cat in tree freezing
January 31, 2014 8:20 PM   Subscribe

We moved yesterday. Our indoor cat hasn't used her litter or food all day. There is something cat-shaped with glowing eyes in a tree in our backyard about 30 ft up. It is below freezing (Arlington MA). What do we do? The local fire department says they don't do cats. I've been on hold with the emergency line for Angell Memorial for 5 min.
posted by nonane to Pets & Animals (37 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Get a flashlight and verify it is in fact your cat up there. Try to coax the cat down. Put food and water at the bottom of the tree. Check on the cat periodically. Let the cat in in the morning if it doesn't come down before then. The cat's not going to die from one cold night outside.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 8:26 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

if i understand the question correctly, the thing in the tree is not OP's cat. cats can get down from things they climbed just fine, otherwise, you would occasionally see cat skeletons up trees and utility poles.
posted by bruce at 8:30 PM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

I think the OP is saying they believe their cat is up in a tree outside, but it's a little unclear to me.

Arlington has an animal control officer, webpage here. It's outside their normal hours, but they list an emergency number that you could try.

They may be willing to help you - it's not 100% clear from their description of services, but they also provide a list of numbers for commercial animal control outfits that might also be able to help.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 8:31 PM on January 31, 2014

Cats like to hide inside when they move, so if you're not sure your cat is outside maybe also try loudly opening food or otherwise trying to coax it out inside just in case it's under a couch or something.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:32 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

It would help if you would clarify whether your concern is that your cat is up in the tree, or just that some other cat is up in the tree.

Either way, though, have you tried holding up tuna or some wet cat food in the cat's general direction?
posted by jaguar at 8:32 PM on January 31, 2014

Maybe also put a box outside with a sweater or blanket that has your scent, in case it comes down from the tree or is somewhere else outside, and is looking for a place to keep warm for the night.
posted by three_red_balloons at 8:34 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi, we think it's our cat but aren't sure -- our flashlights aren't strong enough to reach up that high, all we see is eye reflections. I've called every number on the Arlington animal control page and left messages. We've rattled food everywhere inside and outside during the day and at night today.
posted by nonane at 8:34 PM on January 31, 2014

A wildlife removal service like this one would likely have the tools and know-how to grab a cat out of a tree. They often have weekend/emergency hours, as well.
posted by nobejen at 8:37 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

This sounds like a really stressful situation; I'm sorry. But just to set your mind at rest, your cat is not going to freeze. Below freezing temperatures are exactly what fur evolved for. If it starts feeling too cold, the cat will come down from the tree and look for someplace warmer, e.g. your house. It's not an ideal state of affairs, but you don't have anything to be seriously worried about.
posted by zeri at 9:03 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

If you have a cat crate or other smallish box, put it at the bottom of the tree lined with a towel or blanket. You might also leave out some food, but that might just be wild animal bait, and you might want her hungry in the morning if you think she'll be skittish about coming inside--you can hopefully lure her in with breakfast.

But give the cat a place to go to where it can curl up warmly, and given time and quiet, she'll probably find her way to it. Most likely, your cat is up the tree and kind of freaked out, and just needs some time to un-freak and make her way down. It's normal to worry at a time like this, but in my experience the cat pretty much always works it out.
posted by not that girl at 9:04 PM on January 31, 2014

For a few weeks here, the temperature was getting down into the low 20s at night. My cats are indoor cats, but my landlord/neighbor has two outdoor cats, and he left them outside even when the temps were that low. I eventually set up a warm place for them to sleep, but they survived and thrived even with the below-freezing temperatures.
posted by jaguar at 9:07 PM on January 31, 2014

One thing that won't work is standing under the tree shining lights at the cat. Even lifelong indoor cats can get down from a tree. Leave food by the door with along with clothes or bedding that smell like you and wait for the mewing at the door.
posted by birdherder at 9:08 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Hi folks, thanks for all the answers. Finding an extremely strong flashlight and binoculars revealed that it was a raccoon in the tree, so we're back to square one in finding kitty -- still not sure if she's indoors or out, but it's not her in the tree.
posted by nonane at 9:10 PM on January 31, 2014 [11 favorites]

Thank god you didn't let a horrid raccoon into the house!

