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Altitude Syndrome in Cats

That they have 7 lives, that they are tightrope walkers, that they always land on their paws … Several myths that break in a second, at the very moment when your cat loses its balance, falls from a height and, like a parachutist, flies several meters before it hits the ground.

This is a common reason for seeking veterinary care: trauma in cats caused by the so-called high-altitude feline syndrome.

It is true that they have the instinctive ability to fall on all four legs regardless of the position before the fall; this is due to the fact that their body weight is distributed symmetrically and harmoniously, with the result that their centre of gravity is in the same place as the geometric centre of their body. This allows them to regain their physiological position during the fall … but they do not always cope with it. They can fail.

This is called ‘high-altitude feline syndrome’ when a cat is injured by falling from a height from a balcony or window. This is not due to the fact that she jumped, but rather due to the fact that she slipped, or something made her lose her balance (gust of wind, something scared her, her loss of concentration …). When a cat falls from a height and is unable to adjust its position in the air, the height is too high, or it collides with objects such as clotheslines or ledges that it hits, it can receive varying degrees of injury.

The very fact of falling out of the window, even if she remained unharmed, can be an experience that will scare her quite strongly. Do not be surprised if after such an “adventure” your cat hides for 2 or 3 days.

Injury in a cat with the high-altitude syndrome

Trauma or injury caused by this type of falls mainly affects the head, spine, chest and abdomen.
Although it is surprising, the cases of cats that have fallen from a height of fewer than two stories are more serious, because they have less time to position their body and stretch to reduce the speed of fall and thus reduce the impact when they hit the soil. However, your ability to survive a fall from a height has a limit: heights equivalent to a 5th or 6th floor end up being deadly.

Characteristics of a cat with the high-altitude syndrome

A cat that is more susceptible to high-altitude feline syndrome has two characteristics:

  • She is less than 2 years old: older cats fall less often.
  • She is not sterilized: Jealous behaviour can mean that she will eventually fall out of a window or balcony.

However, no cat is completely safe from falling from a height: the best solution is to prevent this at home!

What to do if your cat falls from a balcony or window

If your cat has fallen from a significant height, gently lift it up with a sheet or towel and quickly take it to the veterinary hospital where it can receive help in case of injury.

The mere fact of falling out of the window, even if she remains unharmed, can be an experience that will scare her quite a lot. Do not be surprised if after such an “adventure” your cat hides for 2 or 3 days. Give her time to recover, do not force her, and gradually she will return to her usual behaviour.

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