“All the time I feel like a cat on a hot tin roof!”
“Then jump off the roof, Maggie, jump off it.”
That classic exchange from Tennessee Williams’ magnum opus is a masterpiece of modern theatre, but what Brick says next – “Cats jump off roofs and land uninjured” – is a bit more suspect. We’d like to think, true to her name, “Maggie the Cat” lands on her feet with Brick as they reconcile at the end of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, but what about your cat really jumping off a roof?
Or a balcony?
That likely isn’t a bet you’re going to want to make with your own feline friend, which begs the question – why do cats jump off roofs and balconies in the first place, and what can you do about it?
How Does This Happen?
Cats are naturally inclined to hang out in high places as a result of evolution and their instincts, which is evident to anyone who has ever kept cats. It’s why cat owners often buy their cats a cat tree, and why they love to run up trees when you let them outside. For a cat, a balcony is just like that, which is what can drive them up there in the first place.
Unfortunately for a cat, a balcony isn’t like a cat tree or real tree insofar as it lacks grip. Their claws can’t grasp the balcony as it can fabric or bark, which can tragically make it so easy for them to fall off.
Unlike a “cat on a hot tin roof,” cats typically don’t jump off balconies, but are instead usually looking to jump onto something else. Unfortunately, they can often lose their balance when doing this from balconies due to the lack of grip, which is what causes them to fall.
Sorry, Brick – that whole idea of cats landing on their feet “uninjured” isn’t as solid as we make it out to be. Cats do land on their feet a lot due to their reflexes, but it’s no guarantee, and how and where they fall can have a huge impact on whether they get hurt or not. While most cats do “land on their feet,” not all cats escape injury, and those injuries can sadly be fatal.
Then there is the case of high-rise syndrome. The term was first coined in the 1980s, and can become more severe as the weather gets hotter and the impetus for cats to be outdoors increases.
As the name would imply, this is a “condition” that arises due to our need to build homes and structures that are higher and introduce cats into them, placing them at heights at which they wouldn’t be otherwise.
According to the Journal of Feline Surgery and Medicine, from 1998 to 2001, of the 119 cats that the study observed as jumping out of windows, 97% survived but the majority of them still suffered injuries such as fractured paws or thoracic trauma. The Journal of American Veterinary Medical Association features a study in which 132 cats were seen falling from an average height of 5.5 stories, with the highest having fallen from a horrifying 32 stories up. Scary as that may seem, however, the higher heights actually allowed the cats more time to reach terminal velocity and thus get their feet in place for a landing. The survival rate was 90%, but at least two-thirds of the cats required medical assistance.
How to Prevent This?
While all of that points to dangerous conditions for your cat out on the balcony, it doesn’t have to be that way. As long as you keep an eye on your cat and make sure they don’t jump, they can stay out on your balcony. There are very good reasons for allowing them to do so – for example, given how hot things can get in your home during summer, it makes sense that your cat would want to get outside and escape the stifling heat for a breath of fresh air.
One of the best solutions for stopping cats from jumping off of balconies is to cover it with some kind of protective covering, thus preventing cats from launching themselves off of it. On the one hand, this will stick out a bit against the rest of your décor. On the other hand, it may be the difference between your cat jumping and landing onto the pavement several floors below with bone-shattering consequences and them simply being bounced back by a fortuitously placed net.
That being said, if you go with this answer, you’d better make sure that there aren’t any gaps in the mesh, because if there is, your cat will find it. Cats are notoriously good at slipping through cracks and escaping from rooms, and this is one time when that could lead to them hurting themselves.
Some of the best materials for cat proofing your balcony include deer mesh, plastic and PVC, various forms of safety glass, polycarbonate, and even something as basic (if crude) as chicken mesh. Be aware that plastic can become brittle in colder temperatures, and so it may become weaker and thus make it easier for your cat to break through these protections come wintertime.
You may also want to consider keeping your cat on a leash or harness while they are out on the balcony. However, only do this if you are prepared to watch your cat the whole time, since otherwise they can accidentally get tangled or strangle themselves.
You’ll also want to make sure that your cat doesn’t chase after squirrels or birds and follow them off your balcony to “cat”-astrophe down below.
Maggie the Cat’s stint on the “hot tin roof” of life’s burning passions and struggles is a testament to her fortitude and tenacity.
Still, you’re probably better off skipping all of that by making sure you don’t let your cat out on any hot tin roofs or balconies, or in the case of the latter to at least be very careful and watchful while doing so.