Preventing Feline High-Rise Syndrome

by catfood

Serafina navigates the narrow two-inch walkway high above the ground, one foot precisely placed in front of the other, performing a rare balancing act. She leaps over obstacles, landing solidly beyond them, determined to complete her mission. Gymnast for the Games? Cirque du Soleil high-wire walker? Serafina is your average house cat.


Few mammals can compete with the cat’s balance, leaping ability, and depth perception – all of which are necessary for a predator who has hunted at least some of her prey from trees for thousands of years. Because of the cat’s single-tracking foot placement, she can move across thin tree branches as well as the narrow back of a sofa. Powerful hind leg muscles and relatively large hind feet allow her to explode forward or upward in a forward or upward thrust, while keen depth perception ensures the cat rarely misses her target, whether it’s a windowsill or a morsel of prey.

Don’t worry if the bough breaks or the counter becomes too slippery; the cat has a self-righting mechanism. Because of her quick nervous system and flexible spine, the cat is able to right herself and fall 24 inches. The paw pads cushion the landing. When the cat falls from a relatively high height, she will extend her spine and stretch out her limbs in the manner of a “flying squirrel,” slowing the fall’s velocity. Some cats can survive falls from twenty-plus stories because of this. These abilities, however, frequently provide pet owners with a false sense of security about their cat’s safety.

Balance isn’t enough

During the summer, cats are frequently seen snoozing in open windows or sunning themselves on fire escapes. Their caregivers are unconcerned because they believe their cats are intelligent, balanced creatures. If that’s the case, why are felines in cat wards of urban veterinary hospitals suffering from broken jaws, punctured lungs, and broken limbs and pelvises? Why do these acrobatic daredevils crash to the ground so often that the veterinary profession has coined the term High-Rise Syndrome (HRS)?


One possible cause of HRS is that napping cats, like humans, go through both REM and deep sleep. Muscle twitches and dreaming during REM sleep can cause enough movement and disorientation to knock a cat off a narrow ledge. Some cats’ intense prey drive may also be their undoing, causing them to leap out at a passing bird or insect without hesitation.

Cats may flee through an open window in some cases to avoid unusual or unexpected events in the house or apartment. Several cats have escaped through a hole left by an air conditioner that was removed for service. All of these scenarios result in HRS, which results in medical bills and the intense pain and suffering of a cat – or death.

Why take chances?


With a little forethought, disaster could have been avoided. Check that all windows have snug, sturdy screens before opening them. Adjustable screens should be tightly wedged into window frames. Use your air conditioner instead of flimsy screens that can be pushed out of the way by a determined cat. Before allowing your cat out on the balcony or terrace, make sure she can’t fit through the ironwork or lounge on the balustrade.

If a cat can fit her head through a hole, she can usually fit her entire body through as well. Use deck netting or wire mesh to ensure safety, and only allow the cat access when properly supervised. Maintain a safe distance between your cat and any open holes in the wall caused by construction or service work.

Let us ensure that Serafina’s feline acrobatics continue to astound her grateful family audience for many years to come.

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