Cats in the heating ducts
September 21, 2010 2:59 PM   Subscribe

Our cat made it's way in to the heating duct in our apartment building in Brooklyn, and now she's missing. Help! What do we do?

We can't be the only ones this has happened to. I've had a contractor to the apartment to start disassembling the ducts in the basement, but we have neither been able to find nor hear the cat. We did find the spot where she landed, and she wasn't there - so she walked away from the fall. (We live on the top floor of a brownstone in Brooklyn - it's a 4-story fall). But I don't know if she was injured in the fall and is no longer mobile, or if she's just hiding somewhere, terrified.

I've been to the local firehouse, but they can't help without destroying the heater. I'm on hold with Animal Care and Control now. Can anyone advise?
posted by fingers_of_fire to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Japanese Shaved Bonito flakes, a/k/a - Kitty Crack.

Or just open a can of tuna. Place by duct opening. Wait.

Good luck!
posted by jbenben at 3:06 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Some of the advice in this thread might be helpful. Good luck.
posted by enn at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2010

I put out some food, I'll definitely try tuna.

Does anyone have experience with cats falling such a distance?
posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:10 PM on September 21, 2010

... and this is probably obvious, but as far as the workmen go... the construction noise may scare the cat further. I'm sure the fall was pretty freaky.

Try waiting alone by the duct opening with tuna enticement. Give it a little time, at least a half hour.
posted by jbenben at 3:12 PM on September 21, 2010

Well, first thing, have you cut off the power to the blower? I wouldn't just rely on the thermostat, I'd turn the blower completely off. Flip the breaker that runs it, if it doesn't have an obvious power on/off switch. Then I would definitely try food near an opening. Start with whatever the smelliest flavor of cat food (that your cat likes) is you can find. If your cat likes seafood, canned mackerel or herring are IMO even smellier than tuna.

You may just need to wait overnight. I've had cats disappear into walls and crawlspaces and they always came out on their own, although sometimes it was definitely on their own schedule and at their own convenience.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:13 PM on September 21, 2010

Have you put up fliers (even hand printed) in the building lobby with your cell phone number in case someone hears / sees something?
posted by bottlebrushtree at 3:20 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

there are only 2 other families, so they all know what's going on.

Trying tuna know.

I'm not much of a DIY guy, so I'm a little confused by your advice, Kadin - will there be an obvious switch?

This happened at around 10:30 this morning, but for much of the time since then we've been tinkering in the basement looking for her.

Also, she's a very skittish cat, generally scared by everything on a GOOD day - so even if I can find her, it's not clear how I'll get her out of the basement and back in our apartment.

Thanks for the responses, everyone.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 3:25 PM on September 21, 2010

Please stop tinkering.

Just sit quietly. Alone. With smelly cat food and a book.


True Story:

One of my cats went missing in the crawl space under my ex-MIL's house after a disaster at my old apartment. For like, 4 months or something. They put food out, food would get eaten. But no cat! My MIL started hiding kitty prozac in the food hoping that would improve things. I was out of the country at the time... Boy was I pissed off at all of them for being so fucking stupid. (No offense to you, btw!)

Finally, I threaten my ex and told him if he didn't set up a cot in the basement and sleep down there waiting for the cat, I would fly home and murderize him.

The ex spent one night in the basement. Cat was sleeping in his arms by first light the next day. Yes. It really was that simple in the end. 4 months later. Idiots.


I'm sure the fall has you worried, but spend quiet time near a likely duct opening and wait. Be patient. Create calm and safety.

Start tearing the place apart tomorrow if you must.

Let us know how it turns out!
posted by jbenben at 3:39 PM on September 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

Does anyone have experience with cats falling such a distance?

By some perverse law of the universe, falls from higher stories are actually better for cats because it gives them more time to orient themselves for the fall and then relax their muscles, with the optimal height being about six stories. That article mentions a 90% survival rate from falls from 2 - 32 stories, so there is probably an excellent chance that kitty is just fine and will show up quietly as if nothing had ever happened.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:47 PM on September 21, 2010

Sometimes it's the sound of the "food" rather than just the smell that might lead the way. When I was a kid our cat got lost in our building's air conditioner duct. The cat loved licking bowls when we were done eating ice cream and would always come running when she heard spoons clinking against the bowl. Replicating this sound near the duct opening helped her find her way out. If there's a similar sound (opening of cat food can, etc) that attracts your cat then maybe try that as well.
posted by General Zubon at 3:49 PM on September 21, 2010

jbenben has it -- cats are generally freaked out by people who are actively searching for them, but will come out once the hubbub dies down. Set up a chair or something down there, put out a can of tuna, call her as casually as you can, and then read a book. Tell everyone not to disturb you. Hopefully she will come out once she feels safe.
posted by vorfeed at 4:01 PM on September 21, 2010 [1 favorite]

