Condos or scratchers? Hammocks or ramps? Cat trees come in about as many varieties as, well, actual trees. So how do you pick the best cat tree? Does your kitty really need one?
Yes, says Irith Bloom, cat and dog trainer and Certified Behavior Consultant with The Sophisticated Dog in Los Angeles, California. Cats instinctively gravitate to high perches “to see more, because they predators,” she says. “However, they are also prey animals who feel vulnerable on the ground, and may be more comfortable up high, even if there isn’t an immediate threat.”
Cat trees also give your cat a space that is completely their own. The best cat trees promote exercise, giving your kitty a safe place to leap, climb, scratch, jump and play—one that’s not your furniture, counters or cabinetry. (That alone is worth major bonus points.) They also provide a safe and cozy place for your cat to relax, lounge or nap.
So how do you pick the perfect one? Don’t stress—we’re here to guide you to your best cat tree.
What’s Your Cat’s Style?
There are a lot of different types of cat trees to consider: some have condos (or little compartments) that allow cats to hide, some have toys built in and some are very tall while others are lower to the ground. Don’t be overwhelmed! First, ask yourself these questions to help narrow down your options:
How many cats do you have?
All roommates fight, and that includes our pets. When animals are in a spat, they may block or guard an opening in a cat tree, trapping a cat inside. “So, if you have multiple cats or a mix of cats and dogs, make sure your cat tree’s condos have both an entrance and an exit,” Bloom says. That way, cats have multiple ways to get in and out.
Is your cat a scratcher?
Most cats really enjoy scratchers, but it’s not a “one size fits all” situation! Some cats like their scratcher to be horizontal, while others prefer vertical. Before investing in a cat tree, Bloom recommends testing out a regular cat scratcher, such as the Frisco 21-in Sisal Cat Scratching Post with Toy. Present it to your cat on the ground, at belly level, and at an angle where they need to stand on their hind legs to scratch it. See how your cat interacts with it. Most cats have a preference, and you’ll have the best results with your cat tree if it matches your cat’s optimal scratching angle.
Does your cat like heights?
Perching up high is an instinct many cats have—but no two cats are completely alike. So, consider your cat’s natural inclination to scale furniture and shelves. A cat who likes to hide under the bed might have more fun with a small cat tree that’s low to the ground, while a cat who’s always perched on the highest surface in the room would thrive with a tall cat tree.
How active is your cat?
“There are three major factors to consider when making a smart purchase for your cat: health, age and athleticism,” says Bloom. Simply put, cats in their senior years are less likely to jump around than kittens and younger adults. A taller cat tree with more space between the levels might be exciting for a younger cat, but intimidating for an older cat. If your older cat suddenly seems disinterested in the cat tree they used to love, it may be time to swap in a cat tree that better fits their lifestyle, like a shorter model or one with more ramps or ladders.
How playful is your cat?
Some cats truly prefer to engage with their humans, but a cat who’s good at playing independently will flourish with a cat tree that has toys on it. You can even attach your own toys to a cat tree to make it an ideal play space for your cat.
How social is your cat?
If you have a cat who tends to tuck into nooks and crannies—not just when they’re frightened, but rather as a comfort tactic—look for a cat tree with condos to give them a little hideout.
But there are also a few things to look for no matter what type of cat tree you choose. The first is a claw-friendly surface for your cat to grip, whether it’s sisal, faux fur, faux fleece or carpet. If your cat tree material doesn’t provide good traction, your kitty could slip or fall—and even if they’re not injured, they probably won’t feel safe on the tree and are unlikely to use it again.
Some cat trees are a big investment, so you want to make sure your choice stands the test of time. Look for a frame made of solid wood, AKA the most premium and durable material—it’s heavier, sturdier and will last longer. Other material options are engineered wood and sometimes cardboard, which is generally found in scratching posts, rather than the cat tree frame itself.
