Everyone has heard that’s cats have nine lives, but the real secret of felines is that they rarely have to use more than one. It’s well-known that cats almost always land on their feet, regardless of how they’re dropped. The question is; how high can they be dropped from and still survive? Will they still land on their feet if dropped from an incredible height?
The truth is, we don’t know exactly how high cats can fall from and survive because no one has tested to find that out. However, we do know the highest a cat has fallen from and survived, which is an astounding 32 stories! Since a story equals roughly 14 feet, this means that a cat has fallen 448 feet and survived. While that’s a truly amazing story, equally amazing is how cats can fall from such heights and rarely ever die from it.
How High Can Cats Fall: High-Rise Syndrome
Cats love to climb, as almost every cat owner can attest to. They seem to have no fear of heights whatsoever. Many cats are constantly seeking the highest point in any room so they can climb up and perch there, getting a birds-eye view of their surroundings.
Along with climbing comes the inevitable falling. What goes up must come down, but it doesn’t always come down quite as gracefully as it went up. Of course, cats are extremely flexible creatures with exceptional reflexes. They’re able to twist their bodies mid-air and land on their feet to avoid serious injury when they fall.
Still, falling is a common part of climbing, even for cats. In fact, cats fall so often that theirs an umbrella term given to any injury that a cat sustains due to falling from a high place: high-rise syndrome. This can include all sorts of injuries, ranging in severity from minor to life-threatening.
A Study on High-Rise Syndrome
Luckily, we actually know quite a bit about how far cats can fall and high-rise syndrome thanks to an in-depth study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery in November of 2004. This study looked at 119 cats diagnosed with high-rise syndrome over a period of four years. 96.5% of the cats that fell survived the fall, of which the average height was four stories or approximately 56 feet. 46% of these cats had fractured limbs, with hindlimbs being most likely to fracture.
Long before that 2004 study, the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association did a study in 1988 of 132 cats falling from heights as high as 32 stories, with an average fall of 5.5 stories. Again, the survival rate was over 90%. The percentage of cats exhibiting some form of chest trauma was also 90%. Only 39% suffered limb fractures. 30% of the cats required no medical treatment after their fall. 37% of the cats required life-saving treatment. The remaining cats needed only non-emergency treatment.
How Cats Survive Such High Falls
Something interesting came of those studies. Researchers found that cats landed differently depending on the height from which they fell. Cats that fell less than five stories almost always landed on their feet, resulting in higher numbers of limb fractures, though fewer injuries overall than cats that fell from over five stories. But the injuries were different in cats falling from more than seven stories, and they weren’t landing on their feet.
As it turns out, when cats reach terminal velocity, instead of landing on their feet, they spread their appendages apart and land flat on their stomachs. This is why such a high percentage of the cats that fell from great heights had chest trauma while the cats falling from an average height of four stories had more broken limbs.
For a cat, terminal velocity is achieved at approximately 60 miles per hour, which is about half the speed of terminal velocity for the average-sized man. When a cat falls less than five stories, it doesn’t ever reach terminal velocity. But cats falling from five stories or higher do reach terminal velocity, and this is when the change in landing occurs.
This is one of those rare cases where the truth is stranger than fiction. Cats can fall from just about any height. They can fall so far and still survive that we don’t even know what their true limits are. Here’s what we do know: cats have survived falls of 32 stories, which is about 448 feet. That said, at least one-third of cats that fall from great heights require life-saving treatment afterward. So, don’t go throwing your cat out the window just to watch this in action. We’re pretty sure that qualifies as animal abuse, which is a criminal offense!
Featured image credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock