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Bringing the Cat Down

Once you secure the cat in a bag, net, carrier, trap, or other container, take a moment to check all the critical connections to make sure the cat cannot escape and is securely attached to your harness. If the cat is in a bag, make sure the cinch cord holds the bag properly before you actually suspend him by that cord. If the cat is in a carrier, make sure the door is latched properly, the connections joining the two halves of the carrier are fully latched, and the rope or strap you use to cradle the carrier is still in place and supporting the carrier from underneath. If the cat is in a net, make sure the net is cinched and locked tightly closed. If the cat is in a trap, make sure the doors are latched closed. If you are attaching the cat to your harness, do so deliberately and consciously to make sure you connect it securely. Don't just feel it go onto the tool carrier; double-check with your eyes as well before you let it go. The connection to your harness needs to be strong and secure. If you use a locking tool carrier, lock it in place to prevent an accidental loss. Do not attach the cat to a plastic tool carrier that can break without warning.

I usually bring the cat with me as I climb down, but there are times when it may be best to lower him by rope to the ground. If there is any urgency to getting the cat down quickly, then it is usually best to lower him. If it is not urgent, then it may simply be more practical to lower him just because of your position in the tree and the complications of climbing down. If the cat is in a trap, I always lower him by rope simply because it is impractical to climb down with a large, heavy trap hanging on my harness. If I lower him by rope, I can usually keep the trap in the preferred horizontal orientation, get him down sooner, and make my climb back down easier.

When I bring the cat down with me, I do my best to keep him from being bumped and poked by limbs along the way. If he is in a bag, I sometimes hold him in my lap to offer even more protection and comfort. When the cat is hanging from my harness, I try to minimize his back-and-forth swinging movements, but a certain amount is unavoidable. When I get close to the ground, I lift him above the level of my feet so he does not hit the ground before my feet do.

The cat is usually more calm inside a bag where he is in the dark and can't see out, but the descent may be a little more frightening to him in a carrier where he can see through the door and ventilation holes. Even more frightening is a descent in an uncovered trap.

Home Sweet Home

Once you and the cat are on the ground, give him to the owner and tell her to talk to her cat so he can recognize her familiar voice and know that he is safe. Remind her to keep the cat contained until she takes him inside. She should not release the cat until he is inside the house with the doors closed. Releasing the cat outside could be risky for those cats who are in an agitated or frightened state since it's possible they could run up another tree. Cats who are in a bag where they can't see usually don't know where they are and may panic somewhat until they realize they are in a safe place. Cats in a carrier, netting, or trap will normally know where they are and feel more comfortable about being released.

If there are other cats in the house, warn the owner about the possibility that they may not recognize the rescued cat if he has picked up a new scent while in the tree. If he smells different, the other cats may treat him as an intruder and become hostile toward him. The other cats will smell the same to the rescued cat, so his attitude toward the others will be the same as before, and he may be puzzled about their behavior toward him. This does not happen every time, and, in my experience, it does not even appear to be related to the length of time the cat was in the tree. Perhaps this happens only with certain tree species or season.

While I have no idea if it helps or even make matters worse, I suggest wiping the cat with a clean, damp paper towel in the hope that it will remove at least some of the scent. I also advise keeping the rescued cat separate from the others for a time. Ideally, it is best if the other cats can see the rescued cat from a distance out of scent range just so they can recognize him visually and expect him to be there. If the cat is in a carrier or trap, then the other cats can be allowed to approach him to see if they recognize him. To avoid problems, it may be best to release the cat in a separate room to give them all some time to adjust. If the situation does not improve, the cats should swap territory a few times so they can each safely explore the other's territory and scent when they are not there. The situation must be treated like the introduction of a new cat into the family, and there are resources on the internet to advise the owner how to achieve this successfully.

Most of the time, the cat is perfectly fine, but the owner should check him for any injuries such as bite wounds sustained by another cat, dog, or predator that may have chased him up the tree. They should also take note of any signs of limping or sensitivity to being touched on certain areas. Broken claws are sometimes found but are not of concern unless the toe, foot, or leg appears to be sensitive.

When the cat is first released, some will run off to hide, some will just walk around and sniff everything, and some will be quite happy to see everyone. For those who are frightened, just give them a little time to see where they are and feel safe again. Once settled, the first thing some cats want to do, especially if they were stuck for only one night, is to go to the litter box. Otherwise, if the bladder is not a problem, they want to eat. If food was used during the rescue, they may have already eaten quite a bit. Every case is different, so be sure to let the owner know how much food the cat ate in the tree, if any.

Most cats are fine after being stuck in a tree, but some owners are more concerned and will take the cat to the veterinarian to be sure. Regardless, the owner should watch the cat over the next few days to be sure he acts normally, has an appetite, uses the litter box normally, and is not lethargic. Every cat is different, but most tend to sleep more than usual after being stuck in a tree, but if the cat appears more lethargic than expected, they should take the cat to the veterinarian as soon as possible.


