How many cat skeletons have you seen in trees?

The title is a bit brutal for a cat lover but if we try and answer the question the answer has to be “none”. Of course that does not mean there are none but I think you’ll agree that none is the right answer.

There is quite a lot of stuff on the internet about cats being stuck in trees, unable, apparently, to get down. The fire service (firefighters) in some locations won’t respond to a call from someone with a request to get a cat out of a tree. The reason is the balance between benefit and downside; the benefits don’t outweigh the downsides according to the firefighters.

While the firefighters are getting the cat down they could be doing something else. And every rescue carries some risk for the firefighters. And the argument is that a cat in a tree will get down when ready. I see that. But don’t get me wrong. I am just being rational and logical. Personally I would rescue all the cats in all the trees, but do they need rescuing?

Cat up a tree
Siamese cat up a tree. Photo by Robert Couse-Baker
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How long do you wait for a cat to come down? I think the answer is long enough. There is always the common sense solution which is to encourage movement by putting the most palatable and smelly food at the base of the tree. Favorite cat food is a great motivator to a cat.

It has always surprised me why a cat climbs a tree that he can’t get down. Cats shouldn’t do that sort of thing. I would expect a cat to have an inbuilt guide that informs him as to how far he can go up a tree.

However, it is possible that domestic cats have lost that natural ability. I am absolutely sure that wild cats of any species will never get stuck up a tree. Why should domestic cats? The only answer is because they are domesticated and have lost their skills. Or is it the case that they are not really stuck?

Are we getting the time frame wrong? Are we jumping into action too soon to get a cat down?

Also I wonder if the reason why a cat stays in a tree is because he is frightened about something on the ground, in his home or near his home. Staying up a tree does not automatically mean that the cat physically can’t get down, that he is frightened to get down. Perhaps he has decided to stay there because it is safer.

I think we have to respect the decisions of firefighters to not come out to rescue cats no matter how harsh it seems. I have to say that I have changed my mind because at one time I felt that firefighters should always come out to rescue cats from trees.

Note: this article has been republished to bring it forward from the archive which is why the comments are dated 2012.

11 thoughts on “How many cat skeletons have you seen in trees?”

  1. We have very tall old trees behind our gardens here and when Jozef was only around 10 months old he ran up one, he kept going until he was about 30 feet up then sat perched on a branch looking down at me. I was frantic! We had trees at our old home too and our cats had often gone up them but never so high.
    I phoned my sister and late brother in law to come and stay guard while I tried to borrow a long ladder, but they just got here and Jozef decided to come down. He made it look really easy, but he has never been up so high again in his 11 years thank goodness lol
    I’d have paid the Fire Brigade to get him down had it come to that.

  2. I think everyone should get one. One time for the fire department to get your cat out of a tree. After that, you have to pay for the service. Once Monty got stuck in a really high tree, where Jeff had to get a ladder to get him down, we put chicken wire in a cone about six feet up and now he can’t go up there anymore. Any tree that he can get completely stuck in is wired off so he can’t get up there. He kind of has a pattern where he goes now, the same trees, to the same height every day. I hope he stays that way and I don’t have to block off anymore trees. Don’t tell Monty about the Norwegian Forest Cat racing down thirty feet of tree head first. He’d be tempted to try it. That is sort of what he does, but from about six feet up.

    • I feel so happy that he is climbing trees in a nice safe garden. That is such a nice environment. He has a good life, little Monty. Although I’ll have to enroll him on the tree climbing course.

      • Sometimes I wonder if his kitty mom would have taught him tree climbing skills and maybe I took him from her before he got those lessons. When Monty got stuck in the high tree I was on the ground pantomiming how he should go butt first. I can only hope that none of the neighbors saw that. Or worse yet, took a little movie of it.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Ruth is right – not many domestic cats realize that they have to go down while facing up.

    Instead they would rather run down while facing down or jump.

    Jumping is no problem when they are only six feet up in a cat tree and they can jump down onto the sofa.

    The problem is that they can end up 20 feet up or more when they climb a tree. That’s too far to try to run down or to jump from. They seem to realize that once they get up there and are rightfully afraid to descend.

    Some never learn and keep getting stuck high up in a tree. Some probably get so scared they don’t climb up a tree more than 5 or 6 feet before they jump off.

    I think you might be on to something when you said, “The only answer is because they are domesticated and have lost their skills.” in reference to getting down from a tree.

    That could be. It would be difficult to come up with a better reason.

    Luckily, our cats have never been treed but I’ve seen neighbor’s cats stuck up pretty high. They don’t come down.

    Thankfully, the Fire Department did come and get them in each case.

    Since the Fire Department rescues children when they get stuck up in a tree, there might be an argument for them to be ethically and perhaps legally obligated to do the same for a cat.

    After all, it’s far less risky than rescuing someone from a burning building. Relatively speaking, I’d say it’s a reasonable risk to save a cat from a tree – especially since they are trained for that type of rescue and they have much better equipment for the task than most private citizens.

    I think private citizens would get hurt too often if they attempted to perform the rescue. That would be another tidbit for the argument in favor of the rescue. The Fire Department, Police Department, and the Military have legal obligations to reasonably protect citizens. I’d say this falls under that cat-egory (meow).

    But I’m open for a good debate 🙂

    =^-^= Hairless Cat Girl =^-^=

    • Great comment. Fair enough. Seems I have been out argued 😉 If domestic cats can’t figure out how to get down a tree they have climbed it is a sorry state of affairs. I think someone should start a “Tree Climbing School For Cats”. It would be a one week residential course 🙂

      Incidentally I had a Norwegian Forest Cat (NFC) mix for four glorious years and she could climb down (race down) a tree from 30 feet up headfirst. No kidding. Amazing. NFC’s are good at tree climbing we are told.

  4. I think instinct makes them run too far up and get stuck. Red used to do it whenever I was watching to show off to me and Lilly. He was such a show off. I could never stop him or get him down so the only way to get him down was to go away so he had nobody to show off to anymore. Silly boy, it worried me a lot because I have seen a cat way up a tree – I mean so far its insane and up there ofr 4 days meowing because it was clearly stuck. This was heartbreaking and frightening and in this case any help that can be got, should be. It was stuck 100% and crying up there for days.

    • You think cats make a mistake and don’t factor in how they are going to get down. I am not against that theory. But it seems strange that a cat with innate climbing skills can’t work out how far to go up or how to get down a tree. It is seems like a major malfunction of the skills of a cat.

  5. Monty seems to have difficulty understanding that he can’t go down trees head first. He’s ok if he goes straight up the trunk. But once he sits on a branch he can’t figure out to go down backwards off of it. He has a few trees in the back which are not off limits and he can get out of them. He jumps for the most part, from greater heights than I’d like to see. He isn’t going to get injured, but over time it could be like a repetitive stress injury. That vet I interviewed about cat rehab said not to make the assumption that only declawed cats get arthritis. If a cat is frequently jumping from heights and is overweight, he can develop arthritis. That’s Monty on both counts. Sometimes he races down the trunk of a tree and leaps away at the bottom just before he’d face plant into the ground. It’s quite a sight to see. Once in awhile, out of the blue, he’ll back down the tree from a branch. Why doesn’t he do that all the time? I think he is stubborn.

  6. Back in 1992 we had a cat go up a tree for 4 days. I finally got a roofer friend to come get her down. We tried the food and treat bit at the bottom of the tree and nothing worked. Everyone told me the cat would eventually come down. She didn’t. After her rescue we never saw her up another tree. She was 20+ feet off the ground so hopefully she gained a fear of heights.


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