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Cat Stuck in a Tree — Call a Tree Professional

Written by Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

cat in tree rescue

Story at-a-glance -

  • Although firefighters and other emergency personnel have been known to rescue cats from trees, you shouldn’t call 911 if your cat is in trouble
  • If your cat is stuck in a tree, contact a local tree service company in your area
  • Tree professionals are accustomed to climbing trees and many of them describe cat rescues as part of their services
  • If your cat has been stuck for 12 hours or more, or if there is inclement weather in the area, contact a professional right away to rescue your cat
  • Also, you should contact a rescuer sooner rather than later if your cat is an indoor cat, as it’s unlikely she’ll venture down on her own — especially if she’s declawed

In the moment, darting up a tree in hot pursuit of a squirrel, or perhaps while fleeing from an angry dog, may seem like a good idea to a cat. Some curious kitties will also climb trees just because it’s interesting. The problem arises once the adrenaline wears off, and your once-daring feline realizes she’s now far from the ground, faced with the frightening prospect of climbing back down the tree.

Some cats will come down without a problem. And if she’s close enough to the ground, she may simply jump. However, other cats become frozen in place, growing increasingly frightened and weak, until they’re eventually unable to climb down on their own, even if so inclined. If your cat is stuck in a tree, the first thing to do is try to entice her to come down on her own.

Bring her favorite cat food outside and softly call her name. Do not yell, which may startle her, and be sure dogs and other sources of loud noises are far from the area. If she doesn’t budge, give her time — up to 12 hours — to make the descent. After this amount of time, though, it’s time to begin a rescue operation.

Call a Tree Professional — Not the Fire Department

Although firefighters and other emergency personnel have been known to rescue cats from trees, you shouldn’t call 911 if your cat is in trouble. Instead, contact a local tree service company in your area. These professionals are accustomed to climbing trees and many of them describe cat rescues as part of their services. One such company, AAA Emergency Tree Service in Denver, Colorado, explained:1

“Most fire departments will not rescue cats out of trees. It’s not that they don’t care, but their mission is to respond to human emergencies and they don’t want to be rescuing a cat when a human emergency needs their immediate attention. Second, their ladder trucks are made to rescue people from buildings and may not reach the tree you need. You need an experienced tree climber with the proper equipment to bring your cat down safely.”

The New York Times also spoke to an arborist in Washington state, Dan Kraus, who says he has rescued more than 1,000 cats from trees.2 While you can try to rescue the cat yourself if the tree is not too tall, be prepared to come in contact with a frightened animal, which may try to scratch or bite you in defense, or even climb farther up the tree to get away.

In some cases, a cat may jump if she sees someone approaching, so owners should hold a tarp at the bottom of the tree to catch the cat. Kraus, who founded Cat in a Tree Rescue, noted that about 1 in every 15 cats is a jumper, and said that you must use care to avoid falling yourself while at the same time climb quietly so you don’t scare the cat:3

“Stay safely tied to the tree either by a top rope you’ve looped over sturdy branches above or with two ropes secured around the trunk. To avoid spooking the cat, climb quietly, without breaking dead branches or yelling progress reports to onlookers below.”

Once you reach the cat, grab her by the scruff of her neck, which should cause her to become still. Then place her in a sturdy bag (in a pinch you could use a pillowcase) for the descent. “Don’t release it until it’s in the bag and the drawstring has been pulled tight. Secure the bag to your harness to climb down,” he said.4

Cat Tree Rescue Directory

Kraus has compiled a directory to find an arborist who’s willing to rescue cats from trees. It includes professionals in the U.S., Canada as well as internationally, including in Australia, China, Ireland and the United Kingdom.5 If no professional tree climber is available in your area, contact a local tree company to find out if they’ll take on the job.

Your local animal shelter, veterinarian or animal control may also have resources to help you. Remember, the best thing to do if your cat is stuck in a tree is to not panic.

Most cats will not fall out of the tree, but if you start yelling, they may get spooked and go farther up instead of down. Speak to your kitty in a calm, reassuring voice, entice her with food and if she won’t budge, leave her alone for a few hours, as she may come down overnight if left alone.

If your cat has been stuck for 12 hours or more, or if there is inclement weather in the area, contact a professional right away to rescue your cat. Also, you should contact a rescuer sooner rather than later if your cat is an indoor cat, as it’s unlikely she’ll venture down on her own.

This is especially true if your cat is declawed. While climbing is a natural behavior in cats, cats without front claws will have little chance of successfully climbing down a tree. In the event your cat goes missing, also be sure to look up in the trees. According to Canopy Cat Rescue in Washington, which rescues cats for no cost as a service to their community, they have found missing cats in trees quite often:6

“Sometimes the tree is near their house, other times we have rescued cats in trees that have been miles away from their home. Keep looking up in the trees! We have rescued some cats as high as 150ft in trees. If you don't hear any meowing, try looking up in the trees at night with a flashlight. Sometimes the flashlight will show you the reflection of their eyes.”

Ultimately, the best way to avoid your cat getting stuck in a tree is to keep her primarily indoors, with access to a safely enclosed catio for stimulation. However, if your cat does follow her instincts and finds herself in a tree she can’t get out off, it’s good to know there are professionals across the world ready to help out.

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