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Monday, June 08, 2009

Urban Mitts

Cats have been known to fall from as high as a 32 story building and survive in a phenomenon known as high-rise syndrome. I can't say that this is the reason for the broken glass in the photo, but it does afford an opportunity to introduce this to this website. I don't anticipate being at the exact moment in time to photograph an event like this and I do not intend to post photos of maimed or dead cats.
Cats love high places. Factor in their curious nature and inevitably you will end up with cats, as astute and agile as they are, falling from apartment buildings for one reason or another.
Remarkably, cats do routinely survive enormous drops. One factor is cat righting reflex, an innate ability which allows a cat that has fallen to reorient itself in order to land on its feet. Popular lore has it that cats actually do better from falls of over 6 stories. It has been proposed that this is the case because cats reach terminal velocity after 5 stories and relax and flatten themselves, much like a flying squirrel, thereby minimizing injury.
One study often cited is from the Animal Medical Center in 1987. There were 132 cases of high-rise syndrome (average height of fall was 5.5 stories) with a 90 percent survival rate.
However romantically attractive the notion of cats faring better from higher falls is, as Cecil Adams points out in the Straight Dope, the big flaw in all of this is that cats that don't survive are not reported or brought into a veterinarian's office or animal hospital. His thinking was confirmed by a conversation with Dr. Michael Garvey - head of the medical department and current expert on "high-rise syndrome" at the Animal Medical Center in New York City. A study from Croatia from 1998 to 2001 confirms that cats falling from greater heights suffered more severe injuries.
So much for urban mitts :)

A Personal Experience: I once came home to a note on my building that my cat had jumped and been taken to the vet in my absence. I have many birds who frequent my windows and I had seen him highly animated on numerous occasions - my theory is that my cat was able to force open a window left slightly open to get to the bird, attacked and flew off the A/C unit. He was taken the the Animal Medical Center and he did survive.


Michelle Johnson said...

I'm always amazed at how a cat can right himself in a fall such as this. Even more amazed at these facts you've presented. I think the original statistics would change drastically if the unreported were to be reported.

Anonymous said...

Please please please stop misleading people on this serious issue!

I've been working at a Manhattan animal shelter for over 4 years and I wanted to scream when I read your post. I have personally seen cat victims of high-rise syndrome, and they're usually DEAD, if not severely injured.

"Unscreened windows pose a real danger to cats, who fall out of them so often that the veterinary profession has a name for the complaint—High-Rise Syndrome."

Read more here, if you don't believe me:

Brian Dubé said...

Anon - I am not sure what misinformation you are referring to. First of all, no one is suggesting that cats should be jumping from windows or will survive unscathed. My own cat survived such a jump but was in quite bad shape requiring medical care. Also, the link you give cites the identical Animal Medical Center statistics, particularly the 90% survival rate. And I do point out that the statistics do NOT factor in unreported deaths.