Common scenario: Your cat is nowhere to be found. After looking in every spot imaginable, you look up and discover your feline perched high on a shelf. She may have been enjoying the view out the window, engrossed in a self-grooming session, or getting a bit of exercise jumping from shelf to shelf.
While it’s common knowledge that cats like high places, what are the behavioral and evolutionary reasons behind it? We talked to a few cat behavior experts to discuss the reasons behind this preference, and how you can go about creating a safe space for your cat to climb to.
Why Do Cats Like High Places?
Cats have an instinctual need to see things from up high, a behavior that is rooted in the fact that cats are both small predators and prey, says Pam Johnson-Bennett, an author and certified cat behavior consultant. From a high vantage point, cats have a more of an opportunity to see potential threats, and it can serve as a refuge from larger animals.
“They often depend on their ability to quickly climb or jump to an elevated location to escape becoming a larger animal’s next meal,” says Bennett-Johnson. When a cat has access to high places, it gives the cat greater visual advantage to oversee its territory or any approaching danger.
Vertical spaces can also help maintain the peace in households with multiple cats, says Marilyn Krieger, certified cat behavior consultant and author. They show their status simply by how they’re situated vertically.
“Their status is not fixed, and they take turns sharing space and switching spots,” says Krieger. “It’s one of the ways that cats show their positions in their flexible hierarchy.” A vertical display can often avoid prevent fights amongst cats from happening.
Because heat rises, cats will also flock to high places to stay warm—that’s why you might see them taking a nap on top of a cat trees, or find them in high spaces more often during the colder months.
Providing Climbing Options for Your Cat
The easiest and safest way to create climbing options for an indoor cat is to purchase or build a cat tree, says Bennett-Johnson. A sturdy cat tree will allow a cat to both climb or jump to the top and a tree with multiple perches at various heights, like Frisco’s 72-inch cat tree, will allow more than one cat to share a small space and still maintain any established status.
“It also lets more timid or territorial cats to have a place that just belongs to them, and only contains their own scents,” says Bennett-Johnson.
Besides standard cat trees, you can install shelves and window perches, like Oster’s Sunny Seat window-mounted cat bed, around your home, Krieger says. Furniture and appliances such as high book shelves, cabinets and refrigerators can also be solid vertical spaces, and existing architectural elements in your home (think wide window sills) can also double as vertical territory.
You can also increase your cat’s territory in high places by installing shelves that go around the perimeter of the room, says Krieger. Ideally, they should be placed at different heights, and they need to be easy for cats to climb or jump on and off from.
If you and your feline live in a smaller space, you’ll need to get creative and make the most of your cozy dwelling. If you live in a rental unit where you aren’t permitted to permanently install anything on the wall, look for smaller, portable cat trees, or optimize your furniture and your home’s built-in features, Bennett-Johnson says.
Cat Climbing Safety
To ensure your feline’s vertical spaces are safe, they’ll need to be sturdy, and covered in non-slip material, Krieger says. They also should be wide enough for your cat to comfortably nap on. If you have an older cat or one with special needs, they may require lower shelves that are easy for them to access.
If you’re building something, be mindful of the material you use. Sisal can be cut to match the size of the shelves and secured with double-sided tape or a piece of Velcro.
By understanding why your cat likes high places, you’ll know how important it is to her well being. Providing safe, sufficient spaces in your home for your feline to romp around on from up high will ensure she’s happy and help her coexist peacefully with fellow cats.
Jackie Lam has contributed to Cat Fancy’s CatChannel.com (now Petcha), The Honest Kitchen and Graphiq’s PetBreeds. Besides being a cat and dog aunt, she blogs at HeyFreelancer.com, enjoys writing fiction and helping cultivate community among fellow freelancers.