Cat trees are often treated as toys, like a feline version of a jungle gym. To a certain extent, that’s true; having a place to climb and recline is certainly something cats enjoy. But cat trees also fill two more basic kitty needs. First, it gives them a rough surface they can use to sharpen their claws (which will also help keep them away from your furniture!), and second it gives them a seat that’s at least slightly elevated. Cats naturally enjoy being high up, and tall cat trees, particularly ones that put them above the height of people sitting in the room, help cats feel relaxed and give them a much-desired sense of dominance and ownership of their domain.
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Even fairly basic cat trees will appeal to your kitty’s jungle cat instincts, allowing them to climb, perch, and observe their territory more effectively. The taller the tree, the better, as it will give them a better vantage point for viewing the goings-on in the room, but even a compact perch that allows them to get above waist height will help your cat feel more at ease in their space. If you have multiple cats, look for cat trees that have at least one raised platform for each of your cats so they won’t have to compete for a desirable place to sit.
For the safety of your cats, it’s crucial to ensure that your cat tree is sturdily built, with a solid wood construction and a base that’s wide and heavy enough that the tree won’t tip over. Cats aren’t always gentle with their furniture, so it’s important to keep in mind the size and weight of your cats and find a cat tree that can not only stand up to their combined weight, but that will stay stable if your cat runs and jumps onto it forcefully. If you have other large animals or small children, take them into account as well, in case they try to climb the tree, too.
To keep your cat’s claws in good shape, look for cat trees that have sections wrapped in thick sisal rope. This is the best material for maintaining your cat’s claws, and having it available in ample supply will discourage them from clawing at your furniture, if only because the heavy duty rope is more effective. Again, if you have multiple cats, you want to look for cat trees that have at least one scratching zone for each one, both for territorial reasons and for the longevity of the scratching post.
If a large cat tree will be your only piece of pet furniture, it’s important to look for a model that includes at least one enclosed space that your cat can curl up in. Small, enclosed spaces make cats feel safe and secure, and having a designated “safe spot” can help cats feel relaxed and calm anxiety. Particularly if your cat is easily startled or scared, it’s important for them to have a place they can go that they won’t be disturbed, and a closed, dark, box-like space is the safe spot of choice for most cats.
Some cat trees come with other built in accessories, like dangling feathers or toys, pieces with different textures for scratching or rubbing against, hammocks to lay on, small obstacles for added entertainment value, or small spaces to squeeze through. Choosing a cat tree with built in toys is more important for younger cats who have more energy and who tend to get bored or distracted more easily, while older cats are more content with trees that are simpler but taller so they can better keep an eye on things.
In terms of aesthetics, the choice is largely up to you. Most cat trees come in a variety of different neutral-toned carpet coverings, and your cat won’t really mind one way or another, so pick a design that meshes well (or as well as possible) with your surrounding decor. If you’re having trouble getting your cat interested in a new cat tree, consider strategically sprinkling cat nip (or treats or toys, depending on your cat’s preference) around the base of the tree and up on some of the tiers. If your new cat tree is one of the highest accessible points in the room you put it in, though, you shouldn’t have too much trouble convincing your cat to hop on up.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that your cat will prefer the box the cat tree comes in to the cat tree itself! What are you looking for in a new cat tree, and how many kitties will be using it? Let me know in the comments!