After many rescues I do, I often hear someone there say they hope the cat learned its lesson. They are hoping that, since the cat was so miserable in the tree, he will think twice before climbing it again. Unfortunately, cats don’t think twice, and, if the cat is being chased by a predator, do you really want your cat to stop to think about it before climbing the tree? If the cat learned a lesson, it is that climbing the tree saved his life, and he will certainly do it again as he should. Even if the cat climbed the tree only because he simply had the urge, he is not likely to ponder the consequences prior to climbing it again. If anyone needs to learn a lesson, it is the cat owner, because this can happen again, and there is no guarantee that the cat will be close enough to a tree to be able to escape a predator the next time.
I am surprised at how often I hear cat owners say that they will need to have their cat declawed to prevent him from climbing a tree again. They are clearly not thinking this through. If a declawed cat cannot climb a tree to escape a predator, then the cat will be killed by the predator. If they keep the declawed cat inside as they should, then there is no tree to climb, and the cat doesn’t need declawing. Even if you ignore the ethical issues, declawing is clearly not a solution to the problem.
The measures you can take to prevent a cat from climbing a tree are limited. One solution is to tack a wide strip of metal flashing around the tree at a high point. The flashing is too hard and smooth for his
claws, and he won’t be able to climb past it. However, the cat can’t hang vertically on the trunk very long, and, if he is being chased by a predator, he needs to be able to get on a limb that
is a safe height from the predator but also low enough for you to rescue yourself, possibly with a ladder. Obviously, not every tree will lend itself to being suitable, and, unless you live in a
mostly treeless area, you certainly can’t put flashing on every tree in the cat’s territorial range. Clearly, this is not a good, general solution, but it may be suitable if your cat is
repeatedly attracted to one particular tree or a power pole carrying dangerous high-voltage lines.
Instead of preventing the cat from climbing a tree, it’s better to accept the fact that the cat is going to climb and teach him to climb down on his own. If climbing down backward is a skill that cats can and do learn on their own, then there is no reason why your cat can't learn it too. If your cat has a tendency to get stuck in a tree, you may find it worthwhile to teach him how to climb down backward in order to avoid the need for a rescue. While it may be easier for younger cats than older ones, I suspect it's possible for cats of all ages.
While I have never taught a cat to climb down, I know someone who has, and I have been told that it is effective. Simply put a harness on your cat, attach a leash, and place the cat high on the trunk of a tree vertically with his head up. Tug gently on the leash to get him to come down backward. Repeat this as often as necessary until he gets a solid feel for it and begins to come down backward without needing you to tug on the leash. The next step is to place the cat on a limb you can reach and teach him to make the transition from the limb to the trunk in the proper position. The more he does it, the more natural it will become to him, so repeat this lesson regularly to be sure he doesn’t forget it.