Here’s Why Cats Can’t Get Down from Trees

Hangai Lilla

2024. June 28 - Photos: Getty Images Hungary

Our furry friends are famous for their acrobatic abilities and agility. They can almost turn into liquid to squeeze through a narrow gap, but their prowess stops short when it comes to getting down from a tree. This shortcoming, however, isn't due to clumsiness!


In the following, we’ll explain why a cat can struggle to come down from a tree and briefly discuss how you can help it. As a bonus, since we love wild cats, we’ll introduce a fascinating creature that can climb down trees head-first thanks to its unique ability.

Houston, we have a problem.

Here’s Why Cats Can’t Get Down from Trees

It’s a twist of fate, a quirk of evolution, that while cats can climb trees with astonishing ease, coming down is quite a challenge for them. Even if they don’t get stuck among the branches, their descent is anything but effortless. Several physical traits contribute to their difficulty in maintaining their usual grace in this situation.

Cats walk like camels or giraffes – uniquely among animals, they step first with their right hind leg, then the right front leg, followed by the left hind leg and finally the left front leg, and so on. This makes it difficult for them to coordinate their front and back legs while climbing down. Their inward-curving claws, which help them grip when climbing up, become a hindrance when coming down because they can’t hook into surfaces effectively. Additionally, their front legs bend inward towards the back legs and are also weaker. If that weren’t enough, neither their front nor back paws can turn inward like a squirrel’s, making it hard for them to grasp the surface they are trying to descend.

How to Help a Cat Stuck in a Tree

We’ve all heard charming stories about firefighters rescuing cats stuck in trees or on utility poles. But before you call for their help, consider the situation for a moment. Dispatching them takes time and money. So let’s respect their resources by first trying safe alternatives to bring the cat down ourselves or patiently waiting if possible. Emphasis on “safe.”

However, if the cat is stuck on a utility pole, we strongly recommend calling professionals. One small mistake during a rescue attempt could lead to very bad outcomes.

If the cat is stuck in a tree, and you can manage without climbing up, stick to that method. Try to help it with a ramp, creating an easier path for it. Alternatively, you can extend a box or a crate it can jump into so you can then lower it. Sometimes, a tempting treat might be enough motivation for the cat to climb or jump down. If none of these methods work, you might attempt to climb up using a ladder to bring the cat down by hand. However, we strongly urge you not to risk your own safety! Climbing a tree is not advisable, as you can’t be sure if the branch will hold. Getting stuck yourself would only make matters worse and could lead to injury.

If you believe professional help is necessary, contact a local animal rescue organization before dialing the fire department for assistance.

The Wildcat That Climbs Down Trees Head-First

The margay is one of our favorite wildcats. One of its amazing abilities – among many – is that its paws can rotate 180 degrees. It allows the cat to grip branches and climb down head-first.

How the margay climbs upside down

The margay spends most of its life in trees, hunting birds and monkeys with this unique technique. Only one other wildcat, the clouded leopard, shares this ability, making both of them the most adept climbers in the cat family.

cat movement dangers outside the cat climbs the tree

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