Did you check inside the box spring? Inside the couch? Cats often tear open that flimsy fabric along the bottom of couches, chairs and beds to climb up/inside. Whenever I can't find my cat, he's in the box spring.
posted by cranberrymonger at 9:20 PM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Check around the house's foundation, especially under any bushes near the house; a lot of indoor cats dash just out the door and then freeze in a good hiding place by the foundation. If you don't see her there, you're not going to find her outdoors in the dark, so you have two options. You can search each room really thoroughly and seal them off as you go (depends on how open your floor plan is and may be futile with everything freshly moved), or you can go to bed, which I realize is next to impossible, but the cat is almost certainly hiding in some weird corner of the house you're not going to be able to find, and isn't going to come out until she has a chance to unfreak, and you guys searching the house is not helping her unfreak. Leave a few lights on in the hallways so the cat can see and won't get lost.

When you find the cat in the morning (which you almost certainly will), close her in a bathroom or bedroom, with all her necessities, for a day or two. (Obviously visit her. It can be your bedroom if she usually sleeps with you and you don't mind the litter.) Cats usually explore new places a bit at a time, and giving her a chance to get to know a single room thoroughly while getting used to the sounds and smells of the new house will help her feel safe and relax faster. Make sure there's something she can hide in or under. Then after a couple days open the door to that room and let her gradually explore the house, at her own pace. (Sometimes they like it better if you just open the door cat-width instead of all the way, so they feel stealthier sneaking through.) After a week or so you can move the food and litter to their "real" locations. It may take six weeks for the cat to stop being a hiding ghost cat, and it may take six months for her to really settle down. (She may be fine after four days, totally depends on her temperament, but don't freak if it takes her weeks to settle in and be herself.)

It is not at all unusual for cats who've just been moved to refuse the food and litter for 24 hours.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:33 PM on January 31, 2014 [5 favorites]

Really, really don't underestimate the abilities of cats to hide in the strangest places. Once, after moving, we managed to locate a cat *inside a roll of carpet* in the basement.
posted by linettasky at 9:40 PM on January 31, 2014 [13 favorites]

is there any chance your cat may have gone back to your old home?

if your cat is indeed outside, please take note that when it's cold out sometimes cats will crawl up into areas of cars because of remaining warmth... so if by chance the cat is hanging around your garage or driveway, bang on the hood of your car a few times to wake the cat up if he/she is sleeping under there, to give them a chance to get out before you start the engine.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 9:51 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

There is about a 99% chance the cat is in the house. I have moved with a cat close to a dozen times; they are amazingly able to hide their presence. Leave out water and food, try to calm down so that your stress is not stressing out the cat, and wait it out a bit.
posted by jaguar at 9:54 PM on January 31, 2014 [4 favorites]

Is your new house an old house? I found my cat inside the floor because there was a missing floorboard in one of the closets. (He was retrieved unharmed, through the basement ceiling because he wouldn't go back the way he came.)
posted by desjardins at 10:13 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

Unless you have a particular reason to believe Kitty could have gotten outside, like a door was left open unattended for a while, it's virtually certain that she's hiding somewhere inside. Try leaving food bowls and litter boxes in as many different areas of the house as possible - even if you can't find her for a few days it's highly likely that she'll come out for a bit when the house is quiet and you'll be able to tell from the food/litter that she IS actually inside, which should ease your mind. I've known cats to disappear in the house for several days during a move or stressful time.
posted by storminator7 at 10:20 PM on January 31, 2014 [2 favorites]

I believe more than one Mefites have found their missing cat in the lining of the underside of the sofa, similar to cranberrymonger's suggestion above.
posted by AnnaRat at 10:50 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

