What is high rise syndrome?
High rise syndrome relates to a collection of injuries sustained by an animal who falls from a substantial height (usually greater than 2 stories) such as a balcony or window. Every year, the summer months see a rise in deaths and serious injuries as cats fall from unscreened balconies and windows which have been left accessible to cats by owners who open them to enjoy the weather.
Many owners don’t think their cat would try to jump from an open window and typically they won’t deliberately leap from a great height. However, a cat can become fixated on a bird or other object and leap without realising or accidentally slip and fall.
- Thoracic trauma (chest, lungs, heart, and diaphragm)
- Forelimb fractures
- Facial trauma (broken jaws, teeth, hard palate fractures)
- Rib fractures
- Pelvic fractures
- Vertebral fractures
- Ruptured bladder
- Abdominal wall hernia
Interestingly, the greatest injury results from falls from two to seven stories. After this, injuries either level off or decrease. Cats who fall greater than seven stories have reached their terminal velocity of fall, at which point the vestibular apparatus is no longer stimulated. Before reaching terminal velocity, continued vestibular stimulation is believed to result in limb rigidity and failure to maximally prepare for a horizontal landing. After reaching maximum velocity, it is believed that cats assume a less rigid, more horizontal posture. These cats can prepare for landing and have the force of impact evenly distributed throughout the body.
About 90% of cats affected by high-rise syndrome will survive , although this isn’t a reason to become lax with giving cats access to high ledges etc. Injuries can be serious, painful and traumatic for the cat, not to mention expensive for you. And there is still a chance that the fall will kill your cat.
How can I avoid high-rise syndrome?
- Place screen on all windows and balconies which cats have access to.
- Regularly check screens still fit well and have no holes a cat can get through.
- If you have friends or tradesmen open, be extra diligent to ensure they don’t accidentally let your cat out.
References:  The Feline Patient – Gary D. Norsworthy, Mitchell A. Crystal, Sharon K. Fooshee, Larry P. Tilley.