Help! My Cat Is Stuck In A Tree!
Cat Talk|August 2021
It happens in an instant. Your door is open a split second too long, and your indoor-only cat is outside and up a tree—way up a tree, beyond reach of most ladders. You hear the piteous cries from above. Now what?
By Laurie Coughlan

People joke about cats stuck in trees. “He’ll come down on his own. You don’t find cat skeletons in trees.” In fact, cat skeletons have been found in trees, but naturally finding one up high is unlikely because, well, gravity. A cat high in a tree may be in real trouble. Of all felines, only the forest-dwelling clouded leopards have specialized anklebones and footpads which allow varied climbing positions, including the ability to come down trees headfirst. A domestic cat’s feet and claws are designed to climb up, not down. So, to get down, the cat must come down backwards, usually jumping the last part. That is a daunting task from 40 or more feet up. It gets worse over time, because once a cat has spent a few days in a tree, it is weakened from hunger and dehydration, and less likely to be able to maneuver his way down safely.

Why do they go there? A stressed cat is likely to consider the tree a handy escape route when scared. A dog, wildlife, another cat, loud noises, and human strangers all may inspire a need to escape. In many cases the cat is stressed from recent changes in the household, like a move or a new family member. Sometimes cats, and especially kittens, simply climb to explore and get stranded.

As distressing as it is to hear your cat way up a tree calling for help, it may be best to take a breath and take stock of the situation. Normally it does not hurt to give the cat some time to come down. Some will figure it out within 24 hours. Tempting the cat with food will probably not work. From 40 feet up, your cat will probably not sense the food. More importantly, any food you put out to tempt the cat down is likely to attract the very same creature that sent him up the tree in the first place.

WHAT SHOULD YOU DO?

Contrary to tradition, there is little point in calling the fire department. They don’t want staff and equipment tied up in collecting a kitten from a tree when a major fire emergency occurs. They also do not want to risk the safety of staff untrained in tree climbing and cat handling.

Local rescue groups can offer help or provide referrals. Nicole Polotsky in the Baltimore area works with local rescuers, sometimes recruited via social media, to find lost cats and sometimes get them out of trees. Some of her volunteers are trained in rock climbing, but not many are tree climbers. Her involvement started when an injured rescue cat went 75 feet up a tree. When the fire department declined her request, a friend recommended that she call Pikesville Tree Service. By that time, the cat had been up the tree for about two days. Within two hours of the call, the tree service had him back to ground level. He was treated, recovered nicely, and was adopted out, and Nicole learned about tree rescues.

So who do you call? Your best bet is a tree service. Some will rescue a cat for free, or take donations. Others will charge, as time spent helping the cat is time they are unable to spend providing professional services. Ira Novograd of Pikesville Tree Service confirmed that they do not charge for simply climbing a tree to rescue a cat, but if the job requires additional personnel and equipment, they need to recover their costs. Equipment and staff availability may limit the number of rescues a tree service can take on when workloads are heavy.

THE RESCUERS

Most regular rescuers are tree climbers and cat fans. Some are certified arborists, a designation that refers to knowledge of trees rather than climbing skills. There is a private network on the internet for those who rescue cats from trees: WHISKR, which stands for Warm Hearted International Society of Kitty Rescuers. According to the group description, it is for people “who are always looking for an excuse to climb trees, especially if we can help poor stranded kitties and their concerned humans.”

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