The long, detailed answer: What to do when you find a cat in a tree.
The short answer:
First, prepare for the possibility the cat will fall by removing or covering all hard objects under the tree so the cat will land on clear, soft ground. If a dog or another cat chased it up the tree, then remove them from the area so that the cat feels safe to come down. Calm the environment as much as possible by stopping all activity, noise and distractions. If possible, give the cat some time to learn how to come down on its own. Some do better with you coaxing them down, while others do better by leaving them alone for a while. If it's clear to you that your cat is stuck, usually, the best solution is to find a rescuer. If that fails or you want to get it down on your own, then see my Do It Yourself page.
As you talk to people to ask for help, you are almost guaranteed to hear someone say that the cat will come down on its own when it is ready. They especially love to say that they have never seen a cat skeleton in a tree. Ignore them. Despite how confident and authoritative they may sound, they have never studied the matter and don't know anything it. Heeding their advice only prolongs the suffering -- both yours and the cat's. People will also tell you to put food at the base of the tree, but don't do it. Not only does it not work, it actually attracts the predators or other cat that may have chase the cat up the tree in the first place.
It often happens that cats come down or fall out of the tree, so if you leave the cat unattended for a while, especially overnight, then you need to consider where the cat will go once it is on the ground. If the cat is in familiar territory, then he will likely go straight home. If the cat is not familiar with the territory, however, then you need to do whatever you can to ensure that he does not leave the area and get lost. Consider placing traps in the safe areas around the tree where the cat is likely to go and setting trail cameras under the tree so you can know when he came down and which direction he went.
I will rescue the cat whether anyone knows it or not. Take note if the cat responds to you when you approach it and talk to it. If it cries, it is likely tame; if it always stays quiet, it could be feral. Also, if possible, try to see if it has a collar or if one ear is tipped or notched. If you can take a picture of the cat, please do so.
The sooner we find the owner, the better. First, check your neighborhood nextdoor.com website and local Lost and Found Pets Facebook page for any posts for a missing cat matching the cat’s description. If none is found, ask your neighbors if they recognize the cat. Failing that, post a Found Cat notice on your neighborhood nextdoor.com website and your local Lost and Found Pets Facebook page. Old-fashion paper flyers are still often the most effective way to find the owner, so consider doing that as well.
If the owner has not been located by the time I rescue the cat, I will scan it for a microchip. If a microchip is found, then I will immediately attempt to contact the owner. If no microchip is found, then we need someone to take responsibility for the cat until the owner is found. The cat needs to be released in a safe, confined area so we can observe it, reassure it, feed it and assess the need for urgent veterinary care. If the cat is ear-tipped, then it may be best to just release it, since we already know that it has been spayed or neutered and vaccinated and is less likely to be owned by anyone, though that is not a certainty. Otherwise, a responsible person will need to take care of the cat until the owner is found. If no owner is found, the cat can be re-homed. If no one is able to care for the cat, I will be forced to take it to the local shelter. There, the cat will be spayed or neutered, if needed, and vaccinated. After a short recovery period, it will likely be returned to the same area where it was originally found and released.
If the cat is where he can move freely and return on his own, such as under a house or in the attic, then you will need to learn to be patient. Whether the cat is hiding in fear or confidently enjoying exploring this new area, usually the best thing you can do for most cats is to just be calm, relaxed and pretend to be interested in something else while remaining close. You should talk to him and have his favorite food handy where he can see it and smell it, but otherwise, do not look at him or plead with him to come to you. I assume you have already tried that and found it unsuccessful. If there is a certain toy that he finds irresistible, then you might use that to draw him out. Especially if he is hiding in fear, he needs to know that it is safe to come out, and you give him that sense of safety by staying calm yourself and minimizing the noise, activity and distractions. You are the best, and maybe only, person who can do this. However, if the cat is afraid of you or does not trust you, then this will not work.
If the cat still does not emerge, you may need to set a trap for him and leave the area. The Animal Control office has traps that they will let you use, or you may be able to borrow one from a friend or local TNR organization.
If the cat is on a roof or structure where he cannot find a way down, then you need to make it easy for him. Give him a ramp to walk down or another platform to which he can jump. For example, you may be able to park your car at the edge of the roof and place a floor mat on top so the cat can jump part of the way down.
He doesn’t know how. He is trying to go down head-first, and he cannot hold on that way. His claws curve to the back, and the only way he can hang on is to point them downward by going down butt-first. He doesn’t think to do that, so he simply stays where he is. Sometimes, a cat may know how, but just be too afraid to do it. It is scary.
I have never seen that work. The reason it doesn’t work is because it does not solve the problem. The cat is already motivated to go down, but it just doesn’t know how to do so without falling. Also, leaving the food there just attracts insects and other cats or predators that may have chased the cat in the tree in the first place.
