Working At Height – Cool For Cats?

Working At Height – Cool For Cats?

07th August 2014

We think of cats as pretty sure-footed creatures that can climb trees, walls and even the odd set of curtains.  However, incidents of a cat falling from height is much more common than you might imagine.  In fact, this type of accident is so common that vets even have a name for it:  high rise syndrome.  High rise syndrome is much more prevalent in urban areas, especially cities where residents often live in high rise blocks of flats.  Cats are more likely to suffer a fall of this type on warm or hot, sunny days, especially in apartments with no air conditioning.  Young cats are much more likely to fall than older cats – this is probably due to experience!

We’ve all heard stories of cats getting stuck in trees or other high places and having to be rescued by ladder, usually with the help of the local fire service.  However, we don’t seem to hear so many tales of cats being injured after suffering a fall from height.
There is an old saying that “cats will always land on their feet” – this is probably because cats seem to have a natural ability to right themselves.  This ability means that a cat which has fallen is far less likely to suffer from spinal fractures in comparison with dogs (dogs who fall often end up with a spinal injury).  Nonetheless, this doesn’t mean that when a cat falls it will always walk away unscathed.

Whilst cats will generally land on their feet when they fall, they don’t always escape unharmed.  Although they are unlikely to suffer a spinal injury because they land with their undersides facing downwards, landing in this position does have its drawbacks.  If the fall is from a considerable height, then a cat is likely to suffer with broken legs and an over extension of the carpus (this is the cat front leg equivalent of a wrist) as the impact is absorbed by the part of the body that hits the ground.

If a cat lands at particularly high velocity, then the legs will often crumple, leaving the chest vulnerable as it hits the ground.  These thoracic (chest) injuries are common when cats fall from a height and often result in the death of the cat.  If the cat is lucky enough to survive, then bruised lungs, fractures of the breast bone, broken ribs or collapsed lungs are likely.  The lower part of a cat’s head is also likely to be injured in a fall from height – a fracture of the jaw bone could occur, and sometimes a fracture of the upper palate.

Although internal injuries are not common, internal bleeding may occur after a nasty fall.  This is often as a result of a ruptured spleen, a ruptured pancreas or a fracture of the liver – all serious injuries that will result in a hefty vet’s bill.  

Given the fact that cats are always climbing up something, maybe it’s time for us to come up with a training regime for felines – perhaps ladder safety training for cats or a set of Kitty Working at Height Regulations (KWAHR)!