Cats have a remarkable survival rate when it comes to falling from incredible heights, and they always seem to walk away entirely unscathed. But how high is “too” high?
You’ve probably heard of the saying, “Cats always land on their feet.” But how high can a cat jump without getting hurt? The answer solely depends on where they’re falling, how high, and a cat’s physical health.
We’ll be answering these questions, including scientific facts, studies, and more today. Let’s get right into it.
Understanding Cat Behavior: Do Cats Always Land on Their Feet
A balancing system called the Righting Reflex allows cats to twist themselves to land safely on their feet. But this isn’t always 100% true, and most cats often get hurt when falling from a certain height.
Here’s what we know: the higher a cat falls, the likelier it is to land on their feet.
Cats landing on their feet has been a curiosity since the 19th century. In 1894, a French scientist by the name of Étienne-Jules Marey was able to debunk how cats do so by using a chronophotographic camera.
He was able to capture a 60-frames-per-second clip and watch in slow-motion how cats land on their feet. He conducted similar studies on chickens and dogs, and while they’re not as flexible as cats, he found that they could do almost the same.
This allowed Nature, British weekly scientific journal, to document and publish the mechanical conditions that enabled cats to align themselves with an almost uncanny balance. This was released for public view on November 22, 1894.
So to reiterate: cats almost always land on their feet, but they don’t always safely nail the landing.
Not all falls are equal. Certain falls can be dangerous – even deadly – for cats. Other than height, this is due to several factors, namely the surface wherein a cat lands, their physical health, and the nature of the fall.
Can Cats Get Hurt By Jumping
According to the Guinness book to world records, the longest jump by a cat is about 7 feet (213.36 cm) by Waffle the Warrior Cat in Big Sur, California, on the 30th of Jan 2018.
Theoretically, cats can jump up to five times their body length without getting injured, which can be measured 7-9 feet vertically. [Source]
Unfortunately, we don’t have enough recordings of cats jumping from high distances to explicitly answer the exact maximum height a cat can jump. But we do have scientific studies to prove how high a cat can fall without getting hurt.
Before we break these down, here are some important things to keep in mind:
- A cat’s joints absorb the shock associated with the landing. This means the softer the landing material, like a plush carpet, for example, the less likely for them to suffer an injury.
- Hard or uneven land surfaces may cause bone fractures, sprains, joints, and tendon damage. This is especially true in older cats and kittens.
- Repetitive hard landings, even from jumping from high places, can cause minor joint damages and may contribute to arthritis, as the years pass.
- Overweight cats are also more likely to get injured.
Falling Inside the House
Cats fall near-constantly from a height inside one’s house. If you’ve ever owned a cat, you’ve probably seen them fall from the closet, table, or even from above your refrigerator.
The good news is that cats rarely hurt when falling inside the house, as long as they don’t fall from the second floor.
As mentioned, cats can leap from 7-9 feet and land safely on their feet. The average height of the American ceiling comes to about 9 feet. This means that you don’t have to be afraid whenever your cat falls or leaps around your house.
Senior cats, however, may be an exception to this rule. So, it’s advisable to take precautionary measures against falls when you own an older cat.
Cat Falling From 2nd Storey
Just like trees, second-floor buildings is an awkward height to fall.
Results vary when a cat falls from this height. Most healthy cats survive the fall without any injuries. But some, specifically kittens, older felines, and heavier cats, may suffer from minor injuries.
Unfortunately, some injuries are inevitable, especially if the fall was sudden. When this happens, we always need to make sure the cat isn’t suffering from any significant damage to their limbs, spine, or head.
Cat Falling From Tree
There are multiple reasons why you might find cats on trees.
- Branches are a good spot to watch prey
- Trees provide a good hiding spot from dogs and humans
- Cats love falling asleep on trees
Falling from trees may be a bit troublesome for cats. This is because they wouldn’t normally jump from high up when they can slowly shimmy their way down backward.
When cats fall from trees, they’re either startled by a sudden noise, lose balance when catching prey, or fall while sleeping. This makes it dangerous for cats, as it’ll give them less time to build momentum to fall safely on their feet.
It also increases the risk of them falling on their head, belly, or back.
Most trees are too high to safely jump down from, but not high enough to achieve terminal velocity. If you find a cat stuck in a tree, it’s best to attempt to rescue them before they jump or fall.
Cat Falling from High Building
It’s said that cats tend to suffer less severe injuries when falling from greater heights, as it allows them more time to right themselves.
A 1987 study conducted by the New York City’s Animal Medical Center found that out of the 132 cats that fell from high-rise buildings. 90% survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to be kept alive.
These cats fell from an average height of 5.5 stories, and some, incredibly, as high as 32 stories. One cat was documented to have fallen as high as 26 stories without a single injury.
In fact, only 1 of the 13, that fell more than 9 stories, has broken a bone. The cat that survived the longest fall of 32 stories was released from the hospital within 2 days!
Now, this study doesn’t imply that cats that fall from any height have an average survival rate of 90%. However, with the large sample size of 132 cats, it’s safe to say that cats have an extremely good survival rate. Especially when falling off of buildings.
This study is what coined the term High-rise syndrome in cats by the American Veterinary Medical Association.
Interestingly, the number of injuries domestic cats suffer goes down when reached a certain height, specifically above ~7 stories. A story is approximately 10 feet, so this means that injuries decrease when cats fall heights of over 70 feet.
Cats are natural daredevils. An ancient proverb claims that “a cat has nine lives”, and although this is simply a myth, we’ve seen first hand that cats can survive accidents better than any other kind of species on Earth.
Despite that, it’s not a good idea to purposely drop a cat to sate one’s curiosity, even if it’s for “scientific purposes”.
If you’re living in a high-rise building, you have to make sure your cat doesn’t risk falling from the balcony or window. Even though the chances of dying are low, you still want to avoid it.
And if she does fall, make sure to get your cat checked immediately by a vet, no matter the height.