The reason why cats fall off balconies

America is entering the cat high-rise syndrome season. The weather becomes warmer and cat owners let their cats go out on the balcony. Because the domestic cat is so athletic and so capable in terms of walking along ledges and climbing trees, cat owners think that their cat is infallible in high places. They let them out onto the balcony in the belief that it is impossible for them to fall off. But sometimes they do. They make misjudgments. They often fall a long distance and survive because of their self-righting mechanism and their parachute-mechanism which means they reach a lower terminal velocity allowing them to survive impact. The cat’s body is also very flexible and their legs act like shock absorbers on impact. Not all cats survive but most do. I have an article on this if you want to read it-please click here.

In Singapore 250 cats fall from high rise apartments annually and 50% die apparently (click to read the story).

Cat falling on all fours
Cat falling on all fours. Picture in public domain.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.


The point I want to make is this: the wildcat ancestor of the domestic cat is the North African wildcat and they don’t fall off trees. You don’t see a leopard falling off a tree. The problem, as I see it, for the domestic cat living in an apartment in a high-rise building with a balcony is that their life is artificial. They are much higher up than they would normally be if living in the wild when climbing a tree. Normally the highest point they would be would be in a tree. But balconies can be hundreds of feet above the ground. And the surfaces are hard which makes it difficult for claws to grab hold of.

Cat falling in rescue from high rise building
Cat falling in rescue from high rise building. Image in public domain.

And perhaps domestic cats have lost some of their natural climbing abilities if they are inside an apartment all the time. They might lose some of their skills because they lack practice. Certainly, they can be distracted by chasing an insect or perhaps if two siblings are allowed out on a balcony and they play they may lose their bearings and carelessly fall over the edge. This would be due to lack of experience and carelessness.

But I do think that the human environment chips away a little bit from the innate skills of the domestic cat to navigate high places almost infallibly. No doubt the odd wild cat does fall off a tree from time to time but it is far less commonplace than domestic cats falling off balconies from high-rise flats.

Cat owners simply have to be aware of the dangers. I don’t think you can let a domestic cat out on a balcony unless they are wearing a harness and the lead is attached to something secure. Even if you are supervising or even if you are on the balcony with your cat she might still fall off in the blink of an eye. I am sure that it happens very quickly.

You might think that putting a Perspex sheet across the balcony railings would do the trick but I don’t think it will because many cats can jump to a height of about 8 feet which is much higher than any balcony railings.

Cat trapped and saved from falling off high rise building
Cat trapped and saved from falling off high rise building.

I can remember a story from years ago of a kitten being taken from a balcony by a bird of prey. That, too, is a potential danger in America but it must be exceptionally rare. The kitten simply disappeared and she was not on the ground below the balcony.

The Ottawa Humane Society is warning cat owners of the dangers. They took in a cat on March 22 who is now recovering from their injuries. They say that if a cat falls from a balcony the owner should not assume that the cat has been killed. My distinct impression from reading about this subject is that the majority of cats are not killed and some escape with quite minor injuries. Perhaps some people know of the dangers but believe that their cat can survive a fall which encourages them to allow their cat to go on the balcony unsuperised.

1 thought on “The reason why cats fall off balconies”

  1. Cats seem to not see height. Fear of fire has always kept me from renting a apartment in a high rise. I find cat owners irresponsible and uncaring for their cat if they allow it to fall. I’ve seen cages attached to windows so the cat can get fresh air and I think that’s crazy too.


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