Screens Save Lives: Preventing High Rise Syndrome in Pets

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By Louise Murray

Ah, the warm air of spring. New Yorkers celebrate by opening their windows wide—and veterinary hospitals brace for an influx of severely injured felines.
In New York, a city of few mosquitoes and an abundance of rental apartments, many dwellings lack window screens. Unfortunately, a misconception exists that cats’ instincts will protect them from falling from high-rise windows. Nothing could be further from the truth, and “curiosity killed the cat” is far more accurate. Cats focusing on the sights and sounds of the city often jump or tumble from sills, suffering devastating injuries or even death.
Yes, cats are skilled at righting themselves mid air, and some survive a fall that would have been fatal for another species. However, they do so at a price: multiple bone fractures, ruptured lungs and head trauma are often seen. These injuries can be crippling, and may require long periods of intensive hospitalization as well as complex surgical repair. Similar injuries are seen in cats that have fallen from fire escapes or balconies.
And, of course, kitties that fall and find themselves on the streets of the city often become lost and may not be recovered. Any home with a cat should have screens in all open windows. Adjustable screens are inexpensive, easy to use, and can be purchased at most hardware and home supply stores.
Another myth is that cats who have fallen once have learned their lesson—any New York City vet can tell you of cats who have fallen two or three times, and finally met their demise. And yes, dogs fall too. Pooch owners need window screens as well!

Louise Murray, DVM, DACVIM, of ASPCA Bergh Memorial Animal Hospital, is the author of Vet Confidential: An Insider’s Guide to Protecting Your Pet’s Health.

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