Most tame cats that are stuck in a tree will cry out for help. When people appear below, they will look at someone and cry even more intensely as if pleading directly to a person for help. Some cats cry loudly and constantly to make sure the whole world knows about them, and others cry moderately or even infrequently, but they all get tired and will rest quietly from time to time. Many cat owners assume the cat is dying when it gets quiet, but that isn’t the case. The cat is just resting, and he will cry again later.
Feral cats, however, generally will not cry because they don’t want to draw the attention of predators, including people, especially when they are feeling trapped and vulnerable. However, there are some tame cats that will also stay perfectly quiet in a tree, and they can be mistaken for a feral cat. Once reassured that they are safe, however, they may turn into sweet, chatty love-bugs.
Small kittens, whether feral or tame, generally cry loudly and often, but they appear to be crying for their mother to come to their rescue. If a kitten looks directly at you while it cries, then it is likely tame and begging you for help, but if it is looking off into space or in several directions when it cries, it is likely crying for its mother and could be feral or tame.
I have never seen a litter box in a tree, and that presents a problem for cats when they get stuck. I suspect that if there were a litter box in the tree, the cat would use it, but, in the absence of that luxury, it appears to me that they tend to hold it just as long as they possibly can. Twenty-four hours appears to be the approximate limit of their ability to hold it, and, at that point, rescuing the
cat has certain risks. Cats often get either excited or frightened when they see someone coming up to them in the tree, and that can make it impossible for them to control their full bladder
any longer. When climbing directly below the cat, there is always a risk of being the recipient of the gift of a golden shower, but the risk seems be much higher around that 24-hour period. When it happens, it’s best not to look up, especially with your mouth open. All the rescuer can do is move to one side or the other, when possible, to avoid a direct hit. The cat doesn’t intend to
hit you. It isn’t personal. The cat just can’t help it.
When a cat has more control over when and where he
empties his bladder, he often walks as far away as he possibly can from his usual perch, presumably to put as much distance as possible between him and his telltale scent. I have watched as a cat
left his perch next to the trunk, walked all the way out to the wispy tips of a long limb, emptied his extremely full bladder there, and then returned to his perch. Often, when I arrive to rescue a cat that has been in the tree at least one night, I can smell the scent of urine on the ground or in the tree, and then I know he is less likely to let it go during the rescue. If I don’t smell it, then I know to be more wary.
I have found cat poop in the tree only a few times, so it can happen but appears to be uncommon.
Cats will move around in the tree to the extent that the tree allows it. They will walk back and forth on limbs that are fairly level, and they may step or jump to other close limbs. If they are on a short stub, a large vertical fork, or a limb that angles sharply upward, they are more likely to simply stay in that one spot, and they can stay there for days or weeks. Sometimes, they go higher in search of a more comfortable place to rest. Sometimes they succeed, sometimes they don't. They are looking for stability and comfort in a reasonably level spot that is as wide as possible, so they typically settle in a crotch next to the trunk or spread across a horizontal fork farther out the limb. When you go out first thing in the morning to check on your cat in a tree after leaving him alone all night, you may be surprised to find he is not there where you left him. He could on a different part of the same limb, on a different limb, higher in the tree, or even lower in the tree. They can even be in another tree if it is close enough. If you don't see him, he could have come down or fallen down, but don't make that assumption. Search the tree thoroughly to be sure.
Getting stuck in a tree seems to be a once-in-a-lifetime event for most cats, but some cats get themselves in trouble multiple times. If it happens once, it can happen again. There are some repeat offenders whom I have rescued three, four, and five times, but my current title holder is Simba, a Siamese mix pictured here who I have rescued eight times. Simba is exceptional. He is actually an indoor cat, but he lives in a busy household where the doors open frequently, and he is always on patrol to seize an opportunity to escape when it arises. When he darts out the door, he is drawn to the trees like a magnet. He has actually been stuck in a tree a total of fifteen times, but his family was able to rescue him themselves seven times, and I rescued him the other eight times.