High-rise syndrome is the phenomenon of cats falling from higher than two stories (7–9 m (23–30 ft)). This is generally from high-rise buildings, or skyscrapers, and is also used to refer to the injuries sustained by a cat falling from a great height.
Injuries sustained by cats falling
Common injuries sustained in cats after a fall include:
- Broken bones, most likely the jawbone as the cat's chin hits the ground; a broken jawbone and shattered teeth are the classic signs of a cat having sustained injuries in a fall.
- Injuries to the legs: joint injury; ruptured tendons; ligament injury; broken legs.
- Internal injuries, especially to the lungs
In a more recent study, it has been observed that cats falling from higher places would suffer more severe injuries otherwise: In a study performed in 1987 it was reported that cats who fall from less than six stories, and are still alive, have greater injuries than cats who fall from higher than six stories. It has been proposed that this might happen because cats reach terminal velocity after righting themselves (see below) at about five stories, and after this point they are no longer accelerating and can no longer sense that they are falling, which causes them to relax, leading to less severe injuries than in cats who have fallen from less than six stories. Another possible explanation for this phenomenon is that cats who die in falls are less likely to be brought to a veterinarian than injured cats, and thus many of the cats killed in falls from higher buildings are not reported in studies of the subject.
During a fall from a high place, a cat can reflexively twist its body and right itself using its acute sense of balance and its flexibility. This is known as the cat's "righting reflex". The minimum height required for this to occur in most cats (safely) would be around 90 cm (3.0 ft).
However, it has been argued that, after having reached terminal velocity, cats would orient their limbs horizontally such that their body hits the ground first. A 1987 study speculated that this is done after falling five stories to ensure the cat reaches a terminal velocity by thereafter relaxing and spreading their bodies to increase drag.
Why cats fall from high places
Cats have a natural fondness for heights. If a cat is distracted by potential prey, or if it falls asleep, it can fall. If this were to occur in a tree, for example, the cat would often be able to save itself by grabbing on with its claws. Many building materials such as concrete and painted metal do not allow a cat to grip successfully.
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