I once couldn't find our cat for days in a new place, but the food we left out was being eaten at night. I looked everywhere. I could not find her. She was like a ghost cat. I finally caught her red-handed jumping on top of the fridge and behind the kitchen cabinets to get to her hiding place in the space above the cabinets. I didn't even know we had a space behind or above the cabinets. Cats are crazy good at hiding. Don't worry!
posted by troyer at 10:51 PM on January 31, 2014 [1 favorite]

They can climb up in recliners, too, not just sofas. That was the favorite place of our (now passed on) DollyCat.

One of the favorite hiding places around here is on lower bookshelves, on top of whatever is on the shelf... it's amazing how flat they can squish themselves into the little tiny spaces between the books and the shelf, and they're impossible to see unless you're closer to the floor than usual.
posted by stormyteal at 11:02 PM on January 31, 2014

FWIW, I once saw my large 14lb female cat squeeze herself through a space about 3 inches high. I would never have believed it if I hadn't seen it. Definitely look in places you think she can't get to. Same cat likes to jump in an open drawer and drop down the back into a bottom drawer (or climb up into a top drawer) - stuff like that. She'll also burrow her way into comforters/cushion/anything cave like. She's there... somewhere!

We moved recently, and ours spent some time hiding too - found'em buried in boxes of clothes in the back of our closet. One of the first things her brother post-hiding did was demonstrate that there's a crawl space behind our built-in kitchen cabinets that he can get to from the top of the refrigerator. We never would have known it was there, or known where he went (well, we've blocked it now).

(And before anyone asks, our cats are just genuinely really large for a house cat... they're vet-certified healthy.)

Also, if your cat is black or a dark tortie... look everywhere again. Our girl is a tortie and is pretty much invisible unless she wants found. Her brilliantly orange brother... easy. Good luck!
posted by jrobin276 at 1:24 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the comments and suggestions; I got a little sleep, then checked all around the inside and outside of the house around dawn, including mattresses and sofa undersides and bushes outside, but no luck. Food and litter are still untouched. I can't find anywhere on the inside or outside of the house where she could get outside, but that seems likely since she hasn't been coming out at all. We're really worried because she hasn't done this before in previous moves, and because when we brought her in Thursday night she spent several hours exploring everything unskittishly, ate food and found the litter, and spent part of the night sleeping on our feet, so it seems weird that she would completely disappear inside the house later.
posted by nonane at 4:03 AM on February 1, 2014

Is there any chance she's in one of your moving boxes? My cat once got into one of those boxes with the interleaved top flaps, and then he couldn't get back out because the flaps flex inwards.

Hope you find your little lass soon!
posted by Georgina at 5:00 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you had a big move with boxes and people coming in she might have gotten scared and decided to hide. How long is she missing, like 24-36 hours? Cats can tough it out for days in hiding places.

Check everywhere. Behind the stove and other kitchen appliances, the space underneath the bathtub if there is any, down in the basement etc. Cats are amazingly talented at squeezing into tight spaces.

Crawl around your house if you have to to identify hiding spots she would see from her perspective.

Now, if you had a big move and many people were going in and out and you believe she could have walked outside:
hang up flyers in your neighborhood, talk to your immediate neighbors, call up vets and the shelter/rescue orgs in your area and follow up by sending them an email with a picture of your cat and a detailed description. Is she chipped?
As a last step, alert your old neighbors in your old neighborhood. But really, most cats that get lost in stressful situations just hide in a nearby spot. One of my cats once escaped and made it as far as the basement next door. She was fine and now 10+yrs later still is. Nowadays she never strays far from the house.
Good luck!
posted by travelwithcats at 5:00 AM on February 1, 2014

Nthing that it's very likely that she may be somewhere in the house. If a cat wants to hide, it can be extremely difficult to find. Our dear departed Dizzy disappeared at my Dad's house within minutes of our arrival there to ride out a hurricane, and we were unable to find him when it was time to return home. The next day, I got the call that Dad heard some rustling behind his dishwasher. The cat had opened the cupboard and wiggled his way through the cutout for the plumbing, and even though he couldn't turn around to get himself out, he hadn't made a peep. We had to pull out the dishwasher to get him out of there.

