Nine lives?
August 29, 2002 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Nine lives? It seems cats do better when dropped...uh, I mean, fall, more than seven stories. Anything less and they fail to reach terminal velocity and don't land properly. Once the cats reach terminal velocity they spread their legs (think parachute) and slow their fall. A cat has a far better chance of survival falling from 32 stories than four. Dwarfs, however, do not benefit from longer flights.
posted by cedar (36 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'm skeptical, this requires a serious battery of drop tests from various heights. For the sake of science(!) I will also test cows, flying squirrels, their moose bretheren, grind a cat into cow food then drop the cow, and penguins.

I will also do this during rush hour in Times Square. I'm off to the animal shelter, results will be posted shortly.
posted by Stan Chin at 6:29 PM on August 29, 2002

Didn't you forget the twinkies, Stan Chin? This sounds like a good opportunity to confirm the results of earlier trials.
posted by Kikkoman at 6:33 PM on August 29, 2002

Flying cat*, baby. From the top of a telephone pole, no less.

Alternate link*.

*2.1MB MPEG files
posted by mr_crash_davis at 6:35 PM on August 29, 2002

OMG, I'm dying here. This is so not funny, it's hilarious. And that's speaking as a cat lover.

after reaching terminal velocity, cats relax their muscles and spread themselves out like flying squirrels.

Hey Rocky! Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat! Alleeee-OOOP!!!
posted by yhbc at 6:37 PM on August 29, 2002

Forgive me for asking a grammar question, but doesn't "terminal velocity" imply that the cat has reached a speed at which she will die on impact?
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:45 PM on August 29, 2002

Terminal velocity: "the velocity at which drag force from the air becomes equal to the force from the weight of an object, and thus the object no longer accelerates and velocity remains constant. ... Once a cat reaches its terminal velocity, it then begins to slow down." (from a site on the so-called high-rise syndrome).

It's an interesting and plausible theory, but some people, such as Cecil Adams, have questioned the original data from the 1987 study. Says Cecil:
"The potential flaw is this: the study was based only on cats that were brought into the hospital. Clearly dead cats, your basic fell-20-stories-and-looks-like-it-came-out-of-a-can-of-Spam cats, go to the Dumpster, not the emergency room. This may skew the statistics and make falls from great distances look safer than they are. I called the Animal Medical Center to see if this possibility had been considered. The original authors were long gone, so I spoke to Dr. Michael Garvey, head of the medical department and current expert on "high-rise syndrome."

Dr. Garvey was adamant that the omission of nonreported fatalities didn't skew the statistics. He pointed out that cats that had fallen from great heights typically had injuries suggesting they'd landed on their chests, which supports the "flying squirrel" hypothesis.

I suggested this merely meant that a cat landing in this position had a chance of surviving long enough to be brought into the hospital, whereas cats landing in other positions were so manifestly dead that the hospital was never notified. Dr. Garvey didn't buy it, but said this was a matter about which reasonable people might disagree.

We await the formation of a committee of New York high-rise doormen to compile truly global statistics on the fate of falling cats. "
posted by maudlin at 6:54 PM on August 29, 2002

Thank you, maudlin!
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2002

Forgive me for asking a grammar question, but doesn't "terminal velocity" imply that the cat has reached a speed at which she will die on impact?

Well, yeah, one would think.

But physics, similar to MeFi, is often less than intuitive. In this context 'terminal velocity' is defined as the maximum speed a body can reach falling through the atmosphere powered by gravity. You can drop stuff here and see for yourself.
posted by cedar at 6:56 PM on August 29, 2002

... and thank you, cedar.

Apparently, "terminal" modifies the velocity and not the object that is experiencing that velocity. And nice link...
posted by Joey Michaels at 6:58 PM on August 29, 2002

i've seen discovery and animal planet shows on this subject... it's ever so cool watching the cat's skin and muscles balloon out in slow motion as they fall. but of course they don't drop them from great heights for research purposes, they determine increasing velocity by calculating short drops...

personal examples of high-rise syndrome: my friend danielle's poor feline fell from the 9th (ironic) floor and died instantly, my friend anika's cat fell from the 17th floor and lived, albeit with a few fractures in her shoulder blades. my own cat garbo clawed her way thru' a screen window on the 19th floor and would have plummeted if i hadn't grabbed her in time.

you know, i really adore cats but they're about as smart as a box of hair.

cedar - cool link, thanks...!
posted by t r a c y at 6:58 PM on August 29, 2002

...and penguins.

