An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

A Cat Tree for Every Cat

Dear Readers, 

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Every cat should have a cat tree - or reasonable facsimile thereof. But rather than make this complicated, let's stick to cat trees in this entry.

Why a cat tree? Aside from the fringe benefit of getting your humans to spend some cash to demonstrate their love for you?

Three reasons:

1) Safety. If you live in a house with a pesky dog or toddlers who'd love to pull your tail, a cat tree provides a safe refuge without relegating you to the backrooms away from the action in the household. It also makes it easy for human adults to enforce safety rules on their young. Compare "Yes, you can play with Fluffy BUT nobody  BUT NOBODY touches Fluffy when she is in her cat tree!"  to "How many times do I have to tell you to leave the cat alone!"

2) Anxiety-reduction. Like out wild counterparts, being in a position to be able to see far and away is a distinct advantage. In a tree you are up off the ground with a great view of the surrounding area. This means that we can easily spot the arrival of rivals in advance, and our height advantage makes it easier to defend our territory from above.

No rivals? What about that Mr Sassy Pants you see from your living room window?

In an apartment to high to have such a view? No matter, there are always strange noises from the corridors that might signal the advance of an enemy!

3) Stress-reduction in Multicat Households. Living with another feline? Then you know as well as I that while another cat might be nice to have around, there ARE times when familiarity breeds contempt. It's not easy having to share territory even when resources are abundant. So why not ease the situation with a multi-level tree?

Intelligent cats know that those of us living in multi-cat households naturally seek different levels on which to rest. It's a way of diffusing tension - as if to say: All cats are not created equal; some are more equal than others; but for the sake of harmony, let's just spread out at different heights and be done with it. The most confident (or sometimes the most anxious) will rise to the top, the least confident gets the bottom, and everyone else goes in-between.

And just in case one of your purrsons are reading this entry, I'll give them some reasons to love cat trees as well. Don't want your cat to use your couch as a scratch pad? Get a cat tree! Don't want your cat lounging on the dining room table? Get a cat tree! Tired of your cat hanging out on top of the fridge, the kitchen counter, or the tops of the cupboards? Then you know the drill: Get a cat tree!

Knowledge is Power

Just deciding that a tree is a good idea is NOT enough. There are all sorts of designs at all sorts of price points. But before you cash out your catnip allowance and invest in this piece of furniture, you need to know what to look for. Here's my checklist.

STEP 1: Define Your Needs

Height: A general rule of thumb is that taller is better. If you live alone, get a tree that is at least three feet (one metre Canadian) in height, preferably taller. (Read about levels, too, before you make a decision on height).

If you have feline housemates, get a tree that is at least four to five feet high. Of course, it depends on where you plan to use it; but I'll deal with that later.

These Guys have a Freestanding Cat Tree From Floor to Ceiling!
Levels: A tree with one level is no tree at all. You need at least one level per cat in the household as the Boys from Brandon demonstrate in the photo. But remember that several levels gives even a single cat a good workout.

I recommend a minimum of three levels for a single cat: the ground level, a middle level and a top level. But even if you are a single cat, if you like tend to hang out on top of the fridge or above the kitchen cupboards, you need a lot more levels because you'll need a lot more height to meet your needs.

Stability: Look for a solid, broad base or you'll need to provide additional support. If the tree starts to wobble or falls over when you jump at it, you will never trust it again.

Central Post: Even my declawed colleagues like to go through the motions of scratching. A solid, central post covered in carpet, sisal (rope) or carpet backing, is ideal.

Location: A cat tree is valuable real estate and like the saying goes, it's all about location. Some possibilities:
- in front a of window where the action is (unless you are the kind that sprays the windows when you see a roaming cat),
- in a corner with an unobstructed view of various entry points into the room,
- right beside a piece of furniture you'd dearly love to scratch.  

Warning: If you live with upwardly mobile humans who are eager to make a good social impression, they might be tempted to relegate the tree to the back room where no one goes. Heaven forbid they put it where their snobby friends can see it. Holy sardines, they might be embarrassed at people's comments about spoiling you with special (meaning ugly) furnishings!

Frankly if they care that much about what other people think, they probably go ballistic over cat hair on the furniture. Pack your bags and suggest they get a plush toy instead.

But for humans who have some redeeming features in your estimation, encourage them to surf the net and find a tree (or a local cat tree maker) who can customize one that will fit with their decor.

Special Features: Levels with lips keep you from falling off when you are asleep. Many of you prefurr a rounded (barrel-shaped) lip for comfort. A few anxious cats might like a house or tepee on the top, though I've found that most prefurr the open shelf. A few like tunnels as part of the tree.