A few years later, we hosted Thanksgiving, and the cat disappeared when all the guests arrived. Someone had left the front door wide open, and the cat was in none of his usual hiding spots. I ended up missing dinner and crawling under every deck and several crawlspaces on my block before giving up. Later, the cat popped out from behind some drawers in my office that seemed physically impossible for him to have gotten behind.
posted by gimli at 6:36 AM on February 1, 2014

My cat has hidden in standing wardrobes, furnace duct work, the dishwasher and the box springs of my mattress. Good luck.
posted by Majorita at 7:20 AM on February 1, 2014

Is there any way you can get the house really really quiet and then listen for her? Turn off or unplug all the appliances, the furnace, pull curtains over the windows to block outside noises, that kind of thing? The fact that she was fine at first and is now missing makes me think she was exploring and got stuck somewhere. If you can get the house really quiet and then try softly calling or making some other noise she's responded to in the past (shaking a container of treats, or opening a can of food, maybe?) you might hear her answer you or at least make some rustling noises.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 7:44 AM on February 1, 2014

The Animal Rescue League of Boston will respond to a call for help for getting a cat out of a tree. Or at least, four years ago, when I faced similar situation in Malden, and had called everyone else I could think of, I called them, and they sent us a guy with a ladder.

The cat in question is five feet away right now (she was a four month old kitten at the time who had been dumped in a cemetery).
posted by instead of three wishes at 7:54 AM on February 1, 2014

Hmmm. Okay, I jumped to the end too fast, because I wanted to get this answer out, and didn't see it was a raccoon! Still useful if you have a cat and ever find yourself in this situation around here, because the Fire Departments no longer have the human-power to help out.
posted by instead of three wishes at 7:56 AM on February 1, 2014

When we moved my cat here from Los Angeles, he looked around unskittishly for a while. Then he met roommate's cat and completely disappeared for a full day. We thought he had somehow gotten out, but he had somehow managed to squish himself under a dresser instead. Since he was black, we didn't see him til we crawled around on the floor looking under stuff with a flashlight. To get out of there, he had to crab-crawl on his belly and sort of drag himself out, which is how small of a space it was.

So basically, the cat could totally be hiding somewhere inside. Look inside places you don't think she could possibly fit.
posted by bedhead at 9:00 AM on February 1, 2014

Is there anywhere high up that she potentially could have fit in if she felt like hiding but had trouble getting back out again? Where I used to live, we had some exposed spaces that one could access from the basement but that required a pretty big jump down; we had to block them off so the cats couldn't keep getting up there.

The good thing is that usually if they're really stuck they'll eventually start hollering for help. (See also: the several times I have accidentally shut my cat in a drawer I didn't know she was sleeping in.)
posted by Sequence at 9:04 AM on February 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

Check closed drawers and closets. my cat went missing for two days and was curled up in the linen closet.
posted by Gungho at 10:00 AM on February 1, 2014

Response by poster: Just as most everyone reassured us, Ada was hiding in the house; about half an hour ago we started hearing occasional yowling, and managed to track her down in a crawlspace barely accessible by squeezing under the basement stairs. My husband managed to grab her by the scruff and haul her upstairs to a more closed room.

Thank you everyone for sharing your stories and advice!
posted by nonane at 5:20 PM on February 1, 2014 [17 favorites]

Yay! Welcome back, Ada!

Also, in the future, if you include the fact that she's a calico, we can all be even more emphatic that she's really probably fine and just being difficult.
posted by jaguar at 7:05 PM on February 1, 2014 [4 favorites]

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