Can A Cat Survive A Fall From The Empire State Building?

Cats are known for their agility and ability to survive falls from great heights. A question that often arises is whether a cat could survive a fall from a skyscraper like the Empire State Building. In this article, we will examine the factors that influence a cat’s chance of survival when falling from extreme heights. We will look at the height of the Empire State Building, a cat’s terminal velocity, injuries from short and high-rise falls, feline survival instincts, and real cases of cats falling from tall buildings. By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of whether a domestic cat could survive a plunge from the top of the Empire State Building.

Height of the Empire State Building

The Empire State Building stands at a towering height in the heart of Manhattan. According to Facts & Figures, the roof of the building reaches 1,250 feet (380 meters). With the addition of the spire and antenna at the very top, the total height comes to 1,454 feet (443.2 meters).

Some key facts about the colossal height of this iconic skyscraper:

  • The main roof sits at 1,250 feet or 380 meters above the streets of New York City.
  • Including its spire and antenna, the total height is 1,454 feet or 443.2 meters.
  • Upon its completion in 1931, it was the tallest building in the world, surpassing the Chrysler Building.
  • It retained the title of world’s tallest building for over 40 years until the World Trade Center was built in 1970.

So in summary, the Empire State Building stands at a mighty 1,454 feet tall from base to antenna tip, with its roof topping out at 1,250 feet or 380 meters up.

Terminal Velocity in Cats

Terminal velocity is the maximum velocity an object achieves while falling through the air due to drag and gravity. An object that has reached terminal velocity is not accelerating, i.e. the net force on it is zero. For cats, terminal velocity is approximately 60 mph (26.8 m/s), compared to around 120 mph for humans (BBC, 2012).

Cats are able to achieve a lower terminal velocity due to having a larger surface area relative to their weight. Their body posture while falling, with the legs splayed out, also increases drag and reduces acceleration downward (Modkat, 2021). Additionally, cats are able to relax their bodies mid-air to reduce injuries, compared to humans who tend to tense up and suffer worse falls as a result.

Injuries from Short Falls

Cats can sustain a variety of injuries from short falls under 5 stories, though the severity depends on factors like the cat’s age and health as well as the landing surface. According to the ASPCA, falls from less than 2 stories onto a hard surface can result in injuries like bruises, fractures, and trauma to the chest and abdomen. Older cats are at higher risk of injury and death from short falls. Kittens may fair better due to their light weight and flexibility. Falls onto soft surfaces like grass, bushes, or carpet can help mitigate injuries in cats.

Some common injuries cats can experience from short falls include: sprains, bone fractures, ruptured organs, collapsed lungs, head trauma, and back injuries. Cats tend to land feet first when falling, which can lead to fractured legs. Chest and abdominal injuries are also common, as vital organs can be damaged on impact. Facial and jaw fractures may occur as well. Though rare from short falls, head trauma can result in serious conditions like hemorrhage, swelling, and concussion.

While not all short falls lead to major injury, it’s important to monitor a cat after any significant fall. Signs of injury may not appear right away. Owners should check for limping, crying, changes in behavior, stiffness, bruising, rapid breathing or difficulty breathing, and bleeding. A veterinary exam can identify fractures, organ damage, or internal bleeding after a fall. With prompt treatment, many cats fully recover from short fall injuries.

Injuries from High-Rise Falls

Cats that fall from heights higher than 7 stories (around 23-30 feet) are at risk for severe injuries, commonly referred to as high-rise syndrome. Many cats sustain severe thoracic trauma from these high falls leading to conditions like pneumothorax, hemothorax, lung bruising, and fractured ribs [1]. Fractures are also commonly seen in the face, legs, pelvis and vertebrae. According to veterinary research, nearly 60% of cats falling 6-10 stories suffer pelvic fractures and up to 50% have fractured limbs [2]. Head trauma is also very common, occurring in over 90% of high-rise falls. This can lead to serious conditions like cerebral hemorrhage, skull fractures, and concussions. Without emergency treatment, most cats do not survive falls from 7 stories or higher.