Take into Consideration: If you are a kitten, start with a small condo (those things that look like fat, carpeted tubes standing on end). Adults only use the top of a condo (and forget about all the interior levels) which is why I don't recommend them from adult cats. But something about a foot or foot-and-a-half high (that's half a metre in metric) is just right for kittens who still need to learn about balance. Elderly and arthritic cats prefurr trees whose levels are more closely-spaced or have ramp access to them.

STEP 2: Find Out What's Available

Before your folks run out and buy the first thing they see, make sure to surf the Net. Don't limit yourself to sites near where you live. Right now you are looking for ideas, possibilities. So here are some useful sites.

These two sites feature conventional cat trees in all sorts of configurations.
Catman Cat Furniture is a site in my neighbourhood, Edmonton (Alberta) with a link to Calgary.
7th Heaven is an American site with an extensive selection.

This site features trees from driftwood: Phoenix  - a company based in British Columbia (Canada).

For higher-end, wood furniture check out House of Cats International (based in Texas) which makes a variety of interesting designs of excellent quality.

And by all means, check the Gear Guide at  Hauspanther for very style-conscious cat trees from around the world, which even the pickiest purrsons might agree to buy for you.
And if you are handy, consider building your own, based on Cat Tree Plans.

STEP 3: Shop Around

Now you are ready to hone in.
Check the following:
- local pet supply stores
- your veterinary clinic
- farmers' markets
- flea markets
- ads in local papers
- websites like Kijiji or eBay
- local cat shows.

Many local manufacturers are one- or two-purrson firms without big advertising budgets. Some of them will customize at very little (if any) extra cost and will stand behind their work (meaning that when you have shredded the carpet on the post, they can re-do it).

If you decide to buy a used cat tree, be warned. It will smell like another cat. It may have cat urine or hairball puke on it (even if it looks clean). Make sure your folks clean it well by carefully following the directions using a product made for cleaning such stains. AND they'd be advised to give it a good wash at one of those pressurized, do-it-yourself car washes. After it is dry, a spritz of Feliway spray will assist you in accepting it as your own.

A common myth: Some humans may wonder: Doesn't having a carpeted tree just encourage Muffy to scratch my broadloom. The answer: A resounding NO! If Muffy happens to scratch your broadloom it has nothing to do with what the tree is made of.

No cat scratches an entire Persian rug, so think location (as in, why is she scratching at exactly that spot on that rug?)  Or think prefurrence for horizontal scratching: Get a scratch pad or ramp made of thick, corrugated cardboard (example, Cosmic Cat Scratch Pad) and offer it as an alternative by putting it where the 'problem' occurs.

But What About the Cost?

While I'm sure cost is of no concern to you, it usually is to your human caregivers. Tell them to keep in mind that they really do get what they pay for.

A cheap tree from a bulk discount store may look great but could be made of compressed cardboard (rather than wood); should your human decide to sit on one of the levels (and believe me this HAS happened) it will fall apart.

Carpet that is properly affixed usually stays in place while you shred it, rather than coming off in large hunks.

And stability requires the use of heavier base materials and that usually costs more.

In case you are curious, I have three trees.

One is a three-foot, three-level one made by Pet Projects, Edmonton. It is by the living room window so I can scratch, monitor dog walks, bird life and the occasional roaming cat. I usually choose the mid-level - windowsill height.
My Living Room Window Cat Tree
Another is a three-foot, three-level one from Catman Cat Furniture (Edmonton), by the dining table so I can supervise meals and can scratch to warn rivals who might enter by the patio door (even though I have a complete cat fence in the backyard that prevents any of them from getting near it). It has a great view of the back deck and related bird life. With this one I prefurr the top level - dining table height.

My Dining Room Cat Tree
And a third is a home-made special - not really a tree but the provision of viewing levels. It fits under the front of a window on the stair landing that overlooks the entire backyard. The folks got tired of me jumping on the window sill and walking to the end only to meow pitifully for help because I was facing a ten-foot jump. So this arrangement of storage boxes made it easier for them and much safer for me. I like the depression in the top cover that provides a bit more security, along with the skid-proof mats.

A Sort of Cat Tree
Yeh, I know you wanna know so I'll tell you: Each of my trees was less than $100 (more like $80), except for the home-made one which is cheaper. But these days a decent, taller tree with more levels can range from $130 to $400 or more (depending on how fancy it is). Just remember, fancy doesn't matter; it just has to work for you!