I can haz mirakul? Cat survives 19-story fall

March 23, 2012 • 1:51 pm

I always like to provide some good cat news at the end of the week, and at least four readers sent me this heartwarming story of Ceiling Cat’s intercessory miracle. It’s the story of Sugar, a white cat in Boston who survived a 19-story fall with only minor injuries. You can read about it here, and there’s a video report (click on the video itself or the arrow at bottom left; there’s an ad, too):

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If you want to know more about cat falls, here’s some stuff from Wikipedia:

Terminal velocity

In addition to the righting reflex cats have a number of other features that will reduce damage from a fall. Their small size, light bone structure, and thick fur decrease their terminal velocity. Furthermore, once righted they may also spread out their body to increase drag and slow the fall to some extent. A falling cat’s terminal velocity is 100 km/h (60mph) whereas that of a falling man in a “free fall position” is 210 km/h (130mph). At terminal velocity they also relax as they fall which protects them to some extent on impact. However, it has been argued that, after having reached terminal velocity, cats would orient their limbs horizontally such that their body hits the ground first.


Using their righting reflex theory, cats can often land uninjured. This is, however, not always the case, and cats can still break bones or die from falls. In a 1987 study, published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, of 132 cats that were brought into the New York Animal Medical Center after having fallen from buildings, it was found that the injuries per cat increased depending on the height fallen up to seven stories but decreased above seven stories. The study authors speculated that after falling five stories the cats reached terminal velocity and thereafter relaxed and spread their bodies to increase drag. However, an alternative interpretation which came out of internet chat of the study would be that upon an excess of seven stories the cats experience a higher fatality rate which precludes the owner from bringing them in for medical attention. Although scientists in Massachusetts have recently discovered that the cat’s ability to spread its legs out to decrease drag when reaching terminal velocity would explain the decreased injuries sustained above seven stories because they wouldn’t reach terminal velocity before then. Professor David Stevenson said “we simulated the cat’s weight and size and found the terminal velocity to be 60mph which would more than likely result in severe injury or death to the cat when falling from this speed, but once we took into account the cat’s ability to right its self and spread its body out this reduced the terminal velocity to only 53mph. This 7mph difference is massive and would almost certainly ensure the cat’s survival. There however is always the possibility that the cat may not manage to right itself so this is far from a conclusive experiment and we do not condone the throwing of cats from anything”.

30 thoughts on “I can haz mirakul? Cat survives 19-story fall

    1. “it was found that the injuries per cat increased depending on the height fallen up to seven stories but decreased above seven stories.”

      This is ridiculous. I would guess that most cats that fall from above seven stories die, these cats are buried not taken to a vet. I don’t think the Wikipedia conclusion is based on thorough sampling.

      1. That caveat is mentioned in the Wikipedia article below. And it’s still interesting that the cats that survived and were taken to the vet above seven stories had lesser injuries than those that fell below seven stories, regardless of the fatality rate. But that could be an artifact, too, if the owners don’t take them to the vet because they’re alive but their injuries are too severs.

  1. I read the original article cited and thought it most interesting. I understand two conflicting things: that a mouse can fall from any height without injury, and that a mouse dropped from some one’s hand in the animal room will often die from the fall.

    There is a probably true story of the late Carl Hubbs on top of a multistory building throwing fathead minnows at a bucket of water on the ground below to see if they would survive. I didn’t hear how the experiment came out. It is a common practice to stock small fish by pouring them out of an airplane flying at a safe height above the water.

  2. “I look out my window all the time and I think, ‘Wow, this is really high.” (Quote from Sugar’s owner).

    “The Animal Rescue League is reminding pet owners to make sure they have screens on windows. After this happened, Sugar’s owner called the managers of her high rise to have one installed.”

    Stupid people should not own pets.

  3. This’ll come up sooner, rather than later, I’m sure; Haldane’s wonderful quote from ‘On being the right size’: ‘You can drop a mouse down a thousand-yard mine shaft; and, on arriving at the bottom, it gets a slight shock and walks away, provided that the ground is fairly soft. A rat is killed, a man is broken, a horse splashes.’

    Gotta love the ‘splashes’.

    But I’m glad the kitteh lived…

  4. Just finished readingThe White Horse Trick with my son. At the end of it the pukka is making new animals and trying to perfect a flying cat. Still working on it I guess.

    1. Cats have theory?

      No they go for practice over theory.
      In theory, there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.

  5. In the spirit of empirical experimentation, I propose a full scale test of 1000 cats (to soften the unnecessary emotional anguish among toxo-borne cat owners, it might be acceptable to limit to street cats only ..) put into various airborne scenarios: free-falls, thrown with some force, cannon-borne falls, from various heights and into various types of platform: concrete, asphalt, ceramics, titanium plated metal sheets etc.

    The amount of experiments might be extended as necessary, since the statistical strengths of these experiments is definitely of highest importance as it will really benefits the progress of science ..

    P.S. I might emphasize that similar test to dogs is totally unnecessary, and should be banned totally for humane reasons …

    1. In the spirit of experimentation, I would suggest first calibrating these tests using PB, to see how high this blatant attempt at trolling bounces… 😉

  6. Some years ago, I saw an awesome cartoon along these lines.
    In the background of the comic is an airplane moving out of frame.
    In the foreground is a cat, legs down, looking paniced, as it nears the ground.
    Caption (butchered by my memory): Fluffy suddenly realized that landing feet first wasn’t going to matter if she landed feet first.

  7. In a slightly less trollish version of PB’s suggestion above, and having found several Youtube videos of cats being taken “along for the ride” as chest-mounted accessories on parachutists, I was thinking how one could actually measure the terminal velocity of a cat without harming the cat.
    One of those “indoor skydiving” establishments, where trainee sky divers (or people who just find it fun) can get into a vertical-axis wind tunnel to get the sky diving sensation should do the job. E.G. http://www.intotheblue.co.uk/
    Finding a corpus of cats who’re not freaked out by the experience … might not be so difficult. I’ve seen cats who enjoy sticking their heads out of the car window, so it’s likely that ones who’d enjoy the wind tunnel shouldn’t be too hard to find.
    Which automatically begs the question of how a flying squirrel would react in such a machine. Which seems not to have occurred to the denizens of YouTube. Yet.

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