Cat Survival Instincts

Cats have several innate instincts that help protect them when falling from heights. As soon as they lose their footing, cats reflexively twist their bodies and arch their backs to orient themselves feet-down [1]. They spread out their legs to increase drag and slow the fall. Cats also relax their bodies to avoid injuries – tense muscles are more prone to damage. Additionally, cats have a flexible backbone that acts as a shock absorber when they land [2]. Their head is cushioned from impact by a loose skin flap on the neck. All these instincts enable a cat to survive falls that would seriously injure other animals.

Notable High-Rise Cat Falls

In June 2018, a cat named Sugar survived a fall from the 32nd floor of an apartment building in Minnesota. According to an article by Business Insider, Sugar suffered from collapsed lungs and a broken jaw, but was able to recover after several weeks. The article notes that cats reach terminal velocity after falling about 5 stories, and they stabilize their bodies to distribute impact on their legs and chest, helping them survive falls at greater heights.

In another remarkable case from 1987, a cat in New York City fell from the 46th floor of an apartment building and survived after vets treated her collapsed lung and other injuries. This incident was reported by Wired, which analyzed how cats can survive such extreme falls through factors like terminal velocity, relaxing muscles, and foot pads that act as shock absorbers.

While these cases seem miraculous, physics and cat anatomy enable feats of high-rise survival. However, cats do still face significant risks from falls at great heights. Impact injuries, especially to the chest and lungs, require prompt veterinary care for the best chance of recovery.

Factors for Feline Survival

There are several key factors that can influence a cat’s chance of surviving a high-rise fall. According to an article by Wired, the terminal velocity of an average domestic cat is around 60 mph. Cats can spread out their body to increase drag and slow the acceleration of gravity. This parachute-like effect allows them to reduce their speed to non-lethal levels before impact.

Additionally, cats have a flexible spine that can absorb impact shock by acting like a spring. Their lightweight, small bodies require less force to decelerate than larger animals. Cats are also able to right themselves mid-air and relax their bodies before landing to disperse the energy of impact.

Furthermore, cats use their legs like shock absorbers when landing and their unique muscular structure allows them to distribute shock across multiple points rather than one localized area. While falls at lower heights can still cause serious injury, physics shows that the longer fall time from tall buildings allows cats to position themselves and brace for impact in a way that increases their odds of survival.


Based on the research, it seems highly unlikely that a cat could survive a fall from the top of the Empire State Building. At 102 stories and 1,250 feet tall, the building exceeds the heights from which cats have previously survived falls. While cats can tolerate falls of 4-5 stories fairly well thanks to their lightweight bodies, righting reflexes, and loose skin, falls from 20+ stories almost always result in severe injuries or death. The terminal velocity of a falling cat is around 60 miles per hour – this extreme speed makes a high-rise impact onto concrete nearly impossible to survive. There are a few remarkable cases of cats surviving falls from over 10 stories, but these are rare exceptions. Considering the extreme height of the Empire State Building, the chances of a cat walking away unharmed are very slim. The vast majority of cats would likely experience traumatic injuries and internal organ damage leading to death upon impact at such an elevation. In conclusion, while cats have a remarkable ability to withstand short falls, the physics of surviving a 1,250 foot plummet make it highly improbable for even the luckiest feline.


Whitney, W. O., & Mehlhaff, C. J. (1987). High-rise syndrome in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 191(11), 1399-1403.

Vnuk, D., Pirkić, B., Maticić, D., Radišić, B., Stejskal, M., & Babic, T. (2004). Feline high-rise syndrome: 119 cases (1998-2001). Journal of feline medicine and surgery, 6(5), 305-312.

McNamee, J. D., & Scott, J. P. (1951). Falls from heights. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 118(891), 377-379.

Turner, D. C., & Bateson, P. (Eds.). (2014). The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour. Cambridge University Press.

Expert, A. (2022). Can cats survive falls from high places? American Veterinarian Association.

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