Cats in High Places: Why We Like Them, How to Create Them

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Whether we’re on top of the refrigerator or climbing the curtains, you may have noticed we cats like high places. And we need them too!

Love of High Places Has Always Been a Cat Thing

The feline love for going high up is in our DNA. It’s instinctual, and it was part of our ancestors’ means of survival. Cats climb to escape predators. High places are good vantage spots to see any potential dangers. And there is some tasty prey up in those trees too! With our flexibility and musculature, we are even built to leap high.

Now that we are pampered indoor creatures, it’s really not all that different. We climb to escape grabby hands and unfriendly feline cohabitants. We love being able to get a view of all our domain. And if you think that butter you’re softening is safe on the fridge…good luck. Plus, climbing is fun! And who doesn’t love playtime?

Vertical Space in Your Home Is Necessary

Somali cat on top of a tall bookcase

Because it’s part of our nature, creating vertical spaces in your home for your cat is important. Especially if you live in a small space, or have multiple cats. Cats not only need to go high for fun, it’s also a part of our territory. We don’t measure our territory by square footage, but also by height. So creating vertical space enlarges your cat’s living area by a lot.

The Thoughtful Way to Create Vertical Places for Your Cat

Before investing in cat trees and towers or shelving, take a look around your home and see what you already have. What high places does your cat like to be already? Think about why they might like it, and whether they are areas you want to encourage or discourage.

For example, lots of cats like being on top of the refrigerator, as I’ve mentioned. It gives them a good vantage point of what is perhaps their favorite room. It’s a way they can share space with you without you bothering them. It’s probably not that difficult for them to get to. Do you really want to discourage your cat from being up there? Wouldn’t it be nicer to cover the top of the refrigerator with a nonskid mat and a bed or basket and have some company in the kitchen?

If it’s dangerous, like if your cat gets too close to the stove to get to the refrigerator, you may want to discourage them — or you could create another way for them to get up there. If you are dead set against the fridge, could you put something else in the kitchen they can get up on that will give them the same advantages as the refrigerator. Think about creating a space through shelving that gives them the same great view and the ability to be part of your kitchen duties.

When a High Space is Dangerous

Somali cat on top of a shower

What about high places where your cat really shouldn’t be, for example? Say, the top of the China cabinet? Once again, think about why they like being there. Is it inaccessible to anyone else but them? Is it a good view? Does it get your attention? Because if you are making a big deal out of them being up there, you are giving them negative reinforcement.

So here’s the deal on discouraging cats from being somewhere that isn’t safe for them to be:

  1. Replace it with something of equal or greater value. So figure out what they are getting from that spot, and give them a better (to them) alternative, one with the same perks and maybe a couple more.
     
  2. Stop acting out when your cat scales something you don’t want them to. If you need to get them down, do it as quickly as you can without saying anything, and then ignore them. The less attention you give a cat in this type of situation, the less chance you have of reinforcing the behavior.

Creating Vertical Space With What You Already Have

Check out what you already have in your home, through your cat’s perspective. See where they already like to spend time. Do they favor certain windows? Are there some sun puddles that they prefer? What other areas do they like spending time? Moving around furniture to make higher spaces more accessible to your cat easily creates vertical spaces. Maybe put a shelving unit closer to a chair or side table so it’s easier for them to jump, for example.

Make sure to make the surfaces of these places cat safe by adding nonstick mats, and maybe adding something cozy for them to curl up in. Encourage them to use these spaces by placing their favorite treats up there. You do not have to praise them for being there. Cats inhabit high spaces partly because they’re private, so this is one instance where acknowledgement actually works against what you are trying to do.

An important note: If you have more than one cat, make sure any vertical space has more than one point of entry and exit. That way, in case there is ever a spat between the two of them (it can happen: Google “redirected aggression”), no one will ever get cornered.

Advice About Cat Trees and Shelves

Somali cat with her cat tree

Once you’ve arranged your house to your cat’s (and your own) preference, you may find some spots that would benefit from a cat tree or some cat perches or shelves. Other than the esthetics, keep these things in mind:

  1. Your cat’s weight. Make sure whatever you buy will safely hold your cat’s weight and not break or tip over. What might work for a 7 lb. cat like me could be dangerous for a 20 lb. male ginger.
     
  2. Your cat’s length. If you are buying a cat tree or tower, you want the poles to be long enough for them to stretch out. Part of the joys of a cat trees is digging into the scratching surfaces. So you’ll want your cat to be able to stretch out to their full length on at least one or two sides.
     
  3. Will it fit? Don’t just eyeball your space and buy something that looks like it’ll work. Measure your space and look at the specs for the cat tree. Also picture the tree actually in that space. Will you have to squeeze past it to get from one part of the room to another? Will you be able to open a door without hitting it? Of course the tree is for the cat, not you, but you don’t want to inconvenience yourself unnecessarily either.
     
  4. Lay out a plan for shelving. Cat trees are easy — you just figure out where you want them, measure the space, and get one. Shelving requires some planning and serious measuring. You need to know how your cat is going to get to these platforms. If you are putting up several, you need to make sure your cat can easily get to each one without having near-misses or actually falling. Consider buying or building pet steps to help get your cat to the shelves.

I hope you’ve found this helpful! If you have created vertical space for your cats, let me know what you did in the comments.

Other posts you’ll enjoy:

Cats in High Places: Why We Like Them, How to Create Them

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