Food, light and water at the opening. We had this happen at my mother's house - catsitting for friends, and their crabby, mean, antisocial cat who only liked the female of the family who owned them snuck into a heater vent. So we took a panel off the ducts down in the basement, put food and water there, and the lady came over frequently and stood on a step ladder calling to the cat. It took about three days, but eventually he ranged near enough for her to get a grip.

and you know, that cat underwent a complete personality change, afterwards. It couldn't get enough of people, there was not an ankle left unrubbed or a lap left empty when it was around. ;)
posted by lemniskate at 4:31 PM on September 21, 2010

We couldn't find my cat for about eight hours after I moved. She had darted into the opening where you can turn on/off the water connected to my bathroom, so eventually we found that she was stuck in the wall between the bathtub. I was worried sick and in the process of moving. We left food outside the opening, but it went uneaten. I sat there and waited for her. But it wasn't until everyone else had left and it was just me and my boyfriend eating dinner that she came out, eleven hours later.

Like everyone else is saying, just be patient and try to keep the place as normal-sounding as possible. I'm sure she's fine.
posted by shesdeadimalive at 5:03 PM on September 21, 2010

Don't know how your heating ducts work, but we had several kittens fall into a heating duct when I was a kid. We tied together a bunch of socks and lowered it down the vent. They grabbed on and we pulled them up.
posted by Schmucko at 5:40 PM on September 21, 2010 [4 favorites]

By some perverse law of the universe, falls from higher stories are actually better for cats
For regular open-air falls, yes, but for a cat tumbling and scrabbling down a duct, not necessarily.

Which is not to say that you should be terrified that the cat's horribly injured and suffering in a muddy ditch somewhere. They're surprisingly durable little animals. And they will indeed often actively attempt to avoid people looking for them and being all noisy and active - the reason why cats seem to pick the person who hates cats to sit on is that everyone else is going "here, kitty! Pss pss pss!" and patting their lap, while the cat-hater sits still silently and thus looks like a much more peaceful place to sleep.

Do put up some signs, though. It's entirely unremarkable for a "lost" cat to have found itself a new family, or at least to be living on some other pet's outdoor food.
posted by dansdata at 7:32 PM on September 21, 2010

Please update.
posted by desjardins at 7:59 AM on September 22, 2010

hey everyone, thanks for your concern. No signs from our cat Scarlett yet. The food went untouched overnight, and no one in the building reported hearing anything. I spent some quiet time down there, but neither heard nor saw anything. Still, thanks to all the anecdotal evidence from y'all, we're not giving up hope yet. Animal Control was here earlier, and they left a humane trap, so for now I'm just trying to stay away from the basement in the hopes that she'll get hungry and find the food.

One of the frustrating things is that I don't even know for sure that she's in the basement - I'm certain she's not in my apartment, and the heating duct is the only way I can think of that she got out. But I could be wrong about that, or she could have found some other way out of the basement after the fall. Assuming she is in the basement, I still worry that she's hurt and unable or unwilling to make any noise, thus hampering my ability to help her - in other words, maybe leaving her alone and giving her space is the exact WRONG thing to do.

Scarlett belongs to my girlfriend - she moved in to my apartment in May because we're in a long-distance relationship, and my gf has been (and hopefully will continue to be) spending more time here than in her own home - made more sense for the cat to be here too. I bring it up because I've only really known the cat for about 4 months. She may not trust the sound of my voice enough to know that it's safe for her to come out. She even gets scared when my gf needs to get to her - eg, to get her to the vet, to brush her little cat-teeth, etc.

Other lingering questions: if she is in the heating system and/or the furnace, at some point we'll need to USE the heat - how to deal with her then? Assuming the worst, will we need to disassemble the heating system in order to find her?

Anyway, that's the latest. Again, many thanks for your concern and attention.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 10:31 AM on September 22, 2010

You've probably done this, but I won't be able to sleep tonight if I don't suggest that you open and check all your dresser drawers or any cabinets that may have been open and then shut. I know someone who shut her cat into a dresser drawer accidentally and the cat sitter spent four days searching for her fruitlessly, before her faint meows were heard over the general noises of the apartment.
posted by Brody's chum at 5:25 PM on September 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

Did Scarlett ever turn up?
posted by jocelmeow at 11:32 AM on March 3, 2011

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