If the cat already ate a whole can of food in the tree, then it is best not to feed him any more for a while. That is difficult for owners to resist, however. I can't control what the owners do, but I do advise them of the dangers of refeeding syndrome when the cat has been stuck in the tree and not eaten for a long time. In those cases, the cat should be given small portions spaced out over a few days to help their body to adapt gradually to the sudden availability of food after adapting to surviving without it for a long time. This condition can be very serious and potentially fatal.

For overweight cats who have been stuck in the tree for several days, I am concerned about the possibility that they can develop hepatic lipidosis or fatty liver disease. This condition, too, can be serious or fatal if the cat is not quickly given veterinary care. The most common symptoms are lack of appetite, lethargy, vomiting, and diarrhea. If the cat is not showing any symptoms, then the condition can often be prevented simply by feeding him wet food with high protein and very low carbohydrate content.1 Since there is no dry food that is low in carbohydrates, this means the cat must be fed high-quality wet food only. This is sometimes a problem because cats are often overweight because they normally free-feed on dry food, and the owner may not even have any wet food available. I always have some cans on hand to give to the owner when needed, and I find it best to talk about this before I begin the rescue so the owner is ready and prepared with the wet food once I bring the cat down.

Even if the cat is looking very healthy and not at risk for any of these serious conditions, I always advise feeding them wet food if only for the water content to help them get hydrated. With no source of water in the tree except rain, the cat is going to be dehydrated, and feeding them dry food just makes it worse. With a weak thirst drive, they don't drink enough water to compensate for the water they are missing in dry food. Even when feeding wet food, it is often advisable to add a small amount of water to the food to help them absorb even more.

Loose Cats

In those cases when the cat jumps or falls from the tree, he may run off a short distance out of sight and hide. While it feels good to know the cat is not in the tree any longer and appears to have survived the fall, the rescue is unresolved until the cat is actually home. Typically, the cat is hiding in fear, and he will not emerge until he feels it is safe to do so. He will be quietly watching all around, and he will go straight home only when the environment is calm and he is confident that there are no predators or other dangers present. How long that takes depends on the cat and the environment. Most cats return home shortly after they see me leave or within a few hours, but some may wait till nightfall, the next day, or even longer. For cats who return during the night, ideally, it is best to leave a door cracked open for them, but I know that is not always practical. Alternatively, the owner should set up a safe place for the cat to go, such as a box on a high shelf where he can hide and feel safe, and check on him often. If a trail camera is available, then it should be set where the owner can at least know if the cat returned or not.

Not all cats who jump or fall from the tree run off to hide. Some cats are content to stay where they are and happy to visit with everyone. Some will run straight home, and, if you anticipated the jump or fall, you can have a door to the house already open, and the cat will probably run straight inside.

Unknown Cats

When rescuing an unknown cat, it is best to bring him down in a bag to make it easier to scan him for a microchip. If you're lucky, by the time you bring the cat to the ground, the caller will have learned some more information about the cat to help you decide what to do with him. Sometimes, they are even able to find the owner who may be onsite by that time. Otherwise, you should scan the cat for a microchip and then transfer him to a carrier where food is waiting for him. If the cat has an identifying collar, collect that information as well.

If you find a microchip, take a picture of the number and refer to the Miscellaneous Gear page for information about how to contact the owner. If there is no microchip, and the people there have regularly seen the cat in the neighborhood for a long time, then the cat probably lives nearby, and you can release him. Otherwise, hopefully, someone there will agree to take the cat and be responsible for him until the owner is found.

There have been many times where the unknown cat has no identification, and the caller and neighbors don't want to be involved any further. If there are no Lost Cat signs in the neighborhood, and I fail to find any Lost Cat posts for this cat on the local online resources, it falls on me to decide the cat's fate. I can either turn it loose and hope for the best, take it to the area shelter when possible, turn it over to a cat rescue group, or take it home and foster it until I can find the owner or get it into a rescue organization. If the cat appears healthy and neutered, then I will likely turn him loose but watch to see how he acts when free. If he appears scared and lost, then I will take him and ask all the close neighbors if they recognize him. If not, then I will find a temporary foster for him. If the cat is not neutered, then I may choose to take him to the area shelter where he will be neutered, vaccinated, and returned to the same location. I am happy to rescue a cat in a tree, but I am not a fostering organization with a staff and the capacity to shelter several cats. Still, I have often and begrudgingly fostered some of my rescues, and they have been some of the sweetest and most enjoyable cats I have ever known.

1"Your Cat: Simple New Secrets to a Longer, Stronger, Life," Elizabeth M Hodgkins, DVM