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I have two cats that can't seem to come down from their high (~20') perches inside a wooden barn. How can I get them down?

The frame of the barn consists of large (~12x12 inch) vertical and horizontal beams. The vertical beams are spaced at about four feet. Over the last few days, they've worked their way up near the top.

I'm not certain they haven't been down, since I have another (ground based) cat running around, but the overall food consumption indicates they have not been eating and their positions haven't changed for over 24 hours now.

Recently, I put boards near their perches that lead to a lower levels. And I've put food on those boards, about 1-3 feet below their current positions.

My ladders will reach anywhere but I'm afraid I could knock them down if I try to grab them. I've recently put food about one foot below one of them and about three feet below the other.

Background: I recently adopted/rescued/?? three feral cats from a county sponsored program (chipped/snipped/clipped). I didn't expect them to be very friendly, but two are terrified of people. The terrestrial cat is quite social as long as you don't try to touch him. After the prescribed three weeks in crates in the barn, I released them. The two immediately started climbing the walls. The other tries desperately to get stepped on.

Update: I placed food and water right next to them and they have both eaten a little. One is looking better and getting around some (still staying 12+ feet up). The other still seems a little lethargic but has moved to a less precarious position. I feel like can manage it now. I think they went about three days without food or water. So in the end, I think both answers I received were important. I gave them an easy way to get down via boards at a reasonable slope, and I put food right next to them, which I've subsequently moved a little further away. It may be a while before they get to the ground again, but I think we'll get there eventually.

Another Update: It turns out that the terrestrial cat is quite territorial and would not allow the others near the ground. Moved him to a different part of the barn and one of the high-up cats started coming down to visit. But he would chase the other high-up if she came down lower. It's a mess.

  • I second spraying them with a hose. They'll be fine. And they'll probably never go up there again. – Jason C Aug 17 '19 at 15:20
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    The only thing about using a hose is that I'm trying to convince them that this is their new home. Being sprayed out of their safe perch might discourage that notion. – user7264855 Aug 17 '19 at 21:35
  • I sort of missed that they were new. They could just be hanging out up there because it's safe and they want to be sure it's safe. In that case eventually they'll come down, just leave food and water where they can see it and be patient. It's not uncommon at all for cats to hide or camp out for a good amount of time when put in a new environment before they are confortable enough to explore. Even highly domesticated and well adjusted cats are cautious creatures. – Jason C Aug 18 '19 at 19:32
  • If you have a ladder you could even go up there and give them water or spend time with them to show them you're cool. I wouldn't put food up there though. If they want food they're gonna have to come get it, that's the deal, lol. Rest assured they aren't stuck though. When the need outweighs their fear they will come down, if they're not sneaking down already. They don't need rescued, they need reassured. – Jason C Aug 18 '19 at 19:33
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You mentioned having a ladder that will "reach anywhere;" lean the ladder against the beam near them at a reasonable angle, brace it in place, and leave. Cats are capable of going up and down ladders and can use it to return to the ground if they truly are having trouble, and it will give you some peace of mind as well.

It's largely easier for cats to go up than down, and sometimes they can get "stuck," but generally they will find their way down after a while. Giving them an additional option for climbing down from their perch will help insure that they're able to safely return to the ground on their own time, and if they are indeed stuck it's likely they won't go back up again once they're down.

  • Hopefully you are right. One ladder has been in place for a couple of days now. But if I were a cat, I'd take the wide wood beams that I could sink my claws in. Not the widely spaced and rounded aluminum rungs. – user7264855 Aug 14 '19 at 23:23
  • @user7264855 the main difference is that, with a reasonably angled ladder, the cat can go down head-first and easily see where they're going. Because of the shape of their claws, going down a wooden beam is tricky and leaves them unable to see what's below them. – Allison C Aug 14 '19 at 23:44
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    @user7264855: The "cat in tree" cliché occurs because domestic cats can use their nails to climb upwards, but their nails don't work downwards as the "hook" of the nail is in the wrong direction. Wild tree-climbing cats (panther, leopard) have toes that can bend enough so the claws still work climbing downwards. Domestic cats aren't idiots and will generally not climb trees because they know they can't get down, but when panicked or too focused on prey they can forget it. – Flater Oct 15 '19 at 10:25
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They should come down on their own when they get hungry enough.

I have one similar experience with this situation. We had to get a cat out of a tree from probably 15 feet up that wouldn't come down. I called the fire dept. who told me they don't do cat-in-a-tree rescues despite what the children's books have told me. They advised me (this was not my idea) to spray it with a hose and it would "run right down the tree."

So we sprayed it and after only a couple of seconds it did indeed run straight down that tree, leaping the last 5 feet to the ground. It was fine. I'm not advising this, just sharing what worked for us.

  • I'm just worried about how long they'll survive without food. At some point, they may not have the strength to get down. It has been three days now. – user7264855 Aug 14 '19 at 1:12
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    @user7264855 I'd be more worried about water. You write you've put food up for them, but do they have access to water on their high perch as well? In general, though, I agree with Headblender that your cats should be very well capable of climbing down on their own, especially if they were feral and learned to climb from young age. – Elmy Aug 14 '19 at 6:54
  • @user7264855 For humans it's three days without water and three weeks without food. – Reinstate Monica - M. Schröder Aug 14 '19 at 22:07
  • I don't know for certain that they were outside cats. They could have been inside with a cat hoarder. They have not eaten any of the food that has been near them. Can't tell about the water. – user7264855 Aug 14 '19 at 23:18
  • Do you have a security camera or a trail cam (game cam) that you can use? You'd at least know if they come down to eat/drink and then go back up. – Headblender Aug 15 '19 at 16:46

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