And of course, consider the size constraints of your home when making a decision. A cat tree’s no use to your cat if it doesn’t fit in the front door! If possible, set up the tree near a window so they can perch and watch the world outside.
Ready to shop? Start by browsing your options below.
Small or Medium Cat Trees
Are your cat’s needs on the smaller side? Small or medium options, like the Frisco 28-in Faux Fur Cat Tree, are usually fewer than 60 inches tall, and have fewer levels than larger cat trees, with generally one or two perches.
Perfect for: Petite cats or older cats
Large or Extra Large Cat Trees
Large or extra large cat trees, like the Frisco 72-inch Faux Fur Cat Tree & Condo, are 60 inches high or more. These tall cat trees could have as many as four or more perches, as well as multiple scratching posts and condos. Think mansion, but make it feline.
Perfect for: Households with multiple cats, kittens or cats who love to leap and climb
Cat Trees With Scratchers
Most cat trees have scratching posts. Some have as many as 10! Scratching posts often serve as support pillars between the perches, like in the Frisco 48-in Heavy Duty Faux Fur Cat Tree & Condo, and sometimes, they double as boards or ramps too. Sisal fabric is the most common, premium and durable material for a scratcher, but some scratchers can be found in other coverings like seagrass, jute rope or carpet.
Perfect for: Most cats—scratchers satisfy their natural urges to remove old claw material, mark their territory and stretch
Cat Condo Trees
Is your cat looking for a room of their own? A cat condo (sometimes called a cat apartment) is a domed or roofed structure that’s essentially a little enclosed dwelling for your cat. They may have multiple openings or provide a way for the cat to move between levels of their tree. Some cat trees with condos have spacious arched entrances, like the Frisco 61-in Faux Fur Cat Tree & Condo, while others are simply a hole for the cat to squeeze into. Occasionally, there are removable beds inside the condo that can be machine-washed.
Perfect for: Cats who enjoy curling up in small spaces and being out of sight
Cat Trees With Toys
Some cat trees, like the Mau Lifestyle Alba 43-in Modern Wooden Cat Tree & Condo, come with dangling toy mice, hanging ropes, balls, pom-poms, springy wands and other toys attached. Cat trees with toys help keep your kitty entertained when you’re not available to play.
Perfect for: Cats who do a good job at playing on their own
Cat Trees With Ladders or Ramps
Ladders and ramps give your cat a secure way to climb between levels of their cat tree. Sometimes they’re covered with carpet. In other cases, they double as scratchers, like on this Go Pet Club 48-in Classic Sisal Posts Cat Tree Condo.
Perfect for: Older cats who are not super athletic, or any cat who prefers to climb vs. jump
Foldaway Cat Trees
Foldaway cat trees do exactly what the name says—fold up so they can be moved or stored out of sight. They are generally small, like this Etna Fold Away Cat Condo, with a single level or cat condo. But though they’re petite and portable, they are often designed to include many of the elements a feline could want: a snuggly place to hang out, a scratcher, and even a toy or two.
Perfect for: Cat parents who want to travel with their cat tree or single-cat households where space is limited
Stylish Cat Trees and Unique Cat Trees
Looking for a cat tree with high marks in both form and function? You’re in luck. There are plenty of unique, upgraded designs that can fit perfectly into your home décor. Some wooden cat trees, like the Frisco 52-in Modern Cat Tree & Condo, show off their wood grain or incorporate walnut laminate finishes. They also tend to have cleaner lines that blend into a midcentury or contemporary home design. Other modern cat trees, like the On2Pets Large Square Modern Cat Tree, take a more organic approach, with designs mimicking tree branches.
Perfect for: Cat parents who place a high value on aesthetics and design in their homes
Whether your cat craves a regal perch or a soothing hideout, there’s a cat tree to meet their needs. So take a cue from your kitty’s habits and choose the perfect design. Your cat will thank you! (Or not—hey, even with the cat tree of their dreams, cats are still cats.)