Does It Hurt Cats To Fall?

Does It Hurt When Cats Fall?

Cats are notorious for their agility and ability to easily scale tall heights and leap great distances. This raises an important question for cat owners – can cats survive falls from great heights without injury? The physics of cat falls is incredibly fascinating. Cats have several remarkable abilities that enable them to frequently survive falls that would severely injure or kill most other animals. Understanding how cats’ unique anatomy allows them to land safely can help owners take precautions to prevent dangerous falls.


Cats have several anatomical features that allow them to withstand falls from great heights with minimal injury. Their backbone has a high degree of flexibility due to its “unfused” vertebrae, according to Wikipedia. This allows cats to absorb shock by compressing and bending their spine when they land. Cats also have loose skin that creates a “parachute” effect to slow their descent. Additionally, when cats fall, they spread out their body to increase drag and align their limbs for impact. Just before landing, cats extend their limbs while contracting their abdominal muscles – creating a posture that acts as a shock absorber. Their muscular legs, evolved for climbing trees, further cushion the landing.

Terminal Velocity

Terminal velocity is the maximum velocity attained by a falling object when the sum of the drag force (air resistance) and the buoyancy is equal to the downward force of gravity acting on the object. For a falling cat, the terminal velocity will depend on the cat’s mass and the shape of its body as it falls.

According to a study referenced in an article on The Terminal Velocity of Cats, the terminal velocity of falling cats was found to be approximately 60 mph or about 97 km/h. The study looked at 132 cats brought into a New York City animal clinic after falls from high-rise buildings. The author notes that cats reach terminal velocity after falling about 7 stories, and after that point, the severity of their injuries does not increase with increasing fall height.

Cats are able to achieve this relatively low terminal velocity due to their body structure and ability to spread out and create drag during a fall. The study found that falls from higher buildings did not necessarily result in worse injury severity for cats that achieved terminal velocity.


Cats that fall from heights can sustain a variety of injuries, ranging from minor to severe or even fatal. Some potential injuries include:

Sprains and fractures: Cats’ limbs are often the first point of impact when falling, which can lead to injuries like sprains, strains, and bone fractures (especially in the legs). According to the ASPCA, fractures most often occur in the jaw, spine, pelvis and legs.

Head trauma: Falling and hitting the head can cause concussions, brain swelling, and skull fractures. The ASPCA notes cranial injuries occur in over 50% of high-rise syndrome cases. Upper jaw fractures are also common.

Chest and abdominal injuries: Falls can rupture organs like the lungs, liver and spleen, especially from the impact of hitting the ground. Pneumothorax (collapsed lung) is one potential chest injury per the VCA.

Spinal injuries: Damage to the spinal cord and vertebrae is another possible outcome the higher the fall. This can lead to partial or total paralysis.

Bruising, bleeding and shock: Significant internal or external bruising and bleeding can occur after a serious fall, which may send the cat into hypovolemic shock.

Height Matters

The height from which a cat falls plays a major role in determining the severity of injuries. According to the ASPCA, falls from heights below 6-7 feet are less likely to cause severe injuries, while falls from 7-8 stories or higher frequently result in life-threatening trauma [1]. WebMD also notes that the risk of injury increases proportionally with height, with falls from 2 stories or higher being especially dangerous [2].

Veterinarians classify high-rise syndrome incidents into 3 categories based on fall height:

  • Low-rise falls: Less than 2 stories/under 16 feet
  • Mid-rise falls: 2-7 stories/16-112 feet
  • High-rise falls: Above 7 stories/over 112 feet

While low-rise falls may result in minor injuries like bruises or sprains, mid-rise and high-rise falls often lead to severe trauma such as fractures, thoracic injuries, neurological issues, and in many cases can be fatal [3].

Landing Surface

The type of surface a cat lands on when falling plays a critical role in preventing injuries. According to a study published in PLoS One, cats landing on hard surfaces like concrete are much more likely to sustain severe injuries compared to softer landing surfaces like grass or carpet (Wu et al., 2019). The compressibility of softer surfaces helps dissipate the impact energy over a longer duration, reducing peak forces on the cat’s body.

