Cats are well known for landing on their feet, but that doesn’t mean you want them testing their skills by jumping from a tall building. Many cat owners are concerned about their cat jumping off the balcony. Do they jump off balconies? Is it dangerous for them?
Will my cat jump off the balcony?
Cats rarely intentionally jump off a balcony. They have an excellent survival instinct, and avoid dangerous situations. There are rare cases where a cat will intentionally jump from a balcony. In most cases, however, the cat accidentally falls off the balcony.
Cats falling from balconies has become so common it has its own name. It’s known as high rise syndrome. Many cats suffer falls and injuries from high rise syndrome each year.
The History of High Rise Syndrome
The term high rise syndrome was coined by the Animal Medical Center, or AMC. Over the course of 5 months, they treated 132 cats who had fallen from high rise buildings. This was in the 1980s. Since then, there have been many more cat deaths and injuries due to high rise syndrome.
As more people move to high-rise buildings, the problem is only expected to grow.
Why Do Cats Jump off Balconies?
One reason cats jump off balconies is because the height isn’t that high. Of course, this only applies to first or second story balconies. Cats can easily jump or fall around 8 feet, as long as they are in good physical health.
Another reason cats jump off balconies is because they aren’t trying to jump onto the ground. They may spot something in the air and go for it, forgetting about the inevitable drop.
They may also be attempting to jump to another area, and miss their landing. Cats are at home in trees. Their claws are perfect for digging in, similar to grappling hooks. This gives them a firm hold that allows them to perform some death-defying feats.
However, surfaces like concrete don’t allow them to use their claws for purchase. Other materials, like glass or plastic, are slippery. Cats can have a difficult time maintaining balance and traction, which causes them to fall.
Accidental falls are the cause of most cases of high rise syndrome. The cat isn’t intentionally jumping off a 10-story balcony. Instead, they fall, much like their human counterparts do from time to time.
One reason kitties fall from balconies is because they love to sleep in high places. Cats are naturally inclined to seek high places to sleep. In the wild, this keeps them safe from predators. It also gives them a birds’ eye view of their territory, which can warn them of approaching predators and alert them to prey.
The problem is that cats can move around in their sleep, just as humans do. Have you ever fallen out of your bed while you were asleep? You probably woke up startled and in a little pain. Imagine falling from several stories while sleeping!
Cats seek out heights for safety, which makes it ironic that heights can also be dangerous for them. Cats can jump when scared, just as we do. They may also run, without thinking about where they are going.
So, a startled cat can easily fall off a balcony, either from jumping in surprise or attempting to get away. Imagine your cat relaxing on the balcony railing. They are startled by a passing vehicle, and instinctively jump. They can’t get their paws back on the slick railing, so they fall instead. It’s a terrifying prospect for you and your kitty.
Losing Balance or Traction
As I mentioned earlier, losing their balance or traction is another common cause. Plastic or metal surfaces provide no traction. Cats, brave beings that they are, will still walk on these surfaces.
They will even stroll across the balcony railing, without a care in the world. Their instinct tells them they are safe. After all, if it was a tree limb they were standing on, they would be.
However, all it takes is a slight misstep to send them toppling over the side, because their claws don’t help them keep their balance on the surface.
If your cat has balance issues, they are at a higher risk of high rise syndrome, for obvious reasons.
Cats can see through windows. However, they can’t see the window itself. Your cat learns about the window because they realize there’s an unseen barrier between them and the outside.
Many cats love to sit in the window and watch the goings on in the world outside their door. This actually provides great mental stimulation for your cat, which is essential for their physical and mental well being.
However, it can also pose a danger. If your cat becomes used to sitting in a window, and the window is left open, the cat can easily fall out.
Since they can’t see the window itself, they won’t notice when it’s not there. They will lean against it or fall asleep in the window, and fall out because it is open. This is a surprisingly common cause of high rise syndrome.
Is it safe to let my cat on the balcony?
The answer to this question is, it depends. Is it safe to let your furry friend on a balcony without safety precautions? No. No matter how intelligent, agile, or adorable your kitty is, there’s a risk of them falling.
This doesn’t mean that you must keep your cat indoors at all times. It does mean that you should make sure they are safe if you allow them on the balcony.
Think of them as you would a small child. You wouldn’t let them in a dangerous area without ensuring their safety.
How do I keep my cat from jumping off the balcony?
There are ways to prevent your cat from jumping, or falling, off the balcony. Keep in mind that cats are intelligent, agile, and determined. Catproofing your balcony isn’t an easy task, but it’s worth the effort.