Do so at your own peril. Penguins a clever bastards and they will find a way to get even. Fear the Penguin. Fear Him!
posted by quin at 7:05 PM on August 29, 2002

My cat fell from the forth floor in the middle of the night. She was fine, and waited at the front door of the building (which was around the corner) until we figured out that she was missing.
posted by free pie at 7:27 PM on August 29, 2002

Ooo, intercourse the penguin!

I saw a kittums plummet from about the 20th floor of a building, then hit a canvas awning, bounce back up a little bit, catch its claws on the edge of the awning, then drop gently and nonchalantly to the sidewalk. It then dashed into the deli (whose awning it bounced from) and had to be coaxed back out by the frazzled but relieved owner who came dashing out of the building wearing a slip and a pair of high heels.

Everyone on the street was so impressed, they applauded. (The cat's survival, NOT the woman in the slip)
posted by evanizer at 7:33 PM on August 29, 2002

Ooo, intercourse the penguin!

Sounds like a good way to get bit someplace you would rather not have bitten.

At least not by a penguin.
posted by quin at 7:41 PM on August 29, 2002

i wrote about this on my site a long time ago. here's the text:

"We've all heard about how cats always land on their feet when they fall. A cat named Goober somehow fell off a 20th floor balcony, and was blown about three meters on to a canvas awning on a nearby building, 20 floors down.

"A veterinarian said cats were known to survive falls from between the 15th and 25th floors, usually by gliding. They can stretch their legs out, and the skin and fur slows down the fall.

"Somebody buy that cat a lottery ticket."
posted by bwg at 8:03 PM on August 29, 2002

Dead cat bounce, y'know?
Or was it a
CIA cat?
posted by ac at 8:19 PM on August 29, 2002

"It's no sicker than your thing with dwarves!"



"...Dwarves are very upsetting!"

(couldn't help myself)
posted by precocious at 8:19 PM on August 29, 2002

From 25,000 feet only sore paws?
posted by philip_buster at 9:00 PM on August 29, 2002

[aside] That "intercourse the penguin" bit was a quote
posted by evanizer at 9:44 PM on August 29, 2002

evanizer: Thud [smacks head] can't believe i missed that one. i loved that bit.

Ahh well, back on topic.

i like cats. We have three, one that likes me, one that likes my girlfriend, and one that likes everyone. We call him a slut. None of them have ever fallen out of a building so i have nothing more to contribute.
posted by quin at 11:48 PM on August 29, 2002

crash: holy shit! and I'm not one to swear. much.

I have one cat, but he's enough of a cat to make up for two, maybe three more. I refer to him as being a luxury sized cat. My friends refer to him as "DAMN!!" Would a fat cat have a higher risk of death by falling or a lower one? Higher because he's heavier, lower because he has more surface area....

"your basic fell-20-stories-and-looks-like-it-came-out-of-a-can-of-Spam cats,"
this man is not allowed to come to my house and have dinner.
posted by elwoodwiles at 12:55 AM on August 30, 2002

The links aren't working for me. But it seems to me that for a falling cat to reach its terminal velocity, you'd have to drop it from a lot higher than 20 stories to begin with.
posted by bingo at 2:02 AM on August 30, 2002

This has been an amazing MeFi thread. I laughed. I cried. I learned about terminal velocity. Oscar material, all the way. Two thumbs up. WAY up.