Additionally, a veterinary review found falls onto harder surfaces often result in more traumatic brain injuries for cats. Landing on soil, grass or carpet provides crucial shock absorption that can prevent concussions and skull fractures (PetsBest, 2015). Proper landing surface selection and installation is therefore vital for cat owners to reduce potential falling injuries.

Case Studies

There are many anecdotal reports of cats surviving falls from great heights and suffering only minor injuries. Here are some examples:

In 2009, a tabby cat named Sugar fell from the 5th floor of an apartment building in Boston and landed on concrete. She suffered a chipped tooth and a collapsed lung but made a full recovery. Sugar’s owners reported she was running around like normal just days after her fall.

A three-year-old cat named Sabrina fell from the 16th floor of an apartment building in Chicago in 2012. ThoughSabrina did sustain some injuries, including a broken leg and jaw, she survived the 150-foot fall. Her veterinarian said that Sabrina was “very lucky” to survive.

In 2013, a cat nicknamed Highrise survived a fall from the 7th floor of an apartment building in Boston onto a hard sidewalk. Highrise received medical treatment for minor injuries and was back to her normal self within two weeks.

These cases show that cats can tolerate falls from heights that would likely be fatal for other animals. While falls can still injure cats, they have anatomical advantages that allow them to survive long drops under certain circumstances.


Fortunately, there are some important steps that can be taken to prevent cats from experiencing high falls and injuring themselves:

Install window screens or special netting. This provides protection so cats can’t jump or fall out of windows. According to the ASPCA, window screens should have a tight mesh size no bigger than 1/2 x 1/2 inch to prevent cats from tearing through the screens (

Block access to dangerous areas. Keep balconies, terraces, fire escapes, etc. securely closed off so cats can’t access the edges from which they may fall. Confine cats indoors or use a leash outside.

Place cushions and mats on surfaces below windows. Soft surfaces can help cushion a fall. Opt for thick cushions, pillows, or padded mats right under windows and other high areas cats may fall from.

Keep cats away from open windows. When windows are open for ventilation, ensure there are solid screens in place and that cats are supervised so they can’t jump up to the windowsill. Keep windows shut when not at home.

Attach window perches securely. Window perches need to be tightly secured so they don’t become a falling hazard for cats. Check for stability and test weight tolerances.


If your cat is injured after a fall, it’s important to administer first aid while you wait for or travel to the vet. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, you should check your cat’s vital signs including pulse, respiration rate, and mucous membrane color. Look for bleeding wounds and apply direct pressure with a clean cloth or towel if needed. Try to keep the cat calm by speaking softly and petting if possible. Cover the cat with a blanket to prevent shock. Do not try to splint broken bones yourself.

According to How Stuff Works, you can perform CPR if the cat is not breathing. Tilt the cat’s head back gently so the nose points up and then push your thumb toward your fingers to open the mouth. Give 1-2 breaths into the cat’s lungs and then do chest compressions if there’s no heartbeat. Bring the cat to the vet immediately for further treatment.

The key is stabilizing the cat and minimizing additional injury until full medical treatment can be provided. Even if the cat seems fine at first, internal injuries may be present so always seek veterinary care. But administering proper first aid can help give your cat the best chance of recovery.


In summary, cats have developed many anatomical adaptations to survive falls from certain heights, but falls still pose significant risks. While felines have a lower terminal velocity than humans, the landing impact and surface still factor greatly in potential injuries. Cats may seem startled but unharmed from short falls, yet sustained internal injuries are possible. Falls from higher elevations bring more dangers, especially without a soft landing spot. Prevention through supervision, indoor-only policies, and proper restraints in vehicles is key. If a fall occurs, promptly monitor the cat and seek veterinary care for any concerning symptoms. While cats may miraculously survive even deadly drops, their safety is not worth the risk.

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