Keeping Your Cat Safe from Falling Out of High Windows



Updated: May 20, 2021

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Cat Crawling Through Crack in Window

In one week alone, eight cats were injured after falling from high rises when warming weather in 2015 resulted in more people leaving their windows open. In fact, cats fall from windows so often that veterinarians have given it a name: “High-Rise Syndrome.”

Sunny skies and warm weather typically result in a great day for both people and pets. But warm weather also encourages people to open their windows. For cat owners who live in buildings with more than two stories, this can lead to disaster when their cat falls from that open window.

High-Rise Syndrome is a term coined by veterinarians at The Animal Medical Center in New York City due to the number and nature of injuries they were seeing from pets — especially cats — falling out of windows or off of fire escapes. The term came about in the 1980s after the hospital admitted 132 cases of cats injured by falls in just five months!

More recently, Queer Eye's Jonathan Van Ness experienced the tragic loss of his cat, Bug, after falling from an open window.


Did You Know?

Cats that fall from heights of between 2–7 stories typically sustain more, and worse, injuries than those that fall from greater heights. Also, the true extent of injuries sometimes isn’t seen until 48–72 hours later. This is because lung and/or heart contusions (a.k.a. "bruising") can take that long to reach their peak extent of damage.

How Far Cats Can Fall Without Injury

Even though cats always land on their feet (check out the slow motion video below), and they have a proclivity for high perches, it actually does not take much of a fall for a cat to sustain severe injuries. 

The term “High-Rise Syndrome” itself describes trauma sustained after cats fall from any height above two stories. So even if you think your window isn’t that high, it can still be high enough for your cat to sustain a serious injury. 

Interestingly, and likely because of their flexibility and their uncanny ability to right their body and relax during falls, cats that fall from heights over seven stories typically sustain fewer and less severe injuries than those that fall from heights between two and seven stories. Obviously, that's not to say that you should let them do it! Cats that fall from any significant height can suffer painful or fatal injuries.


Injuries Cats Sustain from Falling Out of Windows

Back when the term High-Rise Syndrome was first coined, a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that, of the 132 cases reviewed, a whopping 90% of the cats had some form of chest injury (thoracic trauma). And more than half (55%) had breathing troubles after their falls — large falls can often result in lung bruising (pulmonary contusions) in cats.

cat open window high rise syndrome

Other injuries include:

  • Broken bones
  • Facial trauma
  • Brain swelling
  • Shock
  • Joint dislocation
  • Jaw fractures
  • Fractures to the roof (palate) of the mouth
  • Bruising of the heart (myocardial contusions)
  • Heart rhythm problems
  • Broken teeth
  • Urinary bladder rupture
  • Internal bleeding

Amazingly, many cats can still survive and do quite well. However, the treatment process can be long, painful, and expensive and sometimes the true and full extent of a cat’s injuries isn’t seen until 48-72 hours after their fall. Costs for treating severe High-Rise Syndrome cases are often in the range of $2,000 to over $5,000, and these pets are typically in the hospital for several days. These poor guys require true intensive care and monitoring, often requiring supplemental oxygen therapy, serious pain control, (multiple) surgeries, and temporary feeding tubes.

How to Prevent Your Cat from Falling Out of an Open Window

High-Rise Syndrome is, of course, extremely preventable.

Cats often wind up in this predicament after having been startled off their windowsill perch. This is especially true for wide-open windows that lack any sort of protective barrier, such as bars or a screen.

For example, if your cat is lounging on the sill of an open window and the vacuum or blender starts up, it could cause them to jump or lose their balance. They could also lose their balance while jumping onto a windowsill or deck/balcony railing, or while hunting passing bugs, flies, or birds near an open window or on a fire escape. Actually, even fire escapes might not prevent a serious fall. The surface is often slippery, and a leaping cat can easily fly past the fire escape landing. Indeed, even a window screen might not be enough to prevent a fall.

Double check screens. Some might pop out easier than you think.

  • Protect Windows: Install well-fitting and secure window screens on any windows that you plan to leave open
    • Test all window screens by pressing your hand firmly against them — you’ll be surprised by how easily some screens will pop out.

  • Limit Openings: If possible, open the top portion of your windows, rather than the bottom.

  • Close Up: Close all windows before leaving your home and/or before making loud noises such as:
    • Turning on the blender
    • Vacuuming
    • Watching loud movies or TV

  • Keep an Eye Out: Don't leave your pets on your balcony unobserved
    • Never let them jump onto the railings
    • Move patio furniture and tall items away from the railings to prevent cats from getting to a level where they are more likely to fall

  • Plan for Play: Close your windows before playing with your dog in the house (not only might your dog jump after a ball that bounces out an open window, but their running could also startle your cat from their window perch.)

What to Do if Your Cat Falls Out of a Window

If your pet does fall out of a window, bring them immediately to your veterinarian for evaluation and treatment. The list of potential injuries they may have suffered goes far beyond broken bones, and many of them aren't likely to be obvious. There is no at-home treatment, and many of these cats are in extreme pain (whether they show you or not). Please don't try to give them your pain medications  it's a recipe for disaster — just get them to the vet immediately for evaluation and safe/effective treatment.