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August 11, 2020

Being high is good. Vertical Territory Matters

When I do consultations I ask to see the high places (vertical territory) my client’s cats like to hang out. If I’m on-site, I politely request a tour, if I’m doing a phone or Skype consultation, I require pictures or videos. The locations, heights and configuration of these high places matter. Sometimes clients show me couches, counters, refrigerators—other times I’m treated to images of elaborate shelving systems and cat trees.

Vertical territory matters for a number of reasons.
Vertical territory helps keep the peace. Cats show their position in their flexible hierarchy by where they sit or stand when they are in the same vicinity. The hierarchy is not static. In multi-cat households the cats take turns. For example: one cat may be relaxing on the highest shelf while another cat sits on a lower shelf. A few hours later they might switch places. Cats are very good with time and room sharing as well. It’s common to find one cat occupying a high shelf in one room while another resident cat enjoys a high shelf in another room. Vertical territory helps keep the peace between cats. It lets cat demonstrate their relationships to each other without going to battle.

Vertical territory helps keep cats entertained. Cats need mental and physical stimulation. Although cats are safer and healthier living indoors, they can become bored when left alone without anything to do or anyone to play with. Along with other enrichment solutions, high shelves, cat trees, things to climb and jump on will help keep cats stimulated and exercised.

Vertical territory helps keep cats safe. Cats can sleep and relax on high cat shelves and cat condos—out of the reach of dogs and children. The higher the better—minimally vertical territory should be five feet in height. Vertical territory also lets cats observe what’s happening around them. From up high they can easily identify possible dangers as well as spot their friends. Cats can also see potential morsels of food as they accidentally fall off people’s plates. Vertical territory is good.

Vertical territory comes in many flavors.
Vertical territory includes cat trees, shelves, window perches, book cases, refrigerators, architectural elements as well as other high spots and objects. Some cat trees are really ugly, others are pieces of art. Many are made out of real trees.

There are a variety of shelving solutions as well. Some are cat themed others stylish and utilitarian. Many of you are familiar with The Cats’ House in California.  This home is exclusively designed for cats—equipped with shelves, stairs and tunnels. Not only are the shelves perfect for cats to climb and explore, but they are decorative to look at.  Another solution, but with a contemporary feel was designed into a home in Japan.

In the eyes of a cat—small homes and apartments become expansive when shelves are installed and tall cat trees provided. Check out a couple of solutions that two of my clients built. Stephanie lives in a small condo with cats, dogs and snakes. She more than doubled her space by building shelves.  Her cats love it.

Stephanie's vertical territory solution--shelves for small spaces

Paige’s space is bigger. She shares her home with Savannahs. Paige’s vertical territory solution includes designing a system of shelves that runs the perimeter of all of the rooms. There is also lumber wrapped in sisal rope that reach from the floor to the shelves—perfect for Paige’s cats to climb up to the shelves on.  Check out her video, you’ll see the cats in action.

Paige H: Vertical territory

Paige's vertical territory--including sisal wrapped pieces of wood for the cats to climb

Vertical territory can be artful or it can be standard carpet covered cat trees. Both work. No matter what solution is settled on, it needs to be safe for cats. Solidly anchor shelves into walls and choose cat trees that have solid, sturdy bases. Shelves should be wide enough for cats to comfortably lounge on and they need to be at different heights so that cats can safely navigate without mishap.

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  1. Wonderful article, Marilyn! This is an important topic that many cat owners just don’t consider and can make such a difference in the life of an indoor kitty 🙂

  2. Marilyn, it was at your suggestion that I add a second post to my catwalk and that one post has made a world of difference, so thank you! Great article and oh, so true 😉

  3. Great post! I love the different things these two cat owners have set up for their cats. I am going to need to create something like this for my cat. My cat loves to sit up high but it is usually somewhere he shouldn’t be! 🙂

  4. Jordi Griell Barnes says

    This is a great idea, I am going to convince my husband to wrap sisal around one of the pieces of wood we have in our living room, we also have a dog and I don’t think he will be too fond of the cat being able to climb up there leaving him behind, my instinct tells me that Pebbles is going to love her new vertical space, this blog is an inspiration.

  5. Great information! As a dog trainer, one of the biggest problems I see is lack of vertical space when I am called out on dog vs cat problems. This is especially true when people are trying to introduce a new dog to existing resident cat(s). I have become heartbroken at the number of cats relegated to one room or even the basement because they can’t go up. I will be using this blog to reinforce the need for vertical space in my clients homes!

  6. TheCatCoach says

    Thank you Jordi! I’m glad you like my blog. Stay tuned… in the next couple of days more will be posted, different topic, though of course cat-centric.

  7. TheCatCoach says

    Thanks Amanda and Jennifer!

  8. MM Merryfield says

    I just bought the cat trapeze for our two Aby boys and they love it.

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  1. […] VT is one of a few ways cats show their position in their changing hierarchy. Cats are into time and room sharing. One cat might occupy the top shelf of a cat tree during the morning, another at night, while another surveys her world from up high in another room. Many factors determine where cats sit in relationship to each other. It can be as subtle as a change in room temperature, a favorite persons’ presence, the arrival of food or it may be that one cat is feeling a bit under the weather. VT helps keep the peace.  For more details about why cats need VT, check out: Being High is Good. Vertical Territory Matters. […]

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