Cats always land on their feet: True/False?

It certainly seems that cats believe in this one, with their casual disregard for height. Perhaps you’ve been tempted to test the theory yourself from time to time when Marmalade got underfoot at just the wrong moment. Fortunately, for us, such measures are unnecessary because cats test it themselves every day. Not so fortunately for the cats because they don’t always land on their feet.

Vets call it high-rise syndrome and it is the messy result of felines leaping out of windows or off balconies in tower blocks. The word “syndrome” may make it sound more important than it is. A syndrome is just a collection of symptoms that go together — often it signals ignorance about a disorder rather than any arcane medical knowledge. Here it means the characteristic collection of injuries cats receive after a long fall.

According to the research high-rise syndrome is just what happens when young, playful cats don’t look before they leap. Then again, you don’t get to be an old cat in a high-rise building by taking risks around windows as a young cat, so playfulness is probably more critical than youth. Whatever the cause, falling from a tall building can really hurt a cat.

Perhaps you think you’ve spotted a flaw in my logic: just because the cat gets squished on landing doesn’t mean it didn’t land on its feet. Ah, but it does. We know this because, while cats often get hurt falling from heights up to about seven storeys, they cope very well with falls from greater heights. And it is by reflexively righting themselves and flexing their legs on landing that they can survive falls that would kill you or me. Their reflexes can handle falling out of a tree or falling from the eighth floor but for some reason fail them in between.

It’s a very neat trick, all the same. Perhaps that’s why cats wear that self-satisfied smirk all the time. A little humility would go a long way, though. After all, pride comes before a fall, and cats don’t always land on their feet.

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