Cats thrive with exclusive space of their own. Even the most sociable feline will, from time to time, seek out a quiet snooze zone. And what could be better than somewhere that is not within reach of young kids or the family dog. Cats are adept at seeking out high places on their own such as on top of a cupboard or the refrigerator.
No matter the size of your living space, by going vertical, you can greatly increase your cat’s lifestyle real estate. Doing so increases daily exercise opportunities and enhances mental and physical wellbeing. Whether it’s something simple like a super-tall cat tree or an elaborate range of walkways and bridges, your cat will thank you for the private feline domain.
“There are several reasons why a cat chooses those locations,” explains cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett in the recently revised version of her bestselling book Cat vs Cat. “The higher up she, is the more visual advantage she has. She can easily see anyone approaching.
“If you live in a multicat environment, this can play a big part in easing tension because a more timid cat has adequate warning of a potential opponent entering the room. This can often reduce any actual physical confrontation two cats might have,” she says.
Location, Location, Location
Seeing that cats like their privacy, the question remains whether it is a good idea to go vertical in the most popular room of the home or if a quieter room is more suitable?
“Both have their advantages,” says cat furniture and feline interior design specialist Kate Benjamin, coauthor with Jackson Galaxy of the bestselling book Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!). “By creating vertical space in a room where all the activity takes place, you give your cat a way to be part of the action but from a safe distance if they choose. Vertical space in a quieter room provides a retreat where cats can go when they need a private place to get away from the chaos. I have both in my house,” adds the pet parent to a clowder of black cats.
“Based on the huge number of social media posts and other online articles I’ve seen lately, it seems like more and more people are actively creating amazing climbing areas and hangouts for their cats. This is definitely a growing trend as people learn more about the kind of environment cats need to not simply survive, but to thrive.”
Benjamin adds that cat parents shouldn’t get overwhelmed by thinking they need to build an elaborate climbing system from the get-go. She suggests starting by simply rearranging some furniture and maybe adding a cat tree or a small shelf to help the cat navigate between levels.
One Step at a Time
“Think about making it easy for cats to climb up and to get back down. It’s important to avoid dead ends whenever possible, especially in a multi-cat household,” she cautions.
“Once you have some basic climbing structures, consider creating a true cat superhighway. This means giving your cat a way to navigate all the way around a room without touching the floor. This can include walking along a windowsill, the back of the sofa, etc. Start linking surfaces together until you have a complete circuit. My advice is to create a portion of your climbing area and observe how your cat uses it before going around a room.
“The goal is to ultimately create destinations on your superhighway. These are larger hangout spots where a cat might spend time, such as in front of a window, maybe in a corner, or even in a semi-enclosed area, like a hiding box that’s built into a cat tree. And like any highway, there needs to be places where they can overtake one another!”
Keep It Clean
“Don’t forget about maintenance and cleaning,” says Johnson-Bennett. “Routinely check each component to make sure it’s secure and doesn’t need repair. Vertical space also needs to be cleaned well because hairballs can happen anywhere. Also, you don’t want cats napping on dusty shelves.”
Finally, consider a cat’s vertical real estate as a project in progress. As you watch your cat climbing on her new superhighway, you’ll get new ideas for expanding and adding to it. Ultimately, if you are really handy, and can cut holes in the drywall, you can link rooms and consider access to an outdoor safe enclosure, too.
This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.
Sandy Robins is an award-winning pet lifestyle journalist and author of For the Love of Cats, Fabulous Felines: Health and Beauty Secrets for the Pampered Cat, The Original Cat Bible, and Making the Most of All Nine Lives: The Extraordinary Life of Buffy The Cat.
Photos: Kate Benjamin
Published April 5, 2021