Since I was a kid I always heard people say that cats are smarter than dogs. They can feel incoming danger and of course, unlike silly dogs (or so they say), they never swallow foreign objects too big or sharp.
Cats also can balance themselves on the thinnest balcony rails and even if they do fall they just get up and walk away. Hardly, if ever, do they get seriously injured.
I believed it too, as I grew up with both cats and dogs. Our cats in the house jumped and fell and then got up and walked away as if nothing happened, while dogs would limp at what seemed to be a rather simple jump off the couch.
Our cats never attempted to chew on anything but treats, while our Doberman chewed everything from shoes to sofa legs and once even swallowed a tennis ball, which had to be surgically removed. So, my childhood beliefs made it into my adulthood: my view was that I always kept an eye on what my dog was chewing at any moment, and my cats – well, they would take care of themselves because they just knew better.
As many childhood dreams and legends go, the bubble bursts when one personally sees evidence of what could go horribly wrong.
When I rescued my very first cat in Cambodia almost eight years ago, we lived on the fourth floor. I prefer my cats to be indoor, but having a balcony, we allowed her to wonder around there, bask and sleep in the sun and occasionally chase geckos.
In fact, sometimes my partner and I – who also believed that cats are “bullet-proof” – would sit on the balcony and watch Kitsi, our cat, stalking mosquitoes and geckos and balance herself as a grand feline on the rail – until one day we got home and she wasn’t there.
We found her later three floors down, on the roof of the house next to our building. She was alive, but not moving. After taking her to the vet and doing X-rays, we found that she had a fractured hip.
Both of us had to face the reality: while cats may be fantastic at balancing and even when falling (they do manage to land on their feet) their bones are just as fragile as those of other animals. And cats do fall far more often than we ourselves want to believe.
According to Animal Planet “A cat will land on his feet when s/he falls. Their body reflexively corrects its course so that by the time s/he arrives on the ground, his feet are in position to hit first.” However, “The height of a cat’s fall determines how well, or how poorly, his legs can absorb the shock of landing.”
The injuries can be so severe that the cat’s legs may have to be amputated to save their lives. Animal Planet says that “veterinarians treating the broken legs and other injuries of cats that survive falls from high-rise apartments noticed that the cats who fell from greater heights, such as more than five stories, often suffered less severe injuries than those falling from just a few floors because the longer drop gave the cats’ bodies more time to right themselves.”
In our fast-growing capital of beautiful Cambodia, many of us live in apartments and many of us have cats. Some folks are moving from a house – where their cat could roam in the garden to an apartment with only a balcony available. The guilt of not having fresh air and climbing space for your feline family member may cause worry.
Some cat owners go as far as looking to re-home their pet to a family with a house.
My first suggestion is to keep the cat. S/he will be happier with you in a one-bedroom apartment than anywhere else. The stress of a new family and surroundings is immense for cats and can cause depression, along with other self-damaging behaviors.
As for balconies, your cat needs to be protected from the risk of falling. If you have some open windows in your high-rise apartment or upstairs in your house, be sure they are properly screened.
I suggest an easy, cheap and simple solution: install a mesh around the open space of the balcony, so while your feline companion enjoys fresh air, plants and chasing geckos, the risk of falling over is never a danger.
You may choose to hang some flowerpots on the mesh and decorate it in a way that it feels like a small garden and not like a cage. Create a Catio – the space where you and your feline companion can relax and enjoy the never-ending buzz of our beautiful Phnom Penh.
If one small cat can change coming home to an empty house to coming back to a real Home, imagine what a Catio can do to your empty and dusty balcony.
Animal Mama® Animal Clinic & Welfare Centre provides a wide range of services for animals & pets: vet care, boarding, daycare, pet food & supplies, hydrotherapy, grooming and doggy play dates.
Please visit us at:
Villa #15, Street 500
Toul Tom Pong, Phnom Penh 12311