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Can Cats Climb Down Trees? Feline Abilities & Facts

Kerry-Ann Kerr Profile Picture

By Kerry-Ann Kerr

tabby shorthair cat climbing down tree

Cats are known for their athleticism, grace, and agility, which is probably why climbing up trees looks so easy for them. Unfortunately, climbing down them isn’t something they’ve learned how to do. Cats climb trees for a variety of reasons but because of the retractable design of their claws, they have trouble descending. We’ll discuss why cats scale trees and methods you can use to retrieve your cat when it climbs up a tree.

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Why Do Cats Climb Trees?

The “why” might not seem important, but the reason behind your cat climbing the tree also might affect why they’re stuck. If they’re there because they’re scared, they might not be stuck; instead, they could just be unwilling to jump down.

Toyger cat in a tree
Image Credit: Kutikova Ekaterina, Shutterstock

Feeling Threatened

While cats are carnivorous predators, they are small and can sometimes find themselves playing the role of prey. Depending on where you live, your cat could be a target for bobcats, coyotes, or the neighbor’s dog. It could also be trying to escape from you. If your cat gets out without permission to explore and you’re about to ruin all their fun, they might run up a tree to get away from you.

Curiosity and Fun

Cats are adventurous and getting to sit up somewhere high and survey the world might be too much to resist. So, they might climb because they can or because it’s good fun!


Cats love to hunt, and if they have their sights set on a target like a squirrel that tries to seek safety in a tree, they might bolt straight after it without thinking twice.

tabby cat with gps collar sits behind a tree trunk
Image Credit: Heide Pinkall, Shutterstock

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Why Do Cats Get Stuck?

A cat’s anatomy is perfect for propelling them upward using hook-like claws, but they can’t coordinate their hind and front feet to make their way down. Their claws retract outward when they’re climbing up, but this design hinders their downward movements. It could also be that they’re too scared to jump down, especially if they’ve been chased up the tree by something they feel threatened by.

Cats that have been declawed are also at a higher risk of getting stuck in a tree. In general, declawed cats can’t climb very well, but they can still climb. It becomes nearly impossible to get down because they don’t have claws to provide traction.

What Do You Do if a Cat Gets Stuck in a Tree?

If you find a cat stuck in a tree, you might wonder what to do about it. The first bit of advice we can give is to remain calm; if you’re agitated, it will make the cat feel more stressed about the situation, and it could be more challenging to get them out of the tree.

Tempt Them With Food

This option can be time-consuming, and you might have to warm the food up to make it more enticing. A can of tuna, salmon, cat food, or some tasty treats might convince a cat to jump down if it can. If the cat feels threatened or fearful, it might not work since it needs to feel safe to make its way down.

cat on a tree branch
Image Credit: Emilia_Baczynska, Pixabay

Make a Ramp

You can use a board to create a makeshift ramp that the cat can climb onto and use to climb down quickly and safely. This is a good option, especially if they aren’t exactly stuck in the tree but don’t want to risk jumping from such a height. This will all depend on the type of tree they’re in, and it won’t always be possible if the tree is too tall.

Climb Up After Them

This can be risky, especially if the cat doesn’t know or trust you. So, first, make sure the cat is calm enough because if you try to handle the cat when it isn’t calm, it could lead to injury. It might be wise to get someone to help you, so they can help stabilize the ladder if you’re using one, and if anything happens to you, they can also go and get help.

If the cat is particularly nervous, we wouldn’t suggest this option because chances are you could scare the cat even more, and it might even climb further up the tree.

tuxedo cat in the tree
Image Credit: bookwurmee, Pixabay

Call For Help

If none of the previous methods are feasible, the best option is to call for assistance. If the cat seems particularly distressed, you will want a professional. You can call an arborist, utility worker, or rescue group that specializes in retrieving animals. Unlike a scene from a movie, you cannot call the fire department or police to rescue your kitty.

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A cat is not designed for climbing down trees, and while they can climb them perfectly fine, getting back down can be challenging. We’ve examined a few techniques for getting the cats down, but when they’re stuck at the top of a massive tree, it’s best to call for professional help. However, some hungry cats may make more of an effort to get down if you tempt them with food.

Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock

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