Ignore them. Despite how confident and authoritative they may sound, they have never studied the matter and don't know anything it. Heeding their advice only prolongs the suffering -- both yours and the cat's. While it is certainly true that some cats can come down on their own, it is equally true that some cats can't.
I have no minimum time that I require you to wait before calling. I trust you to know when your cat is stuck, so you can call me as soon as that is clear to you. If you have the luxury of time, it is best to wait at least a few hours or overnight to see if the cat can figure out how to come down on his own, since learning that skill will serve him well and avoid the need to ever need a rescue in the future. However, sometimes there is no time for that or the stress it causes you is unbearable, so call me as soon as possible. The rescue is as much for you as it is the cat.
I climb the tree using ropes and professional tree-climbing gear and methods that do no harm to the tree. I never use spikes. I also never use a ladder because they are dangerous and never tall enough or mobile enough.
The most dangerous part of the rescue is the drive over there and back. Climbing a tree using professional tree-climbing gear and techniques is much safer. I am secured to the tree at all times by at least one rope, and often I am tied in with two or more ropes.
Any cat that is aggressive will also not allow me to get close to it. If I can’t make friends with it after a certain amount of time, then I can rescue it using methods that maintain a safe distance between us, such as a net or catch-pole. I can also set a trap for it in the tree and leave the area until he is trapped in it. Friendly cats are not a risk for clawing or biting unless I make a mistake and spook them. So far, I have never been bit or scratched.
Nothing. It’s totally free.
I will happily travel an hour from Baton Rouge, but I have also travelled much longer than that. I have not set any rigid limits to the driving time, distance or geographic areas I will go. It may also depend on other rescues I may have to do that are closer or more urgent at the time. The best way to find out is to call me.
While I can’t rule out an attack by a predatory bird, generally, this is not something you need to worry about. Kittens are much more vulnerable due to their size, but they are probably more vulnerable on the ground than in the tree. Adult cats are generally too large and heavy for most predatory birds. However, there have been documented instances of attacks on healthy adult cats by eagles, Great Horned owls and even some aggressive vultures.
The longer the cat is in a tree, the more likely he is to fall. As they get weaker, they begin losing their footing or simply fall asleep and roll off the limb. They usually land on the ground with no injury and go home to the surprise of the owner. However, if the cat is perched in a secure place, such as the union of very large branches or a large hollowed out cavity, they are less likely to fall and could die there.
Cats can usually survive several days in a tree, but much depends on the cat's health and the environment. I have known cases where the cat survived for three full weeks, but it takes frequent rain to help them survive that long. While the rain may feel miserable to them, it prolongs their life, since they can lick the water off their fur.
I know I am stating the obvious, but birds are completely different animals and cannot be approached and rescued in the same way as cats. First, know that, yes, I will be happy to attempt to rescue your bird, but that should be regarded only as a last resort. Instead, your first choice should be to get the bird to come to you by following the instructions below, because attracting the bird to you is far more likely to be successful. I am not an expert on birds by any means, but these instructions have come from my talks with The Birdman, the bird expert of Northwest Bird Rescue in Washington and Oregon who has helped countless people successfully recover their escaped birds on their own. Follow his instructions, and if you need more information, you can talk to him directly at 503-BIRDMAN or 360-BIRDMAN (503-247-3626 or 360-247-3626). (Yes, those two numbers are the same but in two different area codes for Washington and Oregon.)
If that fails, and you still want me to try, and you realize that I am not educated about birds, and that my climbing activity may scare him off, I am willing to give it a try under your direction. Just be aware that despite how careful I may be, there is still a substantial risk that your bird will be frightened by me and fly away. I will feel terrible if that happens, but if I am your last hope, I will not let you down. So, be sure you have tried everything else and that you are willing to take that risk.
To get your bird to come to you:
1. Keep eyes on the bird at all times. You will need a helper so you can both take breaks from tilting your head back, and you both need a phone and a car so you can tell each other where to go if the bird does fly away.
2. Since your bird does not know how to fly or land well, he is likely scared and wanting you to come get him. To make it easy for him to land, select a large, unobstructed, well-lit area for his landing zone at a point on the ground that is 45 degrees down from the bird.
3. Place a large white sheet or blanket there on the ground for his landing spot. Next to the sheet, set up a very enticing picnic for him with all his favorite foods: a bag of potato chips, a box of cereal, apples and anything else that is attractive to him. You can set his cage there, but only if the bird has a positive association with it.
4. YOU, the bird's favorite person, must be there. If the sun is setting, you need to be there till after it turns dark and return before the sun rises in the morning. He needs to be able to see you always there. If you have previously taught him any hand signals, this may be a good time to use them, since he may have difficulty hearing you at that distance over other noises.
5. When he flies down to you, remain calm while you greet him. Get him to snuggle up against you while you are wearing an open, loose-fitting jacket that can be zipped. Enclose him in the jacket, zip it up and carry him home.