Houses and high-rise apartments with balconies are unsafe for cats to use. As such inquisitive creatures, cats will want to explore what’s going on outside, which could lead to an error of judgment. So, you’ll definitely need to restrict your cat’s access or safety-proof your balcony.
Cats have good survival instincts and are very unlikely to consciously jump from balconies. However, cats can easily have accidental falls. They may lose their balance while walking on a balcony, be blown off by strong winds, or chase birds and miss their landing.
A cat’s flexibility and sharp reflexes allow it to turn right-side-up as it falls so that it lands on the soft pads of its feet. Falls from greater heights cause cats to spread out in a flying-squirrel position to slow their fall. These abilities may allow some cats to survive multi-story falls, but they often sustain severe injuries (broken legs, punctured lungs, and head injuries.)
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Are Balconies Safe for Cats?
As the temperature increases outdoors, so does the incidence of “high-rise syndrome” in cats. A cat’s access to the balcony should be restricted.
“High-rise syndrome” is a term coined in the 1980s when cats were brought into a veterinary clinic in New York over a 5-month period due to falling off balconies and high-rises.
The cats had experienced significant injuries, such as head and face injuries, broken legs, and chest trauma. Despite a cat’s ability to land on its feet, it’s not uncommon for a cat to die after falling from a balcony.
Cats Don’t Jump from Balconies On Purpose
Cats don’t jump from balconies, but they can fall. In the wild, cats take great measures to ensure they survive. Therefore, a cat will never deliberately jump from a high place as this could lead to severe injuries or death.
So, why is there such a high number of high-rise incidents during the summer months? Cats have amazing survival instincts, but they also have a tendency to focus on one thing that piques their interest.
A cat may be walking on a balcony railing when it sees a bird and gets distracted enough to lose its balance and fall, or pounces for it.
Cat’s Don’t Always Land on Their Feet
Cats have exceptional balance. Most cats are well-muscled, agile, and have a remarkable perception of depth. They also have the ability to navigate narrow ledges and branches because of their single-tracking foot placement.
If a cat loses balance, it will respond promptly. Cats have flexible spines and phenomenal reflexes that allow them to turn right-side-up as they fall. Landing on the soft pads of their feet softens their landing and lowers their risk of serious injuries.
However, this is only true if a cat falls from a height that is greater than 1-2 feet. Short distances don’t give enough time for a cat to adjust its body and land on its feet.
A cat falling from a first or second story can correct itself, but it may not be perfectly positioned to land safely. This means that cats don’t always land squarely on their feet. In many cases, they land with their feet splayed apart slightly. A cat falling from a balcony, may be able to survive, but it’s likely to experience serious pelvis and head injuries.
Falls from greater heights cause cats to spread out into a flying squirrel position. This slows them down and allows them to survive their initial fall. Cats that do make it on their initial fall have high survival rates, but they typically sustain multiple traumatic injuries such as:
- Broken legs
- Fractured jaws and teeth
- Punctured lungs
- Ruptured organs
- Head injuries
- Shattered pelvises
According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, of the 119 cats that had fallen from high rises within a 4-year period, about 97% survived but sustained severe injuries. 46% of these cats had fractured limbs and 34% had thoracic trauma. This study also showed that falls were far more frequent during the warmer months.
Cats Don’t Always Survive Their Falls
Cats that fall from high places have a 90% survival rate, if they’re provided with immediate and appropriate medical attention.
In the Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association, 132 cats were studied falling from an average of 5.5 stories and a maximum of 32 stories. Cats that fell from greater heights had enough time to reach terminal velocity and thus, showed a survival rate of 90%.
2/3 of the 132 cats needed medical treatment as a result of their impact with the ground. Also, 37% of the cats with thoracic trauma and shock would not have survived if they weren’t given life-sustaining treatment.
How to Stop Cats From Falling Off Balconies
Cats are ingenious escape artists, so a screened-in enclosure may not be enough to prevent one from falling. However, screens that are high enough to prevent cats from climbing onto them may work.
Moving furniture away from balcony edges will prevent your cat from using it to jump over the railing.
The most effective way of keeping your cat on your balcony is to keep it on a harness or leash when it goes outside.
If your cat does fall off a balcony, take it to an emergency veterinary clinic immediately. High-rise syndrome has a high survival rate only if the casualty is given immediate medical care.
Even if your cat appears OK, it may have sustained internal injuries, such as head injuries, heart, and lung bruising, fractures, or a ruptured bladder.