Cat Falling

It is not uncommon to read about a cat falling from a building. Not so long ago there was a story about Nicole Ritchie’s cat that fell ten stories from a balcony and suffered, it seems, no more than broken leg (or less than that). Cat’s do have nine lives.

cat falling
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats
This is a still from the video on this page of Piper who fell and survived

Go to Youtube and you get videos of a cat falling off something. Sometimes cats fall a long distance and suffer no ill effects such as when a cat fell out of a tree in South Carolina in March 2006. The cat fell 80 feet, landed on her feet and ran away. Wow, humans can’t that. If you see the photos on this page you’ll see why.

The fact is that the wind resistance built up by the cat’s outspread legs and body means that the cat’s velocity stabilises after a certain distance from the beginning of the fall (5 stories down) and that velocity, which is also the terminal velocity (60mph – the velocity at which the cat hits the ground) is non fatal to the cat. It therefore doesn’t matter how far the cat falls in terms of speed of decent.

cat falling
This is a still from the video on this page of Piper who fell and survived

However, more injuries were suffered if the cat fell a maximum of 7 stories. A cat falling from higher than 7 stories cats suffers less injuries because she has by that time settled into a flying squirrel posture and are relaxed! See photos and video of flying squirrel posture. 90% of cats survive and most injuries are to the chest area as the cat lands on her feet. The feet buckle on impact and the chest (and chin) take some of the impact.

As we all know the cat has a special “righting reflex”, which starts immediately the cat begins to fall. Cats are excellent climbers but they do occasionally fall and this mechanism is for self preservation. The self righting procedure begins with a twisting reaction at the front end of the body. The head first rotates until it is right side up and the front legs are brought up close to the face to protect face from impact.

The spine then twists, turning the front half of the body in line with the head. The rear legs and back half of the body follow in preparation for touchdown. Apparently during this procedure the tail stiffens and rotates like a propeller (true) and acts as a counterbalancing device. The whole procedure happens very quickly. Just think if we could do that how it would change life on earth. All small creatures reach a non-fatal terminal velocity in this way. Ever chucked a spider out of a window?

Updates Jan 2010, and 24th August 2010:

Here are some startling statistics courtesy of Play It Again Tom by Augustus Brown.

In a survey by two veterinarians in New York, they found that the average fall of the 115 cats surveyed was 75 feet or five stories, a considerable height and a fatal one for humans a good 50% of the time.

Over 90% of the cats survived! The greatest cat falling survivor was called Sabrina. This remarkable cat fell 32 floors or 400 feet onto the pavement and suffered a mild chest injury and chipped tooth. No doubt she used the parachute technique to slow her fall. A cat reaches a much slower terminal velocity compared to people of 60 mph after 100 feet of the fall.

Cat always land with their limbs flexed thereby breaking the fall and not bones.

The collection of various injuries from heights is called “high-rise syndrome” in the veterinary business – or at least by come vets. As mentioned, when the fall is above 7 stories high the severity of injuries plateaus (doesn’t get worse) because the cat has stabilised his or her position and relaxed and the speed of the fall has leveled off (terminal velocity of about 60 mph). When the fall is shorter the cat is believed to have more rigid, tense limbs and body resulting in more breaks.

The sort of injuries incurred are: face injuries, jaw breaks, thoracic trauma (pulmonary contusions and air in the chest outside the lungs), bleeding from face, broken teeth, broken legs. Of these chest injuries can be life threatening. Treatment for chest injuries includes ensuring the cat is breathing normally and stabilised. The other injuries can them be dealt with.

The cure: prevention! An awareness that cats sometimes do silly things or make misjudgements. That means no cats on balconies and near open windows.


  • stills and video courtesy Scottie Colvin who lives with Piper the cat who fell
  • Catwatching (Desmond Morris)
  • The Cat, Its behavior, Nutrition & Health by Linda P. Case

Cat falling to home page

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

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