The Terminal Velocity of Falling Cats

Discussion in 'THREAD ARCHIVES' started by fatalrendezvous, Feb 5, 2015.

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  1. I heard about this on the radio the other day.

    In Manhattan, apparently there a lot of cats who fall out of windows of high apartment buildings. The explanation for that isn't that important, but in a nutshell it's because a lot of apartments get hot and when their owners come home they open the windows, and cats wander out onto window ledges, and one gusty wind or one missed step and...


    To preface this, it's important to note that it really is true that cats are able to land on their feet from most falls. This is called the cat righting reflex and it is a studied and known phenomenon.

    But according to a study that's been done, there is some really interesting data about these cats who fall out of windows.

    Local veterinary hospitals reported that when cats fell what was considered a relatively "short" distance, i.e. from 5 floors up or lower, their injuries are not that severe. Not surprising, right? After all, they're not falling that far.

    Cats who fell from 6-9 floors up generally had the worst injuries, which also isn't THAT surprising since they're falling from higher up.

    What IS weird is this:

    Cats who fell from higher than 10 floors had about the same severity of injuries as the cats who fell from under 5 floors. One veterinary hospital in Manhattan said their record is 42 floors, from which the cat emerged fine aside from some scrapes and a chipped tooth.

    The theory that some posited is that, as the cat is still accelerating and speeding up during the fall, it's tensing itself because of its increasing speed. But after about 9 floors, the cat hits terminal velocity - the point at which their speed caps out and they can no longer fall any faster, essentially because the wind resistance has become so great that it prevents them from continuing to accelerate. At this point they basically hit "cruising speed" and they relax and actually stretch out, flying-squirrel style.

    Then they land on the ground, kind of belly-flop, and walk away.

    Nature is fucking crazy.


    If you are interested, I found the radio story. It's not that long. It is attached to two other stories, but the cat story comes first.

    For those interested in further listening, Neil deGrasse Tyson, the well-known astrophysicist, also wanted to revisit this story.
    Neil deGrasse Tyson section about falling cats starts at about 13:30 on this one.
    #1 fatalrendezvous, Feb 5, 2015
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2015
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  2. Screens.

    Is it so hard to get a fucking screen for your window? Isn't it pretty common nowadays!?

    Also, that is totally interesting. Cats fall long enough that they just say fuck it and wait til the ground shows up.

    As a cat owner myself I'm worried my cat will fall through the screen. We only live on the third story too. Even the balcony with railing that I can't fit my foot through worries me that the dog goes out and scares him enough to squeeze through and fall off.
  3. I found myself laughing through most of that read. This is quite an interesting subject that I'd never given thought to. I know cats land upright almost everytime, but I know a fifteen foot fall is more than enough to kill a fully grown human being. But of course there are rare occasions where a person survives a two-hundred foot fall and gets up with a few broken ribs and some big ass bruises.

    Ah yes, nature. You always find a way.
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  4. Correction: Cats are secretly demons.
  5. Not much of a secret anymore damnit!
  6. It's a matter of how lightweight cats are.
  7. Imagine how I felt listening to the story on the radio! Something about the ridiculousness of the story just makes it so weirdly funny!
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  8. Damn, Nature. You scary!
  9. Years back, I lived in a 7th story apartment with a couple room mates who had cats. Unfortunately, the windows didn't have screens and there was about a half foot outcropping under the window sills. The apartment had no fans or air conditioning, and we left the windows open in the summer.

    One day, I found the cats outside my closed window staring at me. I let them in and immediately told my room mates the cats were going to fall if they kept doing that. One day, one of the cats fell down the 7 stories. We found him the day after with a broken leg and a punctured lung. He had to be put down.

    I can't say I didn't warn them.
  10. Welp, it fits the data.

    7 is definitely between 5 and 9.

    Moral of the story: If you live between the 5th and 9th floors of an apartment building, don't own cats.

    ...Or just never let them out.
  11. The story and stats sound fishy to me... and it seemed to sound fishy to Neil as well.
    Where if it's true that the only cats being recorded are those taken to the vet, not those killed then you've got a broken/bias study and it needs to be discarded immediately.

    +I don't agree with the hosts reasoning of "Ask cat owners cause they're experts'.
    I mean, unless if the Cat Owner physically throw there own cats out a window or have the ability to talk with cats they don't know any better than Neil what a cat might be thinking.
    That knowledge would require someone trained to understand animal behaviour, and know enough biology to know how their body would react in such a situation.

    Even if they got that expert opinion though, the study does sound like it needs to be redone anyways.
  12. Cats are magical.
  13. So I did a little research of my own in my university's library.
    i now have one less cat

    There is another study published in 2004 that suggests a very different conclusion. In their data, the severity of injuries in cats increased sharply after seven stories. In contrast to Whitney and Mehlhaff, who merely counted the total number of injuries on each cat, Vnuk's study split the injuries into two ranks of severity, counting the high-severity injuries twice compared to low-severity injuries.

    What they did note, however, is that after seven stories, cats elongate themselves horizontally—this leads to injuries being far more spread out across the body. A graph they presented depicted how limb fractures continue to slowly fall after two stories, because cats are becoming less and less likely to stick their legs downwards. However, a significant increase in thoracic trauma is noted after seven stories, which quickly overpowered the difference.

    (Edit: I'm a little busy right now, so I only read the relevant parts of the methodology and the results.)
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  16. Another reason to love cats. I can get behind that total flying squirrel style fall, too. I've seen plenty a cat do that when jumping into snow or beany bags, so I guess instinct makes sense. What I wanna know is... how hardcore adrenaline-junky-like were ancient cats to have developed an instinct for perfect landings?

    These animals were worshiped for reasons, guys. I think we need to make Grumpy Cat into our new lord and savior. All hail.
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