There may be an ongoing joke that you can buy a large, expensive cat tree for your cat, and they'll be more than happy to just enjoy the box, but the truth is a little more uplifting. Cat trees are fantastic tools, a combination of exercise machine and vantage point that makes for a wonderful addition to any home with a cat. In fact, you may want more than one cat tree, depending on your circumstances.
Luckily, it goes beyond the cute pictures you get of your cat perched up on the highest surface or giving them a vantage point to look out the windows. Cat trees can actually have a bunch of beneficial effects on the health and well-being of your cat, and you!
Cats are naturally independent, and while they aren't necessarily solitary,they do like to have their own personal space. This might be a space on a shelf they like to crawl into, a dark gap under a bed they sneak into, or another nook or cranny in the house. But it might also be on the cat tree.
One of the biggest benefits of a cat tree is its height. You might notice that your fur baby likes to spend their time perched way up top, as high as they can get. That's because cats naturally tend to like high, tall places.
The "cat in a tree" isn't stuck up there; they're surveying their domain.
"These benefits aren't just theoretical: there's research to back them up. "One study of cats living in a research facility showed that adding shelving units to their living space reduced anti-social behavior among the cats," Dr. Conrad explains.
When you consider all the ways a tree can enrich your cat's space, this should come as no surprise. "Encouraging appropriate play and providing safe spaces reduces aggression between cats—and toward their humans," agrees Dr. Taylor." - Rover.
Height brings security with it. Many predators aren't going to climb a tree after them, they can see threats or prey approaching from a vantage point, and it helps minimize their blind spots. While most of that isn't actually applicable to a cat living in the comfort of your home, it's still going to mimic the benefits they feel in nature, and that's often enough.
2: It Can Work as a Scratching Post
Scratching is a natural behavior cats indulge in every day. They do it to mark their territory, both by making visible scratches on a surface and by spreading small scents that emanate from their precious little toe beans. They also do it as part of self-care; scratching will break bits of nail away and keep their claws both sharp and short. If a claw grows too long, it can make it hard for them to walk, and in extreme cases, it can even curl back in and become painful!
Scratching at a scratching post is a great habit for a cat to get into, as well. They're goingto scratch, pretty much no matter what; it's just a matter of whatthey scratch. You can train them to scratch a scratching post or other designated object rather than scratching at the furniture, the doorframes, or some other object you really don't want to be torn to shreds.
Most of the best cat trees have wrapping or a "shell" that serves excellently as a scratching post. They may or may not be replaceable, but chances are, it's going to take a long while before your cat does enough damage to a cat tree to make it unstable or topple and break.
Note: scratching is also a form of stress relief. It works in a couple of ways; to your cat, it feels good, and it works out some of their stress and frustration. Cats also like to be surrounded by their own scent, so scent-marking things around them makes them feel more comfortable. In times of stress, you might see your cat scratching more; that's not a bad thing.
3: It Gives Them Another Great Way to Stretch
When you get up in the morning, what's one of the first things you do? For many people, it's a big yawn and a big stretch. For cats, too, waking up from a nap means uncurling from a probably awkward position, and they want to stretch themselves out.
While the familiar paws-stretched, butt-up position is a typical stretch for a cat, they might also want to work some other muscles, and a nice tall stretch up a cat tree can help a lot as well.
4: Distance and Usable Space
I already mentioned that cats love to be up high, but there's another reason why that vertical space is beneficial. Two, actually!
The first is that it helps your cat get some distance between them and something that may be bothering them. Maybe it's the Roomba, tooling around their living area. Maybe it's a child who just wants to pet the kitty and doesn't know how to recognize the body language saying, "Leave me alone." Maybe it's another cat, and they're getting into conflict over space, and one needs to step away for a moment.
Whatever the case is, when one cat can hop to the top of the cat tree and hang out, they're in a defensible position where they can be free from disturbance, at least for a little while.
The second reason applies most to smaller homes, apartments, condos, and other living spaces without a lot of extra space. A cat tree helps make more "room" in your room by giving more vertical space for your cat to hang out. To you, it's just an object; to your cat, it's a whole dimension of extra space to play around in, hang out on, and explore. It's enriching, it's fulfilling, and it's a brilliant investment.
You might notice that your fur baby likes to get into trouble by hopping up onto counters, desks, bookshelves, the top of the fridge, the top of the cupboards, and anything else they can reach. That's the same deal. By giving them a nice, tall cat tree to spend time on, you might even be able to cut back on them getting into places you don't want them.
