Portia’s broken jaw

2960014C621C3564DF63071E021A6F7BPortia fell from a height.

Do cats always land on their feet?

It started off as a normal day for Portia, who was sitting by the window watching the world go by when she suddenly fell out of it, dropping two storeys to the ground. It is unclear why she fell – perhaps she saw a bird flying past – but her ripped nails were evidence that she tried to hold on to the windowsill and support herself but was unsuccessful.

When cats fall, majority of the time they will land on their feet. They possess this righting reflex from 7 weeks of age. As they fall, they use their eyes and balance system in their inner ear to work out whether they are upside down or the right way up. They then rotate their head, twist their back and move their legs to position themselves to land correctly on their feet. Their backs are more flexible than most other animals and they do not have collarbones which makes twisting a lot easier for them. Additionally, by spreading their legs out while they fall, they increase their air resistance, slowing them down in the same way a parachute does. On impact, they spread their weight between their four legs which helps to cushion the impact.

The x-ray of Portia’s lower jaw showing a fracture line marked out by the red arrows

The x-ray of Portia’s lower jaw showing a fracture line marked out by the red arrows

Despite their extraordinary ability to land on their feet, cats can still become seriously injured in falls. If cats fall from a very small height they may not have time to right themselves before the landing and can fall on their side or their back. When cats fall from a greater height, they pick up more speed and even if they land on their feet, their legs may not be able to absorb all of the shock. Common injuries from cats falling from a height are face/mouth injuries from their heads hitting the ground, broken arms and legs or internal injuries.

While Portia probably landed on her feet, the force of the impact caused her chin to hit the ground. She was able to balance herself immediately and walk away but she was limping on her front leg and was unable to eat because of a broken tooth and a broken jaw.

We radiographed her front leg and her body which thankfully showed that she had no broken bones in her front leg and no internal injuries. The radiograph of her mandible (lower jaw) did show a fracture but we were able to wire it together and remove her broken canine tooth.

An x-ray of Portia’s jaw showing the wire we placed to hold the jaw together until the bone heals

An x-ray of Portia’s jaw showing the wire we placed to hold the jaw together until the bone heals

Portia is expected to make a full recovery. For now she is being fed some yummy, soft food and with time she can go back to her usual dry food diet. In 8 weeks time we will remove the wire from her jaw. Luckily her owner had taken out pet insurance 4 months prior to her accident. The apartment windows will now be kept closed and Portia can go on to enjoy her remaining 8 lives.

Please keep you cats safe at home by ensuring they can’t fall out of windows. If you cat does have a fall please bring them into Vet HQ to ensure they don’t have any serious injuries.

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