Summertime means screen doors and open windows–and lounging cats. Yes, cats have an uncanny ability to fall safely from sometimes death-defying heights and land on their feet. But that doesn’t mean they’re immune to injury. With warm summer weather enjoy your cool breezes but be sure you keep kitty safe.
How Cats Land On Their Feet
Paw-perfect landings result from the cat’s intricate balance sense. The vestibular organ deep inside the cat’s ears keeps kitty informed about which way is up or down, even if you try to confuse and make him dizzy first. This specialized organ also allows the cat to instantly determine acceleration as she falls.
The vestibular organ contains tiny fluid filled tubes and structures called the semicircular canals, utricle and saccule, each lined with millions of microscopic hairs. Chalk-like particles float in the fluid inside these structures so that whenever the cat’s head moves, the the hairs also move like teeny kitty antennae. That sends information to the brain about body position, and speed of movement.
The balance mechanism can’t do it alone, though. Once partnered with the yoga-like muscle control of a Houdini master contortionist, the cat twists from side to side during a fall, to right herself.
Ear infections can affect the cat’s balance so she misjudges height or positioning. Tiny kittens can be injured in falls that might not hurt an adult cat, so kitten-proofing balconies and keeping baby cats “grounded” can help keep them safe.
Falls from short distances—like from a child’s arms—may not allow enough time for the righting mechanism to work. Landing on her feet does not prevent Kitty from sustaining serious injuries during falls. Be particularly vigilant with kittens. When Seren was little, she decided it was a good idea to ledge-walk along the OUTSIDE of the stairway/balcony…and fell. Thank goodness she “bounced” on the hardwood and didn’t break a leg. Learn more about kitten care in the book.
High Rise Syndrome
High rise syndrome refers to cats who fall great distances out of windows, balconies or open doors. Often the cat lounges on a favorite windowsill, and accidentally pushes window screens out and falls.
Falls from the first through fourth floors are least dangerous because the cat can “right” herself and doesn’t have time to reach top speed of 60 miles per hour—terminal velocity. She won’t fall any faster, no matter the distance. This speed is reached during any fall from higher than the fifth floor.
Falls from the fifth through ninth floor are the most dangerous and result in the worst injuries. The cat falls with legs braced in front of him, and lands rigid. His legs hit first, then his head, and both can suffer terrible bone-shattering injury.
Cats survive falls from higher than nine stories with fewer injuries. Falls from these heights apparently allow the cat time to relax, empty the bladder and “parachute” the legs outward so that the wind catches the loose skin in the thighs and armpits and slows the fall. Landing spread-eagle allows the chest and abdomen to absorb most of the shock, rather than the head and legs.
Keep open windows and balconies off limits to cats. Remember that screens are designed to keep bugs out, not keep cats inside. So protect your cats and windows with secured screens or pet-safe barriers.
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