5: Safe Feeding
This one might not be applicable, depending on your household.
So, do you have more than one cat, or a cat and a dog? If so, there's a chance that your cat, or one of your cats, is being bullied. One of the most common ways this happens is when a cat goes to eat, and another critter decides they want in on that lunch. Dogs, ravenous cuddle-beasts that they are, can easily scarf up a cat's bowl of food in just a few seconds if they have half a mind to do it. Another cat might want more and might bully the first cat away from the food dish.
This is why experts recommend that each animal have their own feeding bowl and, in some cases, feeding location. It doesn't matter where you put the bowls if all the animals congregate there, but if each has their own space, it's easier to be left alone.
A cat tree can make for a safer space for one cat to be fed. They can get up high where a dog can't follow, and they can have their designated space where another cat might not dare to tread.
Of course, this also runs the risk of one cat being bullied away from the cat tree, but hey, then you can just get a second cat tree to put somewhere else. One food bowl, onelitter box, and one cat tree per cat. Seems reasonable to me!
What to Look for in a Good Cat Tree
So, if you're convinced that you should have a cat tree for your furry feline friend, what kind of tree should you get? There are tons of them on the market, after all. Here's what you can look for.
Height. Your cat tree should be at least five feet tall to allow for maximum height for your fur baby. Anything smaller can still be a fun cat condo, but it's not going to be the tree experience your cat truly longs for.
Toys. A good cat tree should have some dangly bits and other toys that can make it an enriching experience for your cat to enjoy. It's not a substitute for playing with them yourself, but it's still good.
Spaces. Good cat trees should have at least one, if not more than one, hidey-hole that a cat can crawl into to hide away from prying eyes. A simple tube, a box, a nook; whatever it is, it should be easy to get into, secure, and comforting.
Stability. Probably the most important part of a tall cat tree is a stable, heavy base. You don't want your fur baby to jump up to the top and tip the whole thing over, right? A stable, heavy base will prevent any accidents and damage to you, your household, or your fur baby.
Material. If the cat tree has a space for cats to scratch, make sure it's something that isn't going to hurt them, either through chemicals, splinters, fibers, or other issues. The main material should be durable and easy enough to clean so that if your fur baby has an accident, you can handle it. Sisal, cardboard, and scratch carpet are all good for coatings over a nice, solid wood.
Do you really need all the bells, whistles, toys, and accessories? Well, probably not. There are plenty of basic cat trees out there, too, everything from a couple of shelves on a pole to a box on a stick. The sky really is the limit, though; you can get huge, elaborate cat metropolises, ornately themed and decorated cat skyscrapers, and anything in between. Really, it's entirely up to you what you want on your cat tree.
Don't forget, too, that if you buy a basic one and want to modify it, you can always just attach a toy, glue on some carpet, wrap the trunk with sisal, or otherwise change it to suit your cat's preferences. They aren't static! You can even buy a cat bed and attach it to a shelf.
When you get one, figure out where you want to put it. In front of a window, near where you spend your time, is generally a good spot. You want them to have a space they can sit and feel comfortable, sharing space with you and giving them a view they can enjoy.
Should You Build Your Own Cat Tree?
If you want! There are all sorts of instructions and kits out there that you can buy, or you can build one yourself out of materials you can generally find at any hardware store. The biggest caveat is simply to not build it out of wood that has been treated with chemicals that are toxic to cats. All it really takes is some screws, glue, lumber, rope or carpet, and maybe some staples, twine, and cat toys. It's actually pretty easy to build a cat tree, whether it's from scratch or following a kit.
The biggest downside to building your own, other than needing the skills, tools, and materials to do it, is that you're responsible if it fails. Purchased cat trees often have warranties, but one you make yourself certainly won't. Still, it's pretty unlikely that something is going to fail catastrophically, right?
Now, here's where you come in. I know many of you have fur babies of your own, and I'm sure many of you with cats have cat trees. So, tell me about them! Show me pictures, tell me where you got it or how you made it, and how your cat enjoys it. I love to hear your stories, so let me read them!
K Marie Alto
K. Marie is an animal lover, wife, kitty mom, dog auntie, writer (https://www.amazon.com/author/kmariealto), and co-founder of Toe Beans, a proud American family-owned online boutique pet supplies store focused on the improvement of the life of furry family members via pet parent education, better products, and advocacy. She has over 20 years of experience as a pet momma. She loves sharing her personal journey and experience as a pet parent via her blog and Facebook page where she currently has more than 45K followers (@furrytoebeans) and counting :-).