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Can a Cat Climb Down a Tree? What Science Tell Us

Saving a cat from a tree is one of those stereotypical tropes you see in many cartoons, but have you ever stopped to think why cats get stuck in trees and are usually reluctant to get down? Cats might be graceful, agile, and athletic, which is how they make getting into a tree look so easy, but it turns out that climbing back down isn’t something they’ve mastered.

A cat will masterfully climb up a tree for various reasons, but because of the retractable design of their claws, they have trouble getting back down again. So, let’s look at why cats end up in trees and how you can safely retrieve them.

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Why Do Cats Climb Trees?

It might not feel imperative to understand why they made their way into the tree, but the “why” can also affect how you get the cat down. They might not be stuck if they’re scared, just unwilling to jump down.


Cats are carnivorous predators, but they’re also small and can sometimes become prey themselves. Depending on where you live, coyotes, bobcats, or dogs might chase your cat, and its solution is to seek shelter in a tree. The cat could also try to escape the house if it is tired of being inside, and a tree is an excellent hiding spot.

cat climbing down the tree
Image Credit: Pixabay


Cats love a good pursuit and are avid hunters. Once their sights are set on prey, nothing will stop them from chasing after it. If they’re trying to catch something like a squirrel, it could lead them into a tree.

Curiosity and Fun

Sometimes ending up in a tree is nothing more than just plain old fun. Cats love adventure, and a tree gives them a much better view of the neighborhood than their cat tree at their favorite window.

Why Do Cats Get Stuck in Trees?

If cats can climb a tree easily, why is it so difficult to get back down again? Well, it’s due to the cat’s anatomy, which is perfect for propelling them up with their hook-like claws. Unfortunately, they can’t coordinate their front and hind feet to make their way down; when climbing, their claws retract outward, but this helpful design hinders downward movement.

Cats that have been declawed don’t find the descent any easier, and they are at a higher risk of getting stuck. Declawed cats don’t climb very well, and it becomes nearly impossible to get back down as they don’t have claws to provide any traction.

bengal cat on wood
Image Credit: Uschi Dugulin, Pixabay


What Do You Do if a Cat Gets Stuck in a Tree?

First, it’s important to remain calm. If the cat senses you are agitated or stressed, it will only make them feel agitated and stressed too. This could make it more challenging to get them out of the tree.

1. Make a Ramp

You could make a ramp from a board so the cat can climb down the tree. This would be less stressful for the cat and is a good option if the cat isn’t stuck but may be unsure about jumping down from so high up. This depends on how high up in the tree they are, and it won’t be possible if they’re too high.

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2. Tempt Them Down

orange tabby cat on tree branch
Image Credit: Piqsels

Food is a good option, although it is time-consuming. You could heat up some enticing food like salmon, tuna, cat food, or a yummy treat to convince your cat to jump down. You could also tempt them down with a favorite toy. This might not work if the cat feels fearful or threatened since it must feel safe to make its way down.

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3. Climb Up After Them

This can be risky, especially if the cat doesn’t know or trust you. So, it’s essential to ensure the cat is calm first because it could lead to an injury if they aren’t. If the cat is too scared, it might climb further up the tree and worsen the situation. We would advise getting someone to help you, as they could stabilize the ladder if you’re using one and get help if anything goes wrong.

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4. Call For Help

If none of the previous options are feasible, you can always call for assistance. A utility worker, arborist, or rescue group specializing in retrieving animals are all excellent options. Unfortunately, unlike in the movies, you can’t phone the fire department, police, or local superhero to rescue the cat.

man climbing tree
Image Credit: Ground Picture, Shutterstock


Will a Scared Cat Come Out of the Tree Eventually?

We’ve mentioned that cats feeling threatened or scared might not necessarily be stuck but are unwilling to escape the tree. Can you wait for them to make their own way out?

They might indeed get out of the tree unassisted, but there’s no telling when that will be. We wouldn’t advise leaving the cat in the tree. Being on alert and unable to rest for long periods of time alongside potentially harsh weather could traumatize your cat and cause injuries. For this reason, we would suggest leaving the cat no longer than a few hours before attempting a rescue.

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Final Thoughts

Unfortunately, cats are not designed for climbing down trees, which means if you stumble upon a cat in a tree, it might be down to you to find a solution to get them back down. There are a few ways to get them out of the tree yourself, but if it isn’t your cat that seems distressed or is at the top of a very tall tree, it might be best to call in the professionals.

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Featured Image Credit: Piqsels