Beware of Feline "High Rise Syndrome"

Attention City Dwellers with Cats!

When summer comes around, many pet parents are eagerly opening their windows to enjoy the weather. Unfortunately, they are also unknowingly putting their pets at risk.

Un-screened 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".

During the warmer months, veterinarians at the ASPCA Animal Hospital see approximately three to five cases a week. Falls can result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken limbs and pelvises—and even death.

Well intentioned cat guardians who live in tall buildings often allow their kitties to sun themselves in open windows and on fire escapes.
It sounds safe enough, however, the feline prey drive can lead a cat to try to pounce on moving birds or insects. Falls from tall buildings often result in shattered jaws, punctured lungs, broken limbs, and even death.

A few facts about "High Rise Syndrome"
  • When a cat falls from a high perch it's unintentional, not deliberate. Cats are smart. They don't leap from high places because they know it's dangerous.
  • The reason cats fall is usually because they are intensely focused on something outside, perhaps a bird, and either lose their balance or their prey instinct sends them out the window before they realize what they're doing. Another cause of falls is normal muscle twitching and other movement during deep sleep. A kitty can roll off a windowsill while changing sleep positions.
  • While cats won't intentionally jump from a high perch, they also don't realize they can't dig their claws into brick, concrete, or steel surfaces to help prevent a fall if they lose their balance.
  • When a cat falls from a high perch, he doesn't land squarely on all fours. He lands with his feet slightly apart, which is how serious head and pelvic injuries occur. And falling shorter distances can actually be more dangerous, because kitty doesn't have enough time to adjust his body to land correctly.
  • Even if your cat survives a fall in relatively good condition, she'll land in an unfamiliar, frightening place on a sidewalk or street and can easily run away before you can get to her. 

All manner of injuries may occur when cats suffer from high-rise syndrome, but some are more prevalent than others. 

This is because of cats' natural ability to right themselves -- it is common knowledge that cats land on their feet. This means that cats who fall from windows usually land with their ventrums (their undersides) facing down. 

Spinal fractures (which are not uncommon in dogs who fall from height) are rare in cats because the spine rarely impacts the ground.

Because cats generally land on their feet, broken legs and over-extension of the carpus (the feline equivalent of the wrist on the front limb) are common in cats with high-rise syndrome. But when a cat lands at high velocity, the legs often crumple without breaking. In such cases the majority of the energy from the fall is absorbed by the chest.

Other internal injuries are less common but still a very real risk. Internal bleeding may occur from rupture of the spleen or fracture of the liver. Rupture of the pancreas has been reported in a number of cats. Rupture of the urinary bladder may occur.

High-Rise syndrome Is 100-Percent Preventable

To keep your cat safe during the summer, the ASPCA recommends that you take the following precautions:
  • To fully protect your pets, you’ll need to install snug and sturdy screens in all your windows. 
  • If you have adjustable screens, please make sure that they are tightly wedged into window frames. 
  • Note that cats can slip through childproof window guards-these don’t provide adequate protection! 
  • Cat owners should also make sure they keep their cats indoors to protect them from additional dangers such as cars, other animals and disease. People who want to give their cats outdoor stimulation can look into full-screen enclosures for backyards and terraces.
Whether you live in a single story ranch-house or a 40th-floor apartment in midtown Manhattan, no good can come of your cat getting through a window. Even if he is not injured when he lands, he will be at risk of getting lost or suffering one of the myriad unhappy endings that are common for cats in the outdoors.

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