Keeping Cats Safe Around Windows and Balconies

Caitlin Dempsey


A light tan and dark brown tabby lies along the ledge of a balcony in the sun with netting.

While cats have a reputation for their sense of grace and balance, there are also plenty of memes out there showing the more awkward and klutzy side of cats. Cats may also be described as having “nine lives” due to their unique and almost supernatural ability to right themselves when falling in order to land on their feet.

While cats make have a super flexible spine and inner sense of orientation that helps them during a fall, falling from great heights can seriously injure a cat, even when they land on their feet.

Cats have a righting reflex

The instinctive ability of cats to right themselves while falling is known as the righting reflex. Cats maintains their balance and sense of direction through a complex structure in the ear called the vestibular apparatus. This organ helps a cat to quickly understand which way they are facing and to adjust their head position to align with the rest of their body.

A black and white photo series showing a cat falling and righting itself before landing on its feet.
“Photographs of a Tumbling Cat” by Étienne-Jules Marey, Nature, 1894.

The cat’s flexible spine and free-floating collar bone assist the cat during a fall. When a cat falls, its spine curves and its legs extend, pulling the belly towards a head-across-chest position. Meanwhile, the cat tucks in its forepaws and rotates its body to face downwards, aiming to land on its feet.

Cats will assume a spread-eagle position with all four paws outstretched. This position functions similar to a parachute and creates air resistance that helps to slow the downward speed of the cat.

Highrise syndrome

The risk of cats injuring themselves after falling from a great height is known as high-rise syndrome.

A dark brown Cornish Rex scat sits on a dark metal railing with out of focus green vegetation behind it.
While cats have a great sense of balance, they can still lose their balance and fall from unsecured balconies and windows. Photo: © BY-_-BY/

Falling from great heights can result in severe injuries to the cat

While all of these abilities of a cat to right themselves during a fall will help the cat to land on their feet, falling from a great height can still cause severe injuries due to the impact of the fall. One study published in 2004 that look at 119 cases of cats that had been diagnosed with high-rise syndrome. While almost 95% of the cats survived the fall, almost half (46.2%) suffered some kind of limb fracture. Other common injuries were involved severe injuries to the chest, pelvic bones, and jaw bones.

While injuries can occur in cats falling from the second floor of a building (known as the first floor in some countries), the rate of thoracic (chest) injuries significantly increased in buildings where the fall was from more than 7 stories. In particular, landing on a hard surface like concrete or bare ground, can causes fractures, organ damage, bruising, or shock.

Younger cats are more likely to fall and suffer high-rise syndrome

The study also found that almost 60% of cats were under one year old. The authors attributed the higher incident of younger cats and kittens falling due to the more active and playful nature of younger cats compared to adults. Younger cats were more likely to slip and fall while chasing butterflies, birds, or playing with other cats in the household.

Cats are more likely to fall during summer months

Incidents of cats falling and suffering from high-rise syndrome were higher during the warmer summer months according to the 2004 study. This is due to people, especially in areas without air conditioning, leaving windows open during the warmer months.

How to keep your cat safe around windows and balconies

There are steps that cat owners can take to keep their felines safe from falling from windows and balconies.

First, if you need to open the window, make sure the window has a secure screen or bars that will block the cat from tumbling out. Balconies should be screened in with netting to prevent cats from slipping and falling from the ledge or railing of a balcony.

A light tan and dark brown tabby lies along the ledge of a balcony in the sun with netting.
Safety netting will let your cat safely enjoy the sun and fresh air on your balcony. Photo: © cabuscaa/

If you live in a HOA or are renting with regulations on what you can do with your living space, make sure to get the proper permissions.

If you are unable to secure your higher up windows and balconies to make them safe for your cat, it’s better to prevent your cat from hanging out or playing in these areas of your home. Cat window beds are a great way to provide your indoor cat with a safer view from a closed window. Cat grass, plenty of enrichment in the form of toys, and cat trees are all excellent ways to enrich the lives of your indoor cat.


Vnuk, D., Pirkić, B., Matičić, D., Radišić, B., Stejskal, M., Babić, T., … & Lemo, N. (2004). Feline high-rise syndrome: 119 cases (1998–2001). Journal of feline medicine and surgery6(5), 305-312.

Whitney, W. O., & Mehlhaff, C. J. (1987). High-rise syndrome in cats. Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association191(11), 1399-1403.


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Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey holds both a master's in Geography from UCLA and a Master of Library and Information Science. She is the editor of and an avid researcher of geography and feline topics. A lifelong cat owner, Caitlin currently has three rescued cats: an orange tabby, a gray tabby, and a black cat.