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High-rise syndrome

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Cats have a natural attraction to high places.

High-rise syndrome is a veterinary term for injuries sustained by a cat falling from a building,[1] typically higher than two stories (7–9 m (23–30 ft)).

Injuries sustained by cats falling[edit]

Common injuries sustained in cats after a fall include:

  • Broken bones, most often the jawbone as the cat's chin hits the ground; a broken jawbone and damaged or shattered teeth are the typical 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[2]

Studies done of cats that have fallen from 2 to 32 stories, and are still alive when brought to a veterinarian clinic, show that the overall survival rate is 90 percent of those treated.[3][4][1][5]

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.[6][7] 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, 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 survivorship bias, 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.[4]

In a 2004 study, it was reported that cats falling from higher places suffered more severe injuries than those experiencing shorter drops.[5]


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.[8][9] 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.[5] 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.[4][10] In 2021, a Chicago cat jumped from the fifth floor of a burning building, bounced after landing on a grass lawn feet-first and survived with no injuries.[11]

Why cats fall from high places[edit]

Cats have a natural fondness for heights, which leads to falls when the cat is distracted or falls asleep. If this were to occur in a tree, the cat might 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.[12]


  1. ^ a b "Common Cat Diseases". ASPCA.org. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. "High-Rise Syndrome" section. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  2. ^ Hill, Kyle (April 13, 2012). "How do cats survive falls from great heights?". Science-Based Life.
  3. ^ Diamond, Jared M. (April 14, 1988). "Why cats have nine lives". Nature. 332 (6165): 586–587. doi:10.1038/332586a0. PMID 3357516.
  4. ^ a b c "Do cats always land unharmed on their feet, no matter how far they fall?". The Straight Dope. July 19, 1996. Retrieved May 13, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Vnuk, D.; Pirkić, B.; Matičić, D.; Radišić, B.; Stejskal, M.; Babić, T.; Kreszinger, M.; Lemo, N. (October 1, 2004). "Feline high-rise syndrome: 119 cases (1998–2001)". Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery. 6 (5): 305–312. doi:10.1016/j.jfms.2003.07.001. PMID 15363762.
  6. ^ Whitney, W. O.; Mehlhaff, C. J. (1987). "High-rise syndrome in cats". Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association. 191 (11): 1399–403. PMID 3692980.
  7. ^ Ruben, Dawn (September 21, 2014). "Highrise Syndrome in Cats". PetPlace.com.
  8. ^ "Falling Cats". Archived from the original on July 12, 2007. This material is originally from a magazine, but it is unclear which one.
  9. ^ Schneider, Reto U. (2004). "1894 Falling Cats". Verrückte Experimente. Archived from the original on September 21, 2005. Retrieved October 24, 2005.
  10. ^ A 1987 study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association of 132 cats that were brought into the New York Animal Medical Center after having fallen from buildings.
  11. ^ Picheta, Rob. "Cat jumps from fifth-floor of burning building, bounces and strolls away". CNN.com. Retrieved 25 August 2021.
  12. ^ "High-Rise Syndrome". ASPCA.org. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. 2012. Archived from the original on September 18, 2015. Retrieved 30 April 2015.