Cats can be excellent climbers, but when it comes to getting down from a tree, they put the brakes on.
Cats climb trees for enjoyment, if they’re chasing after prey, or if a larger predator is around. They instinctively go higher.
If you come across a cat in a tree, stay calm and evaluate the situation. It is likely that the cat is already stressed, so you want to be relaxed so as not to scare it further up the tree.
Look at how high the cat is, if the tree is easily climbable by humans, or if the cat is so far up that you will need assistance. If the cat is not yours, you also have to consider that it may be feral. But keep in mind that when scared any cat can bite, scratch, or try to flee out of fear once rescued.
People will sometimes say, “Have you ever seen a dead cat in a tree?” This is alluding to the assumption that cats that go up must come down. The truth is, exposure, dehydration, and starvation can all eventually lead to the cat falling out of the tree. They can grab branches to break their fall but will likely run off injured with no one to help them. Our goal is to intervene before the cat has to suffer any adverse effects.
Your first step is to call your local animal control or rescue. They will have ideas and resources to guide you in the right direction in your rescue. Keep in mind, most animal control facilities and rescues do not have rescue equipment, but they have likely dealt with this situation before and can work with you to create a plan. Many people call the fire department, but most departments will not go out on these calls and refer them back to animal control to make sure the cat is handled in the safest way possible.
Get a can of savory food like tuna, wet cat food, or even shredded chicken. Something that would entice a scared cat to come down. If the cat is not too high up, you can rest a ladder or large piece of wood against the tree with the food lure at the bottom. If this is your approach, it is best to sit quietly nearby so you can make sure the food doesn’t attract any wildlife and that the cat comes down.
Cats can easily climb up a tree, but coming down is another story. They struggle to coordinate the movement of their back legs. If you think about it, cats will climb up on couches or high places, but they jump down, not climb. The movements are not natural to the cat.
If the cat has been up a tree for more than one day or exposure is a concern, your best bet is to call on community support. Tree services or even individual tree climbers who may volunteer their time would be your best option. Make sure to have gloves and a carrier to secure the cat once the climber has hold of it.
Once the cat has been rescued, if it is yours it is best to take it to the vet for a checkup to make sure it isn’t dehydrated if he has been up there for a few days. If the cat is not yours, take it to your local animal control and shelter and they will keep it safe until they can determine if it has an owner.
Cat rescues can end up being a community effort, and it’s important to stay calm, think practically, and work together to bring the cat to safety.