Cats are natural climbers, and many love heights. A tall vantage point provides privacy and allows a cat to survey the world around it. Some cats climb trees in the heat of the moment, excited by chasing a squirrel. They then find themselves reluctant to come back down.
The cat may not be trapped, just nervous about coming down. Fretting humans will add to this anxiety. Start off by giving the cat space, provide a soft landing, and tempt it down. Food, treats, toys and calming reassurance are all effective. If necessary, offer a carrier to climb into. The cat will usually get down when ready.
Don’t rush indoors and call the fire department. Despite the popular myth, these emergency workers will not rescue a cat from a tree. Do not force a cat to get down. Instead, let the cat come down under its own volition.
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My Cat is Stuck in a Tree
Cats love to climb, but they do not always think this decision through. A cat may be drawn to climb a tree by a bird or squirrel. When the thrill of the chase wears off, the cat inevitably finds itself stuck.
This is because cats find it easier to climb up a tree than back down. They gain traction using their sharp claws and use their powerful leg muscles to propel movement.
Getting down again is a greater challenge. Gravity is an obvious foe. It is tougher to retain balance while moving downward at great speed. The shape of a cat’s claws is also designed for upward movement. Climbing down a tree involves moving backwards.
The cat will also be nervous. In fact, this is likely the biggest challenge. The cat may not be stuck. It is just suddenly aware of how high it is. Cats may be brave, but they are not foolish. The cat will stay in place until it feels it is safe to come back down to earth.
Getting a Cat Out of a Tree
Your first reaction may be to reach for a ladder and to climb the tree yourself. This is inadvisable, for a number of reasons:
- The ladder is unlikely to be stable and you could fall
- You’ll need to carry a squirming, anxious cat down a ladder
- If the cat has worked itself up, it may claw at your face to protect itself
For the cat to get back down, it needs to fall. However, the descent can be broken up into numerous smaller, safer tumbles.
Before starting this process, make sure the cat wants to come down. The cat may actually be perfectly happy where it is for now. Possible explanations for this behavior include:
- The cat has found a bird’s nest and is still hunting
- Your home is busy and noisy, and the cat wants some private time
- A neighborhood pet or wild animal chased your cat, and it’s hiding
If your cat is in a tree by choice, it will come down when it is ready. A healthy cat can survive up to two weeks without food or water. Most cats will come down when hungry, though. Even if the cat decides to temporarily stay put, make its descent as safe as possible.
Survey the Terrain
Your first step will be to take a good look around the tree. This may reveal why your cat is trapped up in there in the first place. Look out for any signs of danger to the cat. Cats can be spooked by any number of things. Examples include:
- Another pet in the home that is dominating and chasing your cat
- A neighborhood cat invading your yard
- Wild animals, including snakes, foxes, coyotes or anything that might frighten a cat
- A neighbor’s dog barking from a fence and intimidating your cat
- Loud machinery – is somebody nearby using a lawnmower or a circular saw?
If your cat is hiding because it is scared, it will stay put. Cats are governed by self-preservation. As far as your cat is concerned, it is not safe to leave the tree. That’s fine in the short term, but eventually something has to give.
If it’s your own pets that are causing the problem, it’s an easy fix. Shepherd other animals into your home and keep them indoors until your cat is safe.
If it is a neighbor that is provoking anxiety, have a polite conversation. Explain the situation and ask if they’d mind ceasing their activity.
Once you have cleared the area of potential dangers, take a step back. No cat will come down from a tree it if feels crowded. If the cat is already anxious, your presence will make it worse. The cat will want a clear escape route before it contemplates coming down.
Keep the Cat Calm
Just as important as clearing the path is creating a calm environment. This means soothing your cat and remaining calm yourself. It can be frightening to see your cat stuck in a tree. Panicking helps nobody, though. The cat will pick up on this, assuming it is right to be afraid.
Speak to your cat is a calm tone. Use words that it will recognize, such as your cat’s name. Reassure your cat that everything is fine. It is not in any trouble, and that as soon it comes down all will be fine. Smile, too. Facial expressions are just as important as visual cues.
You can also soothe your cat using external factors. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explains how cat-specific music has a calming effect on felines. Play music through a speaker. Not so loud that it startles the cat, but loud enough to have impact.
