Cat walks away from a 19-story fall

This kitty, named Sugar, fell 19 floors out of a high-rise window in Boston and landed on her feet with only minor injuries - a scratch and bruised lungs. From Time:

 2012 03 Kitty The height of Sugar’s dive might have worked in her favor. According to a 1987 study on the so-called High-Rise Syndrome, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, cats who fell from higher floors fared much better because they can spread themselves out like a parachute and slow the impact.

"Cat Survives 19-Story Fall by Gliding Like a Flying Squirrel"


  1. I have heard it proposed that the terminal velocity of a cat is less than injurious, which explains why there are so many stories of cats falling great distances with little injury. I have asked the Mythbusters time and time again to do an experiment where they drop cats off of ever taller buildings, but they still haven’t done it.

  2. I imagine a dystopian future of skyscrapers abandoned to the encroaching jungle. The descendants of pet cats, purridly gliding between the towers.
    Henceforth will come the flight of cats.

  3. There was a PBS doc in the early 90s on CATS that covered this.  )It ended up playing endlessly on on TLC and then Animal Planet.) The study also found that the cats higher up had a better shot at surviving since they had time turn their feet downward and “relax” their body a little.

    1. IIRC, cats need a minimum height to position themselves. However, they can’t cheat physics. The energy has to go somewhere, after all. After a certain height, survival becomes a freak occurrence, like humans falling 100 meters on solid rock and surviving that.

      1.  I thought the cat’s terminal velocity (thanks to the relatively high surface area to mass of a furry cat) was lower than the threshold needed to break bones, damage organs, etc…? 

        All of that energy is going into the atmosphere as it is slightly warmed by friction from the cat, and displaced by the high pressure zone underneath the cat. 

        The upshot was that a cat could skydive without a parachute with a reasonably good chance of survival, although minor injuries (bruising, sprains, etc…) are expected. 

    2.  As I recall, Scientific American published something on this a good few years ago, saying much the same. I seem to remember that the optimum height to drop a cat to maximise the chance of death was eight storeys, I guess about 80′. Less than this, provided they had enough time to re-orient themselves, they tended to tense their bodies and legs for the landing; greater than this and they relaxed sufficiently to absorb more of the energy more gracefully when they hit the ground.

      Not that it was a sure thing, either way.

  4. I wasn’t there, so I can’t be sure, but I assume that the headline “Cat walks away from 19 story fall” isn’t quite accurate.

    I’m assuming the cat strutted away from that fall.  Bitches.

  5. There was a RadioLab episode that explored this. Neil DeGrasse Tyson weighed in and said that study probably suffered from reporting bias. After all, cats who fall and survive go to the vet. Can’t who fall and die probably don’t, skewing the statistics.

    1.  NDGT should know better than to pronounce on something without examining the research. “Probably” doesn’t really cover his ass, but it does indicate that his opinion isn’t any better than J. Random-Internet in this case.

  6. Poor sweet kitty. I’m glad she’s okay. She looks like my odd-eyed white cat — her two different eyes are even on the same sides as my cat’s. (Unlike Sugar, though, my cat’s not deaf.)

  7. As the wise Lord Humongous, Ayatollah of Rock and Roll-a , once advised “Walk away. Just walk away. And live.”

    1. I am glad that cats have such poor spelling skills, though their grammar is quite good.
      If their spelling ever catches up, they might take over, for they will then realize what severe damage they can do with those claws.

  8. When I was in college I had a friend whose ferret survived an 8 story fall.  She also headed immediately for the building entrance but got stuck in the door by someone who didn’t notice her trying to get in.  She spent the night like that (it was early spring) and by the time someone found her she couldn’t move her legs.  She recovered over the next day or so. 

    So an eight story fall was no problem, but getting back into the building almost killed her.

      1. Eight stories says to me apartment building.  Those often have exterior doors with door-closing mechanisms, sometimes electric but often still mechanically spring-loaded with a hydraulic brake (so it doesn’t slam).  People going in and out don’t have to bother closing the door behind them, since they know it’ll close itself.  If ferret tries to run in after someone and the door closes when ferret is halfway through, unless the person notices, that ferret will be stuck, as its hips and shoulders will be wider and less squeezable than its midsection, and the ferret won’t be strong enough to force the door open wide enough to slip all the way through.

  9. “spread themselves out like a parachute and slow the impact” isn’t how I remember the conclusion of the article.

    The study found that injuries were of increasing severity but relatively minor in falls from the second and third stories.  From the 4th through the 7th injuries were much more severe, with several broken bones. However, falls from the 8th floor and above had fewer (and sometimes no) broken bones and were usually survivable. Further more, the height fallen above the 7th floor didn’t seem to make a difference.

    The conclusion of the study was that lower stories the cat’s normal reflexes worked for it, and they hadn’t fallen far enough to attain dangerous speed. But from 4th through 7th, their instinct was working against them; orient feet down, straight legs led to increasing severe injuries. Above the 7th floor, the cat had time to reach their terminal velocity. At that point they no longer perceived themselves in free fall, and relaxed from their normal falling posture. So instead of a rigid kitty going snap, you got a relaxed cat going splat… and then running away.  The most common injury from high falls were chipped teeth.

    But it has been 20 years or more since I read it, so that may not be exactly correct, but there was nothing said about making themselves into parachutes, just relaxed versus rigid.

    The article name included the Latin for ‘the science of falling cats’.

  10. If all it takes is “spreading themselves out like a parachute” I have a somewhat, shall we say… fluffy… orange tabby here who could survive reentry from low Earth orbit.  Just saying…  

  11. Question: did how exactly was said study conducted, and was it approved by PETA?  I mean, did they just start launching cats from progressively higher windows of some university building?  Isn’t that somewhat pathological?  (note tongue-in-cheek…but possibly an interesting question nonetheless!) 

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