What is Feline High-Rise Syndrome?

By Langley Cornwell

Cat people listen up! You might think feline high-rise syndrome is something silly, but it’s a real and serious problem. For those of us who love cats and want to keep them safe, high-rise syndrome is no joke. This syndrome is when a cat falls from an improperly screened or unscreened window. You may be surprised by how often this happens – it’s quite common and can be fatal. According to the ASPCA, city veterinarians see three to five cases of feline high-rise syndrome every week. That’s a scary number when you think about it. Feline high-rise syndrome has become so common that they named it, which should tell you something about how regularly it occurs.

How do cats fall from windows?

Imagine a cat staying in a high-rise apartment several stories up. That is not a natural environment for cats in the wild, so they love to sit in the windows and observe what is going on outside. If you open up a window for fresh air and the window screen is not in place or is improperly fitted, then your cat is in danger of falling out.

Although cats are very agile, they are also very focused. If a cat is watching a bird while sitting in the window, she may get the urge to lunge at it, and lose her balance. If the screen is loose or not there at all, your cat could be in for a very long and dangerous fall.

Feline high-rise syndrome can also occur when a cat falls asleep while leaning against a loose screen. Most of us have seen funny videos depicting cats falling off the television set or off of a table. But falling from a high-rise window is no laughing matter.

Would a cat survive such a fall?

Cats are remarkably resilient, but they can certainly harm themselves by falling long distances. They are not afraid of heights at all, so they are quick to take up a seemingly perilous perch. And when cat do happen to fall, they are adept at minimizing injury due to their awesome survival instincts, incredible agility and body control. Even so, a fall from extreme heights can be devastating. There are many variables that can’t be controlled, so it’s impossible to predict whether a cat could survive that type of fall.

If your cat does take a lengthy fall, remember that many cats do survive feline high-rise syndrome if they get care right away.

How do I prevent feline high-rise syndrome?

The easiest way to absolutely ensure that your cat is not a victim of feline high-rise syndrome is to keep your windows closed and your air conditioning on instead. Some of us like the breeze from an open window, though.

If you want an open air experience, make sure your screens are safely and snugly latched. Cats are smart but there’s no way for them to know if a screen is latched in tightly or not. They need you to protect them in case they lose their balance or concentration. Fit your screens tightly and reinforce them if your cat likes to lounge on the window ledge.

Remember that cats are also quick to figure out weaknesses in a window. If you have an opening or weakness in your window, your cat will likely find it and try to wriggle through to explore at some point. Even if you have a cat that stays indoors at all times, most likely they will hop at the chance to sneak outside for a peek at the world. Fire escapes, gutters and pretty much anything else might be enough of a temptation to lure them out of a screen that has a tear in it. Fix all broken screens and take those temptations off the table. Cats will be curious, so make sure you cover all your bases.

Feline high-rise syndrome is not something that will affect all cats, but it is certainly a concern among cat owners that live in high places. If you have a cat and live several stories up, you should periodically do a thorough check of all your windows and fix any issues immediately.

Top photo by Charlotte Claeson
Bottom photo by Potamos Photography

Read more articles by Langley Cornwell

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