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Why Do Cats Climb Trees?

A cat may climb a tree to get a better view of her surroundings.
Trees provide cats with a measure of safety from other predators, such as dogs.
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  • Written By: Jessica Ellis
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 September 2014
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There are several reasons why cats climb trees, mostly to do with predatory or defensive tactics. Cats, as predators, like to understand their environment well. As they are small animals, their scope of vision is considerably smaller than the outdoor environment of their yards or neighborhoods. Cats often climb trees to get a better view of their surroundings, to help them see any potential dangers or potential prey.

While cats are predators, they are also vulnerable to attacks from larger animals, such as dogs or even other cats. A tree often provides a safe hiding place, particularly from any annoyed canine that happens to be passing. In the wild, cats climb up trees to give them a resting or napping place that is out of predators’ range. It also helps disguise their presence, which can prevent any prey from noticing that there is a cat in the vicinity.

Sometimes, cats climb trees in response to noticing the inhabitants of upper branches: birds and squirrels. Frequently, a cat will be a little too excited by the possibility of a free-range meal and climb to precarious heights in pursuit of a tasty meal. This situation can result in serious unhappiness for the other animal, the cat, and the owner faced with getting his or her pet down from the top branches of a spruce, so a cat owner may want to consider taking preventative action the moment his or her cat approaches a likely tree.

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Some cats may climb trees for fun, on occasion, or possibly to work on improving their climbing abilities. Kittens frequently test out their claw skills by trying to climb up anything and everything, from bookcases to trees to a person's leg. Climbing practice is good for cats; it can improve their strength and flexibility and teach them an important defensive skill. To prevent them from practicing indoor climbing of your furniture, however, owners may wish to purchase a carpeted cat tree for climbing, and feel less guilty warning them away from the sofa.

If a cat has gotten up a tree and cannot get down, the owner may wonder why its remarkable climbing abilities only work in one direction. A cat’s claws curve inward, allowing it to grip onto surfaces while going up head first. Unfortunately, this useful climbing curve does nothing to help the animal get back down again. Eventually, most trapped kitties will either jump out of the tree or realize that they can get down by going tail first, slowly shimmying. Either way, a cat up a tree is usually nothing to panic about unless it is injured or disabled; they are intelligent animals and will figure out how to get down sooner or later.

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LisaLou
Post 22

@anon85388 -- That is interesting that a few breeds of cats actually climb down a tree head first. I have never seen this as all the cats I have ever owned have been farm cats. I have never had a cat get stuck up in a tree yet but I have seen them climb a lot of them.

We have a lot of critters running around our farm so even though our cats are used to this, there are times when they climb up a tree for safety. One of the biggest reasons I can think of is if a stray dog shows up. It's kind of fun to watch them shimmy down backward when they are ready to come down.

myharley
Post 21

I have seen my cat climb trees for a couple of reasons. He is a good hunter and loves to stalk the birds. I have seen him climb up a tree to go after a bird. He also enjoys climbing trees just for the fun of it.

We live on 3 acres of land and have several trees on our property. He loves to follow me down the lane to get the mail. Many times on the way back to the house, he will run across the yard, scurry up a tree and back down again just for the exercise and the fun of it.

It is fun watching him do this, especially since he is 13 years old and still has the agility and energy to do so. I have never had to rescue him from a tree, and he has been doing this since he was just a kitten.

andee
Post 20

It makes sense to me that cats like to climb trees to get a better view of their surroundings. My cat is an indoor/outdoor cat depending on what the weather is outside. Most of the time when she is in the house, she likes to be at a high perch so she could observe what is going on around her. It makes sense she would want to do the same thing when she is outside. It must make her feel safe and I think climbing up a tree would be a pretty safe place for a cat to hide.

sunshined
Post 19

@anon85455 -- My experience has also been that cats will come down from a tree on their own if you give them enough time. Once they become hungry enough, they will find a way to get down from the tree.

