do innately have a sixth sense in their brain for equilibrium that allows them to right themselves in mid-air as they fall. However, today as many as 60 percent of cats are overweight or obese and these cats may no longer have the ability to perform mid-air summersaults. Elderly cats also may also have lost this agility.

Also cats fall from windows or balconies, and this occurs so often it has a name, called high rise syndrome.

Here’s an amazing stat: It is possible for a cat to survive at a velocity of 60 miles per hour, as demonstrated by a study done on 132 cats that fell an average of 5.5 stories, published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Researchers tabulated cats who fell from buildings. Of the cats studied, 90 percent survived, albeit many required significant medical attention. That’s froman average of 5.5 stories, but from 20 floors up, cats are very unlikely to survive.

Even when cats do land on all fours, it doesn’t always go well as legs are often broken in the process. Commonly, the force pushes their neck and head to keep going until the jaw hits the ground, and broken jaws are not infrequent when cats take a free fall.

For cats falling from fairly low branches on a tree, the equivalent of one or two stories up, it’s close enough to the ground that they may not have time to turn around in midair and land on all fours, which also causes injuries.

In short, while cats have exceptional abilities to deal with falls off balconies, trees or or ledges when compared to dogs or people, injury or death may still occur.

While watching the world go by – specifically butterflies and birds – is great enrichment for indoor cats, ensure screens are secure. Getting fresh air on a balcony or catio is wonderful but secure so the cat can’t fall off or chase a bug and land 15 stories below.

Also, indoor cats are generally not ID’d – so even if the cat innocently walks through or an open door or falls and survives, being afraid the cat may hide. A microchip (and registration to your name, email and street address and phone number with the microchip provider) is an excellent idea.

So, what do you do about those cats up a tree? Shake them loose, and hoping the cat survives the fall or encouraging the cat to dive down is never a good idea!

Call the fire department?

Unless you get Sarah, the Mayberry operator, you’ll likely hear a bemused operator ask, ‘You’re kidding?’ If you do convince emergency personnel to respond, there may be a fee. Barney Fife won’t rescue the cat.

​The best advice: Be patient. Veterinary ER clinics rarely report treating cats who have fallen from trees. Emergency rooms do treat people who have fallen trying to rescue feline friends. Entice kitty with tuna, sardines or salmon at the base of the tree. . .  wait for hunger to overcome fear.

As for suffering from heat stroke – while dogs are more susceptible because in extreme heat cats typically find shade and pretty much just hang out and catnap. If you do see a cat panting this may be a sure indication that the cat is seriously overheating. Without treatment, as in humans and dogs, heatstroke can be fatal in cats.

Of course, the best plan is to keep your cat indoors only in the first place.