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A fair warning to our skydiving pets

02/Dec/2013

"High Rise Syndrome” (HRS) is a condition characterised by a collection of injuries sustained after animals have fallen from a height. Although both dogs and cats can be affected, cats are most commonly injured due to their inquisitive nature and desire to explore the outdoors. HRS can occur when our pets fall from a height, like windows, roofs, tall trees, balconies, fences, down a large flight of stairs and even from our arms by accident. Most of our furry friends do not purposely attempt to jump but sometimes, accidents do happen and they might miss a step and slip down. Some animals do attempt to jump if something interesting catches their eye.  

Cats have a natural righting reflex that enables them to reposition themselves mid-air to attempt a safe landing. However, they might still sustain injuries if they are unable to right themselves in time, or if they fall from a great height. Dogs are not as acrobatic so they tend to land awkwardly most of the time.

Injuries can occur anywhere on the body, from head to tail, but the most common injuries are to the muscles and bones as the animals try to land on their feet. Fractures, dislocations and bruises comprise the highest percentage of injuries sustained but these are minor compared to the other more severe injuries:

Head trauma

  • Causes mental/neurological dysfunction, fractures of the face
  • Results in mental dullness, behaviour changes, intense pain

Chest trauma

  • Causes lung bruising or rupture and/or bleeding into the chest
  • Results in breathing difficulties and sometimes fatalities

Abdominal trauma

  • Causes damage to internal organs and/or internal bleeding
  • Results in intense pain and may require surgery

Neck and spinal trauma

  • Causes fractures and/or dislocations to the spinal column
  • Results in weakness or paralysis affecting some or all parts of the body

As you can see, a bad fall may potentially lead to a very bad outcome. So what can we do about it?

It is almost impossible to fully prevent our pets from exploring and falling, but we can minimise the risks by ensuring that balconies are cordoned off from them, windows are closed or covered with a secure flyscreen or similar barrier, and doors are not left open. Always consider falling as a possible danger to our pets, and consider the possibility that your pet has fallen if they return home looking not quite right, being in pain, having laboured breathing or even just moving with a limp.

Fortunately, the majority of the injuries in “high-rise syndrome” can be treated and past studies have shown excellent chances of recovery with appropriate treatment.

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