Supervision Isn’t Enough
It’s easy to think your cat is safe on your balcony as long as you are out there as well. However, this isn’t always the case. Your cat can move so quickly that you can’t stop them from a fall.
Keep a Close Eye on Kittens
One study of high rise syndrome found that 60% of cats who fell were under 1 year old. This isn’t surprising. Kittens lack the coordination and analytical skills that come with age, putting them at a higher risk of a fall. They may also be more likely to jump in pursuit of something, without thinking about the consequences.
The simplest way to keep your cat safe on the balcony is to use a cat leash. This works similar to a dog leash. It restrains your cat, preventing them from getting to the edge of the balcony where they can fall.
It’s important to note that this method can only be used to keep your cat away from the edge. If they fall, dangling by their neck from a collar is far from an ideal situation.
Second, you must get a cat collar that is suitable to use with a leash. Many cat collars break away when pressure is applied. This prevents cats from getting their collar stuck and choking. However, it’s not designed to be used with a leash.
If you use a cat collar and leash, it’s best to only use the collar when using the leash. Supervise your cat when using the leash as well. This prevents your cat from being choked by the collar when unattended.
You can also choose a harness for your cat, instead of a collar. The risk of choking with a harness is much lower than with a collar.
A catio is an enclosed area where your cat can play safely on a balcony. You can purchase catio enclosures. These are pens, similar to dog pens. They can be set up on your balcony, so your cat can play safely.
These come in different sizes. The bigger the pen, the higher the cost. You can also build your own catio. Just be sure that the enclosure is secure.
Keeping Your Cat Inside
Of course, keeping your cat inside is also an option. If your cat is accustomed to outdoor playtime, you may need to provide more entertainment and activity within your home.
A cat condo is one way to give your cat their own space. It allows them to get off the ground, which lots of cats crave. In addition to climbing on the condo, they can feel safe and secure inside.
Toys are another must. Instead of just placing toys on the floor, put them away. Get them out when you can play with your cat. Cats soon tire of toys that don’t do anything. They love to simulate hunting, which requires moving “prey”. Rotate toys every few weeks, so your cat doesn’t lose interest.
There are a few exceptions to this rule. Battery toys that activate when moved allow your cat to play whenever they want. Balls will roll when swatted, making them a great option for unsupervised play.
Lastly, consider a puzzle feeder. The feeder dispenses treats or kibble when your cat moves it in certain ways. This provides mental and physical stimulation.
To give your cat the feeling of being outdoors, allow them to sit in a window. If you don’t have a window seat, you can create one by installing a shelf underneath a window. You can also place a table even with the window, so your cat has a perch. This will satisfy some of their desire to be outside, and it helps to relieve boredom.
Just be sure to keep all the windows closed. Falling out of windows is a common cause of high rise syndrome. Window screens are not designed to support weight, and can give if your cat leans against them.
Can a cat survive a jump from a balcony?
Yes, they can and often do survive a fall from a balcony. However, injuries are common, and deaths are possible as well. Just because it’s possible for your cat to survive doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to take chances.
Cats Land on Their Feet
You’ve probably heard that cats always land on their feet. This is mostly true. A cat can’t land on its feet from a short fall, at one story or less. Falls beyond one story give your kitty time to turn their body, so they land on their feet.
This is one reason why cats are able to survive high falls. However, even cats who land on their feet aren’t always able to walk away from a fall.
Injuries From Fall
90% of cats who fall from a high building survive. However, they often sustain serious injuries. Nearly half of cats had a broken limb, or leg. Chest, face, and head trauma are also common injuries.
How Do Cats Survive Falls?
We know cats land on their feet, but this isn’t the only reason they are able to survive falls from great heights. There are a few stories, pun intended, of cats falling from heights of 30 stories or greater and surviving. It’s actually common for cats to fall from heights up to 20 stories, or 200 feet, and survive.
Are they magic? Do they really have 9 lives? No. They are simply light and unaerodynamic. A cat has a terminal velocity of 60 mph, about half that of a human. This means beyond a certain height, it doesn’t matter how high they fall from. They will reach the ground at the same speed.
Surprisingly, cats who fall from 7 stories or higher are less likely to be injured than those who fall from 5 stories. It’s thought that this is because a cat tenses and arches its back when it begins to fall.
This isn’t great for shock absorption, and increases the risk of injury. It’s theorized that falls from higher heights cause the cat to relax, making them better able to absorb the impact of hitting the ground.