The British Columbia SPCA is sending a warning to pet owners after two cats perished after falling from balconies of high-rise buildings.
This summer, the Vancouver shelter has taken in four cats suffering serious injuries after jumping or falling from a high distance. Two of the cats were in such “extreme distress” that they could not be saved, and were humanely euthanized.
Another cat, a three-month-old Himalayan kitten is currently being cared for by fosters after falling an unknown number of floors from a building. The pint-size feline suffered a broken front leg and trauma to his T2 and T3 vertebrates, and veterinary bills are expected to top $5,000. The kitten was named Roger Moore, after the actor who portrayed James Bond.
Many people wonder, How can my cat not realize I’m 20-stories up? But cats don’t realize it. A butterfly or bird passes, and the cat leaps for supper or just for fun.
Some cat caretakers don’t worry because they believe cats always land on their feet. Called the righting reflex, this is a cat’s innate ability to orient itself as it falls in order to land on all fours. The righting reflex begins to appear at about three to four weeks of age, and is perfected around just under 2 months of age. Cats are able to do this because they have that reflex to turn in midair, and are able to achieve this with an unusually flexible backbone and no functional clavicle (collarbone). However, overweight and obese cats, as well as elderly cats, simply are unable to turn in midair.
It is possible for a cat to survive at her terminal velocity of 60 miles per hour, as demonstrated by a study done on 132 cats falling an average of 5.5 stories, published in The Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. Of the cats studied, 90 percent survived, albeit many requiring sometimes significant medical attention. That’s from 5.5 stories, but from 20 floors up, cats are unlikely to survive.
And even when cats do land on all fours, 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.
For cats falling from only two or three stories up, it’s close enough to the ground that the cats may not have time to turn around in midair and land on all fours, which also causes injuries.
In short, while cats have more protection from falls off balconies or ledges than dogs or even people, injury or death may still occur, and it’s called high-rise syndrome.
Keep cats behind protected screens indoors and on balconies, or on a secure leash and harness. Even the real Roger Moore couldn’t have withstood such a fall.