Cats do get stuck in trees.
Here’s what to do
see a cat skeleton in a tree?”
sarcastic question is usually intended to “prove” that cats never get stuck in trees. When they feel like coming down, they will, goes this
misguided thinking. The premise of the lame joke, however, is utter nonsense. Cats do get stuck in trees. They do die. Here’s why, and what
to do if your cat (or a cat you know) ever gets stuck in a tree.
usually climbs a tree for one of two or three reasons: she’s chasing something (like a squirrel), she’s running away from something (like a
dog), or perhaps she just wants to see what’s up there. Okay, so Kitty is way-high-up in a tree, the danger (or the fun or the mystery) is
gone, and it’s time to come down. Why doesn’t she come down on her own?
A cat’s claws are designed for climbing up. A cat is not a squirrel; squirrels can climb up, down,
and sideways, always headfirst, no problem. But a cat must climb with her head up to avoid falling, and once she’s up, the only way down is to
back down. (The margay, or tree ocelot, a rare cat found in the rainforests of Mexico, Central America, and South America, is the only cat that
can climb down a tree headfirst.)
Once she’s close enough to the ground, she’ll turn around and jump down; the biggest challenge is a
tree that has no low branches, like a pine tree. By the time the immediate danger or curiosity has passed, Kitty has used her burst of adrenaline
and does not have enough energy left for the time-consuming, frightening task of descent. This is especially true of an indoor cat with little or
no climbing experience.
good news is, cats have been known to survive over a week in a tree and have sustained falls of over a hundred feet without serious injury.
The bad news is, a panicked cat will continue to go…up. Worse, a cat may eventually become too weak to climb down, and after a point, even
if rescued, may die later of starvation, dehydration, or exposure.
don’t see cat skeletons in trees because of a well-known law of nature called gravity: Kitty becomes too weak to hold on, lets go, and
What do you do?
cat is not too high—a distance you feel confident climbing yourself—wear gloves, long sleeves, and long pants. Take a pillowcase and rope
with you. Make the first grab count; if you only succeed in scaring Kitty, she may go higher. Grab her by the scruff of the neck and stuff
her into the pillowcase; secure it with the rope and lower it carefully to someone on the ground. Take the bagged kitty indoors before
opening the pillowcase.
can’t manage the rescue yourself, wait no more than a couple days. That’s about the longest it will take Kitty to decide to come down if
she can. Call your cat. If it doesn’t encourage her to come down, it will at least let her know she’s not forgotten. Keep dogs and other
unnecessary commotion away. Try tempting her with food.
your cat does not meow, it means one of two things: she’s too weak to do so (bad) or she doesn’t feel she is in trouble (good).
Unfortunately, you can’t tell which it is.
Get help sooner rather than later if:
Who’re you gonna call?
Not the fire department. Contrary to folk tradition, most fire departments no longer do cat rescues. Understandably, they do not want to
commit their resources to animal rescues when a human rescue may be at stake. Sometimes off-duty firefighters do cat rescues on the
best bet is a professional tree climbing service. Try these resources for a referral: your vet, pet stores, the Humane Society, Animal
Control, the Yellow Pages, the local media, the classified ads. My community has a tree climber who advertises cat rescues among his
services. Your community might be so fortunate.
climbers usually charge for their services, naturally; fees vary, and if travel or hazard duty is involved, will tend to be more. Hazard
duty situations include night climbs, dead trees, and inclement weather. Remember, the tree climber’s life is valuable, too, and be
understanding about the cost.
might trade some of his fee for a promise of future work (in trees without cats) and/or some free publicity. Hand out his business cards to
your neighbors after the rescue. Animal rescues make great human-interest stories, so be sure to alert the media. Always be polite and
respectful with tree climbers, whether they come through for your cat or not. We don’t want to discourage these heroes from future cat
animal behaviorists say you can teach a cat how to climb down from a tree. If you decide to explore this option, please find an
best option, of course, is to keep all your cats indoors. Cats can be taught to explore outdoors for brief periods under human supervision
and come in when called. Some cats will walk on a leash. And if you have the resources and the skills, you can build a “cat sanctuary”—a
fenced-in outdoor area your cats can access from indoors. Don’t forget that cats can climb, and put a top on it—which keeps out intruders
Cat skeleton in a tree. I suppose I’ve heard
of dumber things.
©Lisa J. Lehr