For cats kept in high rise flats, there is always a great danger of falling from windows or balconies.
Balconies can be cat proofed so that cats can’t fall off. Sometimes people mistakenly think that cats fall on their feet wherever they fall from – this is not true. Although one of the cat’s unique characteristics is its ability to land on its feet after a fall – known as its ‘righting reflex’, cats may not land safely after every fall and from any height (many are injured). As a cat falls it enters into an automatic sequence of events that allow it to flip over – in less than one tenth of a second information from its eyes and balance in its ear set into action a sequence of automatic movements that first turn the cat so that its head is horizontal and upright, then bring its body round as well. Nerves in the spine cause the back end of the body to follow. The tail acts as a counterbalance to prevent over-rotation and by arching its back to absorb some of the shock of hitting the ground, the cat can often land successfully and without injury.
However, cats are not infallible. City vets are used to treating cats with ‘high-rise syndrome’ – cats that have fallen off balconies or out of windows several storeys up. Some have remarkable escapes from death even then, but there are many serious injuries too. A very common injury is a broken jaw, which results from the sheer speed of the fall and the cat hitting its jaw on the ground as it lands on its feet and its legs act as shock absorbers to some extent. Nature only designed cats for short falls from trees, not tower blocks.
Owners who live in flats are still recommended to prevent cats from going on the balcony and to keep mesh over the windows. Apparently most falls happen when cats are distracted by birds or clouds passing by outside.