You may also wish to consider calming scents. This is unlikely to be as effective, though. While cats have an excellent sense of smell, aromas can be lost in the wind outdoors. There is also an obvious fire risk to using scented candles around trees.
Keep moving back from the tree, giving your cat more and more space. Make yourself as small as possible. Crouch or get down on your knees. Do whatever it takes to make your cat feel safe and in control. The calmer the cat becomes, the more confidence it will regain.
Create a Soft Landing
As your cat becomes more collected, it will find coming down from the tree more agreeable. This means that you need to start thinking about a landing. Cats can fall from great heights without hurting themselves. All the same, you don’t want to take any chances.
As the European Journal of Physics explains, a tall tree is potentially your cat’s friend here. The higher the cat is, the more likely it will achieve terminal velocity while falling. Terminal velocity means that air resistance is equal to a cat’s weight.
This gives your cat time to evenly distribute weight. It will exercise instinctive ‘righting reflex’, turning its body around to land on all fours. This minimizes the risk of head or spinal injuries upon landing.
Do not rely on the cliché of cats landing on their feet, though. You need to provide as soft a landing as possible. A mattress is ideal for this. Such an object will also give the cat something for aim for as it drops.
If you do not have access to a mattress, use a range of cushions and blankets. Sofa cushions are best. These will provide better impact absorption than pillows. If you have a blanket that smells like your cat, use this. The scent will spark sensations of comfort in the cat’s mind.
Think about how you can make it easier for the cat to fall. Do not rely on the cat plummeting the full height of the tree in one movement. That will be a frightening prospect. Reach as high as you can and point to branches. Show the cat it can drop a few feet at a time.
This may or may not be effective. If the cat has calmed down sufficiently, it may start its descent. If the cat is still jittery, it will be alarmed by your proximity. In this case, you’ll need to tempt the cat down.
Tempt Your Cat Down
If necessary, use toys or food to get your cat down. This will likely take some time, so do not expect immediate results.
As discussed, many cats climb trees because they are hunting. The same instinct may be able to tempt a cat back down. Reach for a favored toy and appeal to a cat’s playful nature.
This should be something that the cat needs to chase. A laser pointer may be effective. If your cat cannot resist hurtling after this red dot, it will react. Use the laser to direct safe passage from your cat’s current location to a soft landing.
Alternatively, use a toy in a strong. Rub catnip, or something equally appealing, on this. Dangle it agonizingly out of your cat’s reach. If necessary, extend the reach of the toy so you can aim higher. This may inspire the cat to move down one branch at a time.
Eventually, a cat will get hungry. Cats will not want to sustain themselves on apples, or other fruits found in a tree. If wild prey is not available, the cat will eventually climb down for a meal.
Place a tempting treat, such as an open tin of tuna, at the base of the tree. Step back, and if possible, get out of sight of your cat. Cats are smart. They’ll know what you’re trying to do. The cat will only take the bait if it thinks that it is safe to do so.
Be on stand-by, though. The last thing you want is for the cat to snatch the food then clamber back up the tree. Have a plan to capture the cat as soon as its paws touch the ground.
Use a Cat Carrier
If your cat will not be tempted, it could be waiting for nightfall. Many could feel safer moving stealthily after dark.
Don’t just leave food out overnight, hoping your cat eventually take the bait. This will attract wildlife, starting the whole process all over again. You’ll need a cat trap – ideally using a cat carrier.
Place the food in the cat carrier and observe from a safe distance. The cat may make its descent under the cover of darkness. If it enters the carrier to eat, close it and bring the cat indoors. You may need to take shifts alongside friends and family members to cover overnight surveillance duty.
If you’re growing increasingly desperate, you could adopt this trick in the tree. Use a cat carrier to create a makeshift dumbwaiter. To achieve this:
- Throw a strong piece of rope over the branch that holds your cat
- Tie one end of rope to the handle of a cat carrier
- Place a tempting scent in the carrier
- Using the rope, elevate the cat carrier to your cat’s location
- Wait for the cat to enter the carrier – this may take some time
- Slowly use the rope to bring the carrier back down to the ground
This is very much a last resort, only to be attempted before seeking professional help. It may save you the cost of calling for such assistance.
Cats are prone to getting stuck in trees. This is all part of being a cat owner. If it keeps happening, consider blocking access to the tree. If it’s a one-off problem, these tips will help you resolve it. They are much safer than climbing a ladder and capturing the cat yourself.