If you have a cat, you are probably aware of the instant something catches its eye. Suddenly, your cat is laser-focused, in that crouched-and-ready-to-pounce position he can stay in for hours, if necessary. This ability to “zoom in” on its prey to the exclusion of everything else is an instinct that helped your cat’s ancestors survive in the wild. But for your urban, apartment-dwelling cat, this intense focus could cause him major harm.
Now that spring has arrived, you are probably anxious to throw open those apartment windows or the doors to your balcony and enjoy the fresh, spring air and sunshine. Before you do that, make sure your apartment is cat-friendly – especially the areas around windows. You may think your cat is perfectly safe lounging on the window ledge or your apartment balcony, soaking up the sun. And while your cat would never intentionally jump off the ledge, that laser focus, or being sound asleep, or even just a misjudgment of distance can lead to your cat falling – an event so common, veterinarians came up with a term for it – high-rise syndrome.
Despite what you’ve heard, cats don’t always land on their feet. They do right themselves mid-air, but they typically land with their legs splayed out to the sides – which can lead to punctured lungs, shattered jaws, internal bleeding, broken legs and pelvises, and in some cases, death. According to the ASPCA, animal hospitals see roughly three to five cases of high-rise syndrome every week.
Unlike their country (or suburban), tree-climbing counterparts, urban apartment cats can’t prevent a fall by using their claws. A cat in a tree that falls can usually grab a tree limb to stop the fall, there’s nothing for a cat to grip when falling from a concrete or brick building, so falls from apartment buildings are much more common.
Don’t feel safe because you live on the second or third floor and not the twenty-third – cats are actually at greater risk for injury when they fall shorter distances because they don’t have time to right themselves and fall correctly. Studies show that the most substantial injuries are to cats that fall from between two and seven stories. Cats that fall from higher apartments have more time to right themselves and prepare for landing. If you live in a high-rise apartment and your cat falls, don’t automatically assume your cat perished – studies show that if they are taken in for medical treatment right away, cats that have fallen anywhere from two to 32 stories have a nearly 90 percent survival rate. No matter what height your cat falls from, be sure to have a vet look him over for fractures and internal injuries.
Perhaps you have a lazy cat – one completely unfazed by the birds outside. He’d rather stretch out on the window ledge and sleep the day away. Don’t think your cat is safe from high-rise syndrome! Napping cats experience REM (Rapid Eye Movement) and deep sleep, just like humans. Just as some people thrash around and even fall out of bed while dreaming, your cat’s muscle twitches and dreams during REM sleep can cause him to fall off the window ledge.
There are things you can do to prevent high-rise syndrome. Make sure your apartment windows have secure, sturdy, hole-free screens, and screen in your balcony if possible. If you can’t screen in your balcony, keep your cat inside or set up a fully-enclosed “playpen” for him on the balcony. If you choose to secure an area on the balcony with wire mesh or netting, make sure your cat can’t fit his head through the spaces between the railings – if his head can fit, chances are good he can wiggle the rest of the way through. Don’t use childproof window guards – cats can easily get through them.