I learned today that domestic cats have an incredible rate of survival when they fall from any height. This, of course, presupposes that they land on level ground (i.e., not on anything particularly sharp) and that they don’t suffocate—for example, if you were to drop them from 40,000 feet.
Some of these claims don’t appear to add up. It turns out, though, that most housecats can handle landings with little impact since their terminal velocity is quite modest, at about 60 mph. This doesn’t guarantee they won’t get hurt, but it does increase the likelihood that they’ll make it through the fall unscathed.
Specifically, a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that 132 cats had a 90% chance of survival after a fall from heights ranging from 32 stories (which is more than enough for them to reach their terminal velocity) to an average of 5.5 stories (or lower, depending on the severity of their injuries sustained during the fall). Approximately two-thirds of the 132 cats studied needed medical attention after falling, and without it, one-third of the total cats collected would not have survived.
Contrary to what you might expect from a study of this kind, it does not suggest that, with the right treatment, cats falling from any height should have a 90% chance of surviving. On average, there were just 5.5 stories, which is too short to allow the cats to achieve their maximum speed. It is highly improbable that the felines that perish in an accident will be brought to the vet, which would significantly alter the sample proportions. The other side of the coin is that not all injured cats will be taken in. There have been cases of cats falling from 26 stories without any harm. The extent to which these factors could impact that 90% rate remains uncertain.
Therefore, it is not reasonable to expect domestic cats to have a 90% survival probability after a fall of any height. Nevertheless, the sample size of 132 cats in this study was sufficient to ensure that the actual number should not deviate significantly from the given rate. Therefore, we may state that their survival rate is extremely good, even though it is not 90%.
You might find that unusual. And now for something much stranger. It appears that the number of injuries sustained by domestic cats from lengthy falls decreases beyond a particular height, namely, seven stories. To explain this phenomenon, two main schools of thought have been advanced.
According to the study’s doctors, cats often arch their backs and tighten up while they’re speeding up, just like they do when they’re scared. It turns out that this shape isn’t the best option for a high-velocity impact, but it works wonderfully for absorbing shorter falls. Being tense like that greatly increases the risk of harm for cats in this kind of high-velocity strike. Also, compared to the usual terminal velocity of cats, this form will boost their speed by about fifteen miles per hour.
It is believed that after cats approach their terminal velocity, they switch to a more spread-eagle or flying squirrel position, which slows them down, puts them in a more relaxed state, and increases their surface area to absorb impacts. There may not be any hard evidence of this in the study, but the injuries sustained by the cats at their terminal velocity lend credence to the hypothesis.
One competing explanation is that cats beyond this height simply do not get vaccinated because they are too sick or too injured to warrant a visit to the vet. This looks plausible enough. However, it should be mentioned that the average injury count for cats brought in after falling from 7-32 stories is lower than the average injury count per cat brought in after falling from less than that height. Since the felines hadn’t yet reached their terminal velocity at seven stories, it’s reasonable to assume that they would die more frequently if they fell from this height. However, this doesn’t explain why the injured felines were less numerous on average.
Once they reach about 7 stories, cats should be able to reach a speed of 40-45 mph, which is about 15-20 mph slower than their terminal velocity, assuming a rate of about 10 feet per story. Strangely, at about 12 or 13 stories, they should hit their terminal velocity. These cats could have been dropped from 5,000 feet and still been fine, provided they landed in the same spot and position because there have been reports of cats falling from 26 stories and walking away unharmed, and many of them survived falls from 32 stories.
Understanding Feline Survival Mechanisms
From mid-air acrobatics to physiological adaptations, experts highlight cats’ unique features aiding their survival. Their flexible backbones, lightweight frame, and absence of working clavicles help reduce the impact of falls, while their innate righting reflex assists in reorienting their bodies for safer landings.
Studies on cats surviving falls from varying heights, ranging from two to 32 stories, reveal a staggering 90% survival rate among treated cases. While this rate astounds, it’s crucial to note the conditions under which these cats are brought in and treated, impacting the data’s accuracy and comprehensive understanding.
The cat’s instinctive righting reflex and body posture during falls play a pivotal role in their survivability. Mid-air twisting maneuvers enable them to position their feet downward, minimizing impact force by spreading their body for increased drag. Despite their remarkable survival abilities, falls can still result in injuries for felines. Sprains, fractures, head trauma, and internal injuries remain potential risks even when cats land on their feet. The impact surface, height, and individual physical conditions influence the severity of injuries sustained.
Cats’ survival tales from skyscrapers, falling from significant heights like the 32nd story, continue to amaze. Documented cases highlight their uncanny ability to endure falls that would be fatal for most other animals, demonstrating their remarkable adaptability to high-altitude plunges.
A Practical Guide If Your Cat Has Fallen
Assessing Your Cat’s Condition
After a fall, monitor your cat’s movements and behavior closely. Look for any signs of distress, abnormal gait, reluctance to move, or visible injuries. If your cat seems disoriented or is experiencing difficulty walking, seek immediate veterinary assistance.
Carefully inspect your cat for visible injuries or abnormalities. Check for limping, swelling, bleeding, or any unusual bumps or indentations on their body. If you notice any wounds, apply gentle pressure to stop bleeding and seek prompt medical attention.
Seeking Veterinary Care
Regardless of visible injuries, it’s crucial to consult a veterinarian after any significant fall. Even if your cat appears unharmed, internal injuries or fractures might not be immediately evident. A thorough check-up ensures timely detection and treatment of potential issues.
Upon veterinary consultation, request diagnostic tests such as X-rays or ultrasounds. These tests can help identify hidden fractures, internal bleeding, or other injuries that might not be apparent from a physical examination.
Post-Fall Care and Monitoring
Follow your veterinarian’s recommendations for post-fall care. Limit your cat’s activity to prevent exacerbating any potential injuries. Observe their behavior closely, providing a comfortable, quiet space for recovery.
Schedule follow-up appointments with your vet as advised. Regular check-ups ensure that any lingering issues or complications from the fall are promptly addressed. Adhering to prescribed medications or treatments is essential for your cat’s recovery.
Environment Modification and Safety Measures
Consider modifying your home environment to prevent future falls. Limit your cat’s access to high or precarious spaces. Secure windows, balconies, and any areas with potential fall risks to ensure your cat’s safety.
Provide your cat with safe and comfortable spaces for play and relaxation. Soft, padded surfaces can cushion accidental falls. Create an enriching indoor environment with safe climbing structures and engaging toys to redirect their energy.
Another thing to keep in mind is that most of the cats who were brought in probably landed on cement. Therefore, it is hypothesized that if they had fallen on grassy or similar terrain, the incidence and severity of injuries would have been somewhat reduced.