I have seen some cat owners panic and go to great lengths to rescue their cat out of a tree, sometimes putting themselves in harms way to do so. Once when my kitten climbed up a tree and wouldn't come down, I left her there overnight and in the morning she was on the front step. Sometime during the night she found a way to climb down out of the tree and she was happy to see me and ready to eat.

anon112149
Post 18

my cat was once missing for three days, and it turned out he was stuck in a tree. I guess he really was stuck. He was really hungry and thirsty when we got him down, so I think he was in real trouble.

anon85704
Post 17

I had a cat that used to climb up a tree to get on top of an attached garage. She would make it over to above my door, then cry for me to come and get her. Of course, I did, day and night. It was just a game with her.

There were actually several easy ways down, and one of my other cats would utilize these ways over and over while I was climbing up to get the cat, but I believe the cat just wanted to play the game. I really didn't mind, loved that cat!

anon85593
Post 15

Your article exemplifies the horrors a cat might face if some foolish human decides to declaw their cat. The argument these people make is: "It's going to be an indoor cat forever." Nice thought, but quite naive. Would you want to live with the pain of losing your pet in such a vicious way? Knowing your cat was left defenseless because you wanted to protect your furniture?

anon85465
Post 12

We opened a can of tuna fish so the cat could smell it. Came down from the 30ft tulip tree very quickly. I guess hunger overcame fear.

anon85455
Post 11

we had a tabby scaredy cat who from a kitten would climb way up into a tree and then cry to come down.

Too far up so we just had to wait it out.

I truly believe that the cat will work out how to come down alone - eventually. you just have to be patient. A much safer option for cat and humans than trying to get the cat down.

anon85441
Post 10

We found Albert in a culvert and brought him home to be an outside cat. After a week of taking him out of a tree every night, we relented and let him stay inside. I think he was just smarter than we were!

anon85432
Post 9

I was surprised to see a note that cats are intelligent. It is my belief that they are not very bright, especially compared to dogs.

What would an animal psychologist say? TB

anon85419
Post 7

Cats are evil creatures. If you think you own a cat, think again. They own you!

Cats have sinned too much. They feel the need to climb a tree trying to get closer to the creator. Perhaps then, they can have their heavenly pardon.

anon85388
Post 6

Norwegian Forest Cats are one of the few breeds that can climb down a tree head first due to their large paws and excellent sense of balance.

Their back legs are longer than their front legs.

anon81745
Post 5

Our cat chased a squirrel up a tree yesterday, actually going in circles up the tree as the squirrel was using evasive tactics. Never got the squirrel, and was quite way up in the tree, shimmied down backward to about 15 feet up and then just jumped. Couldn't believe how fast that cat climbed, right on the squirrel's tail.

anon61248
Post 3

My cat just climbed a 8' tall book shelf,and he fell at the top with books collapsing over him. He is climbing everything tall in my house too.

anon33984
Post 2

Oh this story sounds way too familiar!!!

Our 1 1/2 year old cat Britty climbed a very high oak tree in our yard. She was 20 feet in the air.

The problem was the lowest branch was probably 15'

from the ground.

My husband was at the end of the the double extension ladder trying to get her down. Then the fearless cat she is, saw a squirrel up in that tree. We got really worried then, squirrels can be vicious. I was throwing rocks at the squirrel. It was quite a fiasco. We got a stiff pillow from the house. My husband grabbed her collar & kind of pushed her into the pillow then brought her down.

Needless to say we haven't let her out since then.

anon19258
Post 1

I have a 5 year old male cat who just likes to climb trees. He will usually climb half way up or into a tree that's not too tall. Lately, he's climbed a couple of trees that were way too tall! He couldn't get down. He has a carrier & the 1st time he got stuck the fire dept wouldnt help as they were too busy. I waited 3 hours & the park staff finally climbed onto the back of a cart, held his carrier up to the tree and the cat jumped into his carrier. 1 week later, he did the same thing again on the same tree. Luckily, my 6'4" boyfriend was there and he did held up the carrier for the cat to jump down into. I can't get freak boy to stop climbing the tall tress! Any suggestions??? Owner of a tree climber

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