Cats are notorious for their ability to land on all fours from all sorts of heights. We see cats move around with such agility and grace, landing from heights we couldn’t even imagine possible. Their ability to maneuver themselves along narrow ledges makes us become complacent about the possibility of injury from a fall. However, cats who fall from steep heights can suffer serious consequences. Unfortunately, this happens frequently enough that it’s known as high-rise syndrome or HRS.

What is High-Rise Syndrome (HRS)?

High-rise syndrome is a clinical term for injuries sustained by a cat that has fallen from a building higher than two stories. Falling a great distance like this, of course, will cause injury and sometimes even death for your feline. Injuries to high-rise syndrome cats can include broken limbs, facial trauma, chest trauma, and shock.

High-Rise Syndrome Misconception

A common misconception about high-rise syndrome is that falling from a lower height isn’t as dangerous for your cat. However, a fall from a one- or two-story window can actually put your cat in more danger than a higher fall. In fact, a cat has a HIGHER risk of serious or fatal injury when it falls from a building LOWER than six stories!

A cat has a higher risk of serious or fatal injury when it falls from a building lower than six stories. Click To Tweet

Cats who fall from higher up tend to become less rigid and assume a horizontal position as they fall. This helps distribute the force of the landing across their body and potentially decreases the severity of their injuries. Cats who fall from shorter heights tend to remain rigid and don’t have enough time to adjust their posture.

The Physiology of High-Rise Syndrome Injuries

Cats are equipped with the ‘righting reflex’ which is a built-in balancing system that helps cats orient themselves to land on their feet. A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (1987), investigated 132 cats that were diagnosed with high-rise syndrome over a 5-month period. Ninety percent of the cats in this study had some form of thoracic trauma from high-rise syndrome. Of these cats, 68% had pulmonary contusions and 63% had pneumothorax. Abnormal respiratory patterns were also evident clinically in 55% of these cats. The remaining 30% were only observed and did not require any treatment. This report shows that ninety percent of the cats who were taken in for treatment after a fall survived.

Why Does High-Rise Syndrome Happen?

Many cats who travel up to these great heights may not realize they are in a dangerous position. This illustrates that cats may not fully understand the consequences and tend to behave as they would at a lesser height. A later study in 2004 showed that more than half (59.6%) of the cats who were brought in for high-rise syndrome related falls were under a year old. This means that younger cats are more likely to suffer high-rise syndrome because of their inexperience. Younger cats may not yet know their limitations and how damaging a fall can be.

Where can High-Rise Syndrome Occur?

High rise syndrome can occur from various places in your home such as an opened window, a fire escape, balcony, or even when they miss a jump. High-rise syndrome is known to occur more often with warmer weather. This is due to the fact that windows are opened more and outdoor spaces, like balconies, are utilized more often. As a result, cases of high-rise syndrome increase significantly during warmer months.

High Rise Syndrome in cats and prevention

How Does High-Rise Syndrome Happen?

Cats have a natural affinity for high places and love to sit in windowsills to survey their domain. They are avid bird watchers and sunbathing royalty. However, if cats happen to push too hard on a loose screen or if the window is open too far, they can fall out and face dire consequences. In addition, cats have a natural instinct to hunt and can easily be tempted to lunge after a bird that comes too close or even get startled by a loud noise causing them to fall.

What Should I Do if It Happens to My Cat?

A cat that has fallen a great distance will most likely need first aid attention immediately. First, check to see if the cat gets up on its own. Take your cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible if your cat falls victim to high-rise syndrome. You may be able to notice a broken bone or visibly see a laceration, but internal injuries like fractured ribs or vertebrae could still be evident. Unfortunately, the first aid we are able to provide for our cats can be limited. Therefore, it is advisable to exercise prevention measures for high-rise syndrome rather than reactive measures. It is vital that high-rise syndrome doesn’t occur in the first place.

What to Expect at the Veterinarian?

Your veterinarian will conduct a full physical exam and may order X-rays, MRI, or other diagnostic tests to evaluate your cat’s condition. Some of the most common injuries that can occur  from a serious fall can include:

  • Broken bones
  • Shattered teeth or fractured palate
  • Internal injuries, especially to the lungs
  • Spinal fractures

The treatment plan for your cat will depend on the type and severity of the injuries. It could include medication to control pain, possible hospitalization, or surgery to set any broken bones or to repair any other damage. As mentioned previously, many cats will survive the fall. However, it can be a long, painful, and sometimes expensive road to recovery.

How Can I Prevent High-Rise Syndrome?

The good news about high-rise syndrome is that it is completely preventable. First and foremost, check all window screens in your house to make sure they are properly installed and secure. If a window in your home does not have a screen, consider getting an adjustable window screen for a safe and temporary solution; or simply refrain from opening that window. Cats can fall through even if they lean up against a loose screen.

Allow your cat access to higher places around your home but in a safe manner. You may consider investing in a cat hammock to attach to the window to fulfill your cat’s desire of bird watching.  Another safe option may be to purchase a cat tree or cat tower and place it near a window.

 

SMARTY Tips for High-Rise Syndrome

  • Always supervise your cat on a balcony or terrace. Make sure to bring them inside with you.
  • Place patio furniture far enough away from terrace or balcony railings so your cat can’t use them to climb up and accidentally fall off.
  • Spay or neuter your cat. This is important so they won’t be tempted to escape through an opened window or other high location to search for a mate.
  • In general, all cats should be kept indoors. This helps protect them from accidents, fights with other animals, contagious diseases, and parasites.

 

Looking for more Tips? Check out 10 Tips to Help you Become a Better Cat Parent

 

Is High-Rise Syndrome something you have heard about before or something you are concerned about? Let us know in the comments!