Obligatory cat story: when we moved to Portland our cat, who was never very adventurous and is extremely overweight, had a complete nervous breakdown. One evening as we lay in bed we watched her propel herself at maximum velocity out the open window. Chubby black fur flying though the air--we were horrified, scared, and darkly amused at the spectre of a possessed Goodyear blimp, intent on personal destruction. Good times.
posted by readymade at 2:36 AM on August 30, 2002

readymade: so... she was ok right? i mean, we don't want an unhappy ending here, this is a light and happy thread, full of penguins and silliness.

This is exactly why all my pets wear parachutes and crash helmets all the time. Sure they hate it, but you never know when something bad may happen.
posted by quin at 3:31 AM on August 30, 2002

My older cat has what I always semi-jokingly called "webbed armpits." She's got some extra skin between her legs and body that remind me the flaps on flying squirrels.

I thought she was a freak of nature but now I know she's just a more highly evolved type of flying cat. I've got to find a tall building! Stat!
posted by jennyb at 4:38 AM on August 30, 2002

While all the cat people are reading the same thread: I just got a kitten, and last night he scratched my eye in play and I had to go to the emergency room. I want to find humane ways to train him not to do that. Can anyone gives some good links or other sources on cat training or psychology?
posted by bingo at 4:59 AM on August 30, 2002

bingo, let me suggest safety glasses. Short of that, maybe a plant mister so you can squirt him and yell "NO!" After a while, he'll associate the "NO!" with the unpleasant shot of water.
posted by alumshubby at 5:17 AM on August 30, 2002

I never worried about leaving my ninth-floor apartment windows open with no screens in them. I knew that Mehitabel, my Siamese, would be fine if she inadvertently stepped out onto midair and landed on the roof of the drugstore below. I'd probably have had to hunt up a ladder, though.
posted by alumshubby at 5:21 AM on August 30, 2002

our cat, who was never very adventurous and is extremely overweight...

Obligatory link to Tubcat.
posted by piskycritter at 5:37 AM on August 30, 2002

I've never witnessed a cat swan-dive, but I did see a ferret leap from a second-story window onto pavement with no ill effects.

Then again, I seen large ferrets climb brick walls and do u-turns inside of shoes, so I'm not sure why anything ferret-oriented surprises me.

Too bad they stink.
posted by NortonDC at 6:42 AM on August 30, 2002

bingo: They also suggest a can of pennies to shake as aversion therapy. For the cats, not you. And you also have to train yourself not to encourage the cats to use you as a toy -- give them plenty of alternatives, and use buffers where appropriate, e.g. catnip on a string. If he's batting your face at all, get him away from you -- dump him off the bed or whatever.
posted by dhartung at 8:09 AM on August 30, 2002

elwoodwiles, he would have a higher chance, since volume increases faster than surface area.

Come now, physics is not so bad, you just have to realize that jargon exists in all fields, and word definitions are *not* fixed.

I wish I had a ferret.
posted by firestorm at 2:46 PM on August 30, 2002


blowing in his face will work usually, if the squirt bottle isn't close enough (especially if your face is that close anyway). Something about how it mimics a momma cat's hiss which is what kittens are programmed to listen to, if they listen to anything. I have a really snotty cat that I've tried that on a few times, and I can tell it pisses her off but, so far, she's always backed off. I've gotten the sassy tail flip-off for my trouble, but I let her get away with that.
posted by dness2 at 3:16 PM on August 30, 2002

firestorm: depends what your definition of "ferret" is, I suppose. ;->
posted by PennyPrune at 3:16 PM on August 30, 2002

Update: Cat okay. No apparent damage. Still fat, but not Tubcat fat.

I guess all her padding cushioned the fall (I would have thought that the extra weight would have buckled her little kitty knees).
posted by readymade at 3:42 PM on August 30, 2002

::Cat story alert::

Christmas Eve in a radiator heated 3rd floor apartment. Kitten jumping from open window to bay-window roof below and doesn't exactly stick the landing. Cold as hell and yes, its snowing. We search for hours with no luck and just for luck leave the fire-escape window in the bedroom open. This cat had never even been outside before.

Wake up the next morning with the cat in bed with us. Now that's the best Christmas present ever. Thanks for reminding me of this one.
posted by hysdavid at 7:12 PM on August 30, 2002

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