I hesitate to even mention the use of a ladder, but it is the first thing most people will consider and try anyway. Ladders have three main drawbacks: (1) they are dangerous and account for many injuries, (2) they often scare the cat higher, and (3) they are never tall enough or mobile enough. I often get a call to rescue a cat only after someone has tried using a ladder, and, sometimes, the people have been hurt, and, almost every time, the cat has been scared higher in the tree.
I have no problem climbing a rope 100 feet high, but I am scared to go 10 feet up a ladder. Ladders scare me. First, the ladder is not secured to the tree. Secondly, there is nothing securing the person. On top of that, people sometimes get the cat only to discover they can’t hold the cat and use their hands to climb down safely at the same time.
If I sound biased, it’s because I am, and I suspect that the medical staff at most emergency rooms would share my concerns. Still, some cat owners have successfully rescued their cat using a ladder, and I am grateful when it works safely. If you want to use a ladder, first make sure you can do so safely. Make sure the footing of the ladder is solid and tie the top of the ladder to the tree. When putting the ladder in position, move it slowly, gently, and quietly to prevent scaring the cat higher. Ladders are generally noisy, and that noise alone will scare most cats. Also, when they see that big, strange thing coming toward them and slamming against the side of the tree, they get scared even more. It’s a perfect recipe for intentionally making a cat climb higher, but if you think you can do it without scaring the cat, then go for it. Once on the ladder, be sure to keep your weight centered over the center of the ladder and absolutely refuse to allow yourself to lean to one side to reach the cat. You must wait for the cat come to you. This is not the place to get into a struggle with the cat or make a forceful grab. Be sure to bring a carrier, backpack, pillow case, or some kind of container you can safely and easily get him in and secure it to you in whatever way works for you so that you have both of your hands free to come down safely and slowly.
If you fail to rescue the cat but think the ladder is close enough to the cat that he might use it to come down on his own, then you can leave it there for a limited time to give him that chance. The probability of success is very low, but it’s possible. Otherwise, it is best to remove the ladder, because it’s a serious hazard to the cat if he falls.