When cats climb, and fall

Last updated 11:50 27/03/2012

Yesterday I watched my elderly cat jump from a table to the floor. Even at his age, he barely makes a sound, landing just so, cushioning the impact with joints that are nature's finest shock absorbers on a body that's built not just to climb, but to fall. Even from a skyscraper.

The other day, a cat fell from his owner's 19th-floor apartment in Boston, and survived. Sugar the year-old cat hit a patch of mulch, bounced, and landed on his snow-white paws. An animal rescuer said the soft landing was probably no accident: Sugar would have been able to glide a little and slow his fall using his "surplus" fur, aiming for the mulch rather than the concrete.

JoshieThen, according to biologists, the muscles of Sugar's slightly splayed legs would have spread out the force of the fall and spared his bones from breaking.

Now 19 storeys is a long way. The news story doesn't estimate the distance Sugar fell, but New Zealand apartment buildings with that number of storeys have a roof line of about 60 metres.

Sugar had his share of luck, that's for sure, but he's far from alone in surviving a big fall. A 1987 study of cats that fell from a high-rise building and were taken to a New York emergency clinic found a 90 per cent survival rate. One cat that fell 32 storeys on to concrete suffered only a chipped tooth and collapsed lung and was back home two days later.

In fact, the bigger fall may give the cat more time to right itself in the air and prepare for a landing - giving it more chance of surviving than if it had fallen from a lower height.

MegSuch is the miraculous feline body. We know cats are great climbers, and that's because their ancestors lived in trees. Trees are where they often found their prey and also where they could run for safety. You need claws, balance and good muscles to climb a tree (and we know cats have all those) but also when you live in a tree, at some stage you're going to fall. If you can land safely then you survive, and that drives the evolution of the amazing paws, joints and tails of cats, as well as their incredible instincts.

So when you see your cat scaling your bookcase, or clawing up the drapes to take a smug position on the pelmet, you're seeing those ancient abilities turned to domestic use. When you see puss surveying the back garden from a high branch, she's reliving the jungle habits of her forebears. (Getting down again can be a challenge, as her claws are pointing the wrong way for her to get a grip while descending; she might have to do it in a sprint, or turn herself around and ladder her way ingloriously to the ground.)

Those cats. They sure can climb, can't they?

Even at the age of 21, Chloe can make her way to the warmth and panorama offered by roof tiles.


A cat's indoor jungle gym might seem a refined version of a tree in the wild, but it can satisfy the urge to climb. In this case, Oscar manages the climb despite his blindness. Meanwhile, Kitkat has scaled a post and placed himself out of reach yet in perfect position to see everything.



Devon Rex Lulu has all the feline climbing tools.


Demetri the Tonkinese surveys his suburban territory.


Amber is fearless of heights.


Shelby has only sky above.


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Mel   #1   12:03 pm Mar 27 2012

Love the shot of Amber. Thats some awesome attitude right there.

Amy   #2   12:04 pm Mar 27 2012

Oooh! A bonus Furry Friday!

We have two cats. One is very good at climbing a trellis next to the dining room window, and encouraging us to open said window so he can climb in. It's his party trick, he only does it when we've been at the table for ages and he feels like he hasn't been the centre of attention for a while. (If we don't notice his encouragement, he jumps on the roof and then can't get down, so we have to get the ladder and rescue him. Often drunk - this is almost always after a dinner party - and/or in our pyjamas.)

Our other cat has great dreams of doing that, and can get up the trellis no problem. He just can't bushwhack his way through the wisteria cos he's bigger. He gets stuck, then he gets sad, then we go out and rescue him. He doesn't hunt birds in trees because he prefers baking (two weeks ago he proudly presented a date scone).

Is funny watching him climb the trellis - he just walks up it in exactly the same way he walks along the ground!

Our cats probably wouldn't survive in the wild.

dragonzflame   #3   12:04 pm Mar 27 2012

I've seen my cat on our neighbours' roof being taunted by the birds on their TV aerial. But I'm sure his finest moment was the day where, in pursuit of clothes pegs, he managed to leap from our fence right onto our rotary washing line and tightrope-walk his way to his quarry. We got photos, which I've been meaning to submit to Furry Friday. It was impressive. And amusing when he eventually fell off.

Suzie   #4   12:08 pm Mar 27 2012

Regularly see Ducati up trees. He hasn't made it onto the roof yet. And he's had some very embarrassing falls off the couch, the bed, and the bbq table....lucky for him it's usually only me that see's those rare(-ish) moments!

Poppy's Mum   #5   12:39 pm Mar 27 2012

Our Poppy is a fantastic climber, I love watching her. She does like to try chasing her tail while balanced on a branch! However, you do know when she jumps down, I also think it's because she likes the sound of her paws on the bare floors. She hasn't quite mastered a glaceful U-turn on the bedhead - plenty of claw marks to prove it! Once thought she'd use the picture rail to get to the bookcase. On top of the door she discovered that wasn't going to work and the top of the bookcase remains unconquered.

Lucy   #6   12:50 pm Mar 27 2012

Sometime falls don't go so well. My beautiful SPCA moggie Cleo had a fall two - three weeks ago and as a result had all the ligaments (front and side)in her right back knee ripped away. She has had surgery and tomorrow goes in to get her stitches out. So after that it is yet another couple of weeks cage rest then two weeks house rest (so 4 weeks cage, 2 weeks house in total). She is three years old and after having a hard first week she is now starting to feel better and wants OUT of the cage. I am counting the days down until I can let her out. It is hard seeing her confined to her cage.

Joyce   #7   01:12 pm Mar 27 2012

I had an old cat called Honey. She and I lived along and kept each other company. I went out and left her for quite awhile one day and when I came home the pot plant stand was tipped over and Honey was on the top of piano. I said what happened here and she looked at the mess of soil and pot plants stuck her nose in the air as if to say "so what" and carried on snootily walking along the piano. She didn't see the end and just stepped off and landed heavily on the floor. I laughed, she didn't like it and then just slunk outside.

Emma   #8   01:23 pm Mar 27 2012

Our tabby Sandy is always on the roof of our house, and just this morning I saw her on the neighbours roof that is joined to our back fence. Somehow she jumps off the roof and lands onto the post of the back fence, a very small area!!

MadAboutAnimals   #9   02:22 pm Mar 27 2012

Another awesome article and photographs....my favourite for today is 'Chloe', stunning looking lass!

kylie   #10   03:00 pm Mar 27 2012

My cat loves to climb when the mood takes him he can be found atop the trellis or the car port roof surveying the neighbourhood. In fact he enjoys surveying his domain from a height he is often atop my husbands large scotch dresser he gets very bulshy when hes up there.

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