If you've ever spent any time around cats, you'll know they're masters of jumping — and falling. We've all seen videos of cats standing on tiny ledges high above city streets, with no fear of falling from a great height. You'll also no doubt be familiar with the cat righting reflex, a physics-defying ability that allows cats to correct themselves midair, always landing on their feet.
But how far can cats fall? And how do you stop Smudge from standing in precarious positions? Here's everything you need to know.
This behavior is mainly rooted in instinct. Being up high gives cats a vantage point to keep an eye for predators and hunt unsuspecting prey. Unlike humans, cats find being up high relaxing as it provides a safe spot to eat, bathe, and nap.
While your modern house cat doesn't need to worry about becoming something's supper, a high perch allows them to watch for other nuisances, like the household dog. Having somewhere high to sit gives a cat multiple escape routes, unlike the ground, which is much more limited.
Being up high is also rooted in your household hierarchy. Cats see being up high as a sign of dominance and that they're literally "king of the hill". If another cat tries to oust or invade the top cat's position, they may end in a scrap. Luckily, cat hierarchy is flexible, and cats are usually happy to take turns being on top of the world.
There's also evidence to suggest
cats climb up high simply because they can and enjoy it. Cats operate
in 3 dimensions, unlike dogs, and can scale a tree as easily as they
can run across the living room. So, for cats, climbing up as high is as
normal as walking down the road.
So how far can cats fall? Thanks to the righting reflex, which allows cats to turn in midair, exceptionally far. In one incident, a cat fell as far as 32 stories and suffered only a chipped tooth and collapsed lung. The cat was discharged from the hospital after two days. These are not isolated incidents either, with dozens of reports of cats falling 20+ stories with minor or no injuries.
Strangely, there's evidence to suggest a higher incidence rate of serious injury and death in cats falling from a shorter height. A 1982 study published in the Journal Of The American Veterinary Medical Association studied 132 cats who had fallen from a height of around 5 stories. The study found around a third of these cats would've died without emergency treatment.
The study suggests that the incidence rate is higher in falls less than 7 stories because a cat reaches terminal velocity after 7 stories, meaning they have time to relax and spread out, creating more drag.
However, a similar and more recent study in 2003 had different results. A study published in The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery found that cases of highrise syndrome (the term used for injuries when falling in cats) sharply rose after the seventh story and that injury was less related to height and more to do with the landing surface and individual dexterity.
While cats are able to fall from great heights, you should never test
the theory. Never push or drop your cat from a high up to see if
they're okay. Doing so is animal abuse, which could seriously maim or
kill your cat. It will also make your cat very fearful of you,
permanently damaging your relationship. If you're interested in seeing a
cat fall, watch one of the dozens of candid videos available online.
While cats are independent thinkers, there are ways you can discourage your cat from climbing up high or even jumping on your kitchen counters. If you're trying to stop your cat from climbing on certain surfaces, consider placing aluminum foil on their favorite countertop so it scares them when they jump up. Do not use spray bottles or yell, as this will only cause your cat stress. Any deterrent that doesn't actively involve scaring your cat is preferable.
If you have an outdoor
cat who's fond of heights, there are a few things you can do to
discourage them. Make sure you have high places for Felix to climb at
home so they don't feel the need to climb as much outside. Consider
buying a couple of tall cat trees so your feline friend has somewhere
to sit. You can also try buying hunting toys to help fulfill their
hunting instincts. Hunting toys may help to stop your cat from chasing
squirrels up trees.
Cats can fall much further than you might expect; however, there is
no exact distance a cat can fall without injury. It depends on a cat's
weight, dexterity, and whether they land on concrete, grass, or in a
bush. While cats have been known to fall from over 30 stories and
survive, it's not very common or thoroughly researched. That being said,
studies suggest cats can fall as far as 20 stories, over 200 feet, and
survive with little to no injuries.