During the warmer months, many homes are quick to open windows. However, cat owners should be aware of the dangers an open window can pose to their pets. A phenomenon called high-rise syndrome is to blame.
High-rise syndrome is also used to describe the injuries cats sustain when falling from a height. A fall from the second floor (7m+) or above can be dangerous. Cats falling from these heights is actually a greater risk than you might think. Each year University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna treats 70-80 cats with injuries from falling from windows.
A Strong Hunting Instinct or Unfortunate Accident?
Most cats have a strong hunting instinct. Most owners will notice this when they play with their cats, or when their cats play together. Many things will grab a cat’s attention, causing them to pounce; from feathered toys to insects and birds.
An open window is captivating for cats. Nature is just within reach and so tempting to our small predator. Their feline hunting instinct could cause them to pounce at passing birds or insects, regardless of how high up they are.
More often, cats falling from an open window do so accidentally. They can lose balance or slip when resting on a window ledge. These surfaces are usually difficult for a falling cat to grab and prevent their fall.
A startled cat might also leap from a window, not realising the height of the fall. A loud noise, such as a vacuum cleaner, could be enough to startle them.
What Damage Can a Fall Cause?
It’s well known that cats have a righting reflex, that allows them to land on their feet. To some extent this reduces the damage a fall can cause, but injuries are still common. Fortunately, the survival rate from a fall is high. Around 94% of cats brought to a vet following a fall survive 1.
The limbs absorb a lot of energy from a fall, often leading to fractures. The head or body can hit the ground as well however, causing different types of injuries. 66% of reported high-rise syndrome cases involved damage to the mouth or face.
Some other commonly reported injuries included:
- Facial trauma (57%)
- Limb fractures (39%)
- Shock (24%)
- Dislocations (18%)
- Hypothermia (17%)
- Dental fractures (17%)
In 37% of cases, the patient required emergency treatment. The remainder required either non-emergency treatment or none at all 2.
Aside from fractures, lung injuries are another possible outcome. 33% of cats taken for treatment presented some form of trauma to the chest (thoracic) cavity. In 20% of cases, this included a collapsed lung 3.
Taking Steps to Protect Your Cat
To protect your cat from falling out of an open window, ideally you will want to install a protective screen. Many meshes are available that keep pets in and insects out. These meshes are a DIY solution to keeping your cat inside!
Windows that tilt open might seem like a safe way of getting some fresh air indoors. Tilt windows however bring their own problems. Cats may try to get through the small, open gap – getting stuck in the process. This can restrict blood flow and crush organs.
“Depending on the duration, being stuck in the window gap can lead to a life-threatening situation for cats”
Roswitha Steinbacher, vet at the Clinical Department for Anaesthesiology and Perioperative Intensive-Care Medicine at the Vetmeduni Vienna.
Other things to consider:
- Don’t leave a pet unattended in a room with an open window, especially on higher floors.
- Avoid using toys in rooms with opened windows.
- Take care not to startle a pet resting near an open window.
- Balconies are also a potential danger to cats.
- Tilted windows can also be dangerous. Cats can get stuck, restricting blood flow.
- Even falls from lower heights can cause injury.
- Take your pet to a veterinarian after a fall, even if no injuries are apparent. Cats are good at hiding pain.
High-Rise Syndrome Summary
- High-rise syndrome is the name given to injuries pets get after falling from a height.
- Natural instinct or an unfortunate accident can cause a cat to fall from a window.
- Falls from the equivalent of a second floor (7m+) or above can cause serious injuries.
- The survival rate is high (94%), but injuries are very common too.
- Consider getting screens for your windows to protect your cats from falling out of high-up windows.
- Bonner, S., Reiter, A. and Lewis, J. (2012). Orofacial Manifestations of High-Rise Syndrome in Cats: A Retrospective Study of 84 Cases. Journal of Veterinary Dentistry, 29(1), pp.10-18. ↩
- Whitney WO, Mehlhaff CJ. High-rise syndrome in cats. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 1987;191(11):1399-403. ↩
- VNUK, D. (2004). Feline high-rise syndrome: 119 cases (1998?2001). Journal of Feline Medicine & Surgery, 6(5), pp.305-312. ↩