Search Trees for a Missing Cat

If your cat is missing and you suspect he might be stuck in a tree, the easiest way to find him is to get him to talk. Search the area during calm, quiet times and try calling for him to see if he will respond to you. Use your normal, relaxed voice in a way he recognizes in a safe and positive way, because he may not want to respond to you if you sound distressed. The sound of shaking a bag of treats or opening a can of food may also work. Listen carefully since his voice might be very faint. Be aware that cats get tired and become silent for periods of time and won't respond, so, if you get no response, try again later. When you do hear the cat respond, be aware that it can be very difficult to pin-point a location based only on the sound. Sometimes they sound high, sometimes low, sometimes to the left or to the right. It usually takes extended listening from various positions before you can zero-in on a location.

Since you can’t always count on a cat to talk to you, you should deliberately search with your nose for the scent of cat urine. Cats do not like to pee in a tree, so they will hold it as long as they can. They typically can’t hold it more than 24 hours, and, at that point, they will empty their bladder. Sometimes, they walk all the way out to the extreme tips of a limb to let it go there, because they want their tell-tale scent as far away as possible, and, sometimes, they let it go wherever they are, so it could be next to the trunk of the tree. When a cat is stuck in a tree, his urine is usually more concentrated and stronger smelling, so it is easier than usual to detect. Pay attention, because that scent may be the only clue your cat gives you.

You won’t always hear or smell your cat, so it is helpful to know where and how to look in a tree to find him. It is easier in the winter months when many trees are bare of foliage, but, even then, a cat can still be surprisingly difficult to see. When the foliage from the tree or vines is present, it is even more difficult. To improve your chances of finding the cat, it is important to search from many vantage points on all sides of the tree ranging from far away to directly beneath the tree. Binoculars are helpful during the day, and a strong flashlight can be used in the darkness to search for the cat’s “eye-shine.” Cat eyes will reflect the light from your flashlight back to you making them very easy to see in the darkness. However, keep in mind that you will not see a reflection if the cat’s eyes are closed, the cat is not facing you, or there is no direct line of sight to the cat’s eyes from both the flashlight and your eyes at the same time, so failing to see eye-shine does not prove that the cat is not in the tree.

The thought of searching all of the huge number of trees in your area may be so overwhelming that you may find it difficult to get motivated to search at all, so focus your search at first on only those trees that cats are most likely to climb. For various reasons, cats are more likely to climb a tree close to a barrier such as a fence, creek, or building. When they are exploring and cross a barrier, they are sometimes surprised to find a hostile creature on the other side who chases them up a tree. Also, when they are being chased and run into a barrier, they will naturally be forced to go up. Similarly, when they are chased across a clearing to a wooded area, they will often climb one of the first few trees they find along the tree line. Cats can certainly be found in a tree in the interior of a wooded area or yard, but you are more likely to find them in these border areas. Be aware that they sometimes climb a tree by a house and then jump down onto the roof and get stuck there, so check roofs too.

Cats perch most often next to the trunk of the tree, so the first place to look is up and down the trunk at every limb from both sides of the tree. After that, look along the entire length of each limb while paying particular attention to any horizontal forks in the limb, because cats like to perch there where they can spread their body across both legs of the fork for stability. If the limb is at least roughly the same diameter as the cat, he may stretch out on his belly in line with the limb. Sometimes, they will go out toward the end of the limb where much of the foliage is, and that makes it harder to see them. Also, closely examine any nests or other collections of leaves and twigs that may have formed, because they sometimes use that for a perch and can be very difficult to see. Look for an ear poking above or a tail hanging out. Look also for cavities in the tree, especially at the top of a broken stem. A cat can crawl in to that cavity and be impossible to see from the ground, and that is when you really need him to talk to you.

If you still have not found your cat, it is worthwhile to search again the next day, because cats move around in the tree. They often move to higher or lower places and may be more visible or talkative the next time you search. They also often fall out of the tree, especially during the night, and then return home acting as if nothing happened. If they come home with a limp or injured claw, that is a sign that they were in a tree. But don't wait for your cat to fall out and return home. They may not fall out of the tree at all, or, if they do, it could be weeks later. Your cat is waiting for you to rescue him, so get out there and search.