Autumn has arrived in Florida, which means we can finally turn off the A/C, open up our windows, and enjoy the weather. But for cat owners, keeping the windows open carries a specific risk: Feline High-Rise Syndrome.

High-Rise Syndrome refers to the injuries that cats sustain as a result of falling from high places, such as a window or a balcony. Although cats appear to be nimble and constantly aware of their surroundings, they are still prone to accidents, especially when they see something that grabs their attention and triggers their hunting instinct. Sometimes, cats can lose track of their position while sleeping and tumble off their perch. If they were sleeping on a slippery surface, like plastic, metal, or stone, they might not be able to pull themselves up.

Cats can sustain critical injuries from falls as short as one or two stories. In fact, shorter falls can be more dangerous because the cat doesn’t have time to adjust its body for the landing. When given enough time, cats will reflexively right their bodies and relax their limbs during a fall to reduce trauma upon landing. They also spread apart their limbs to reduce their terminal velocity, similar to what a flying squirrel does. This means that Feline High-Rise Syndrome has a good survival rate–90% if the cat receives proper medical attention immediately after the incident. Cats have been known to survive falls from over twenty stories up. One lucky cat even survived a fall of forty-six stories!

Cat owners can take some simple precautions to drastically reduce the chances of High-Rise Syndrome affecting their beloved pets:

  • Make sure your windows have secure, well-fitted screens installed. Test your screens to make sure they can take the weight of your cat leaning on them.
  • Train your cat so they don’t jump on screens or try to climb them. Using a spray bottle to dissuade your cat is a humane way of preventing these dangerous behaviors.
  • Try to open the top portions of windows rather than the bottom portions, when possible.
  • If your balcony is not enclosed by a screen, it’s best to avoid letting your cat go out there.
  • Before you turn on something that makes a loud noise (for example, a blender), close your windows so your cat does not startle and accidentally fall.

If your cat suffers from a fall, remember that you should take them to a veterinarian immediately. Even if your cat appears to be fine, they may have sustained serious internal injuries that are not outwardly visible. Combined with the fact that cats hide their pain very convincingly, they might look OK even when they need immediate care. At the same time, never assume that your cat did not survive a fall. As previously mentioned, cats have been known to survive falls that are over twenty stories high when they receive medical attention as soon as possible.