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January 25, 2021

Tips for Adding Vertical Territory for Cats

Let’s Get Vertical!

Cats need vertical territory. The term “vertical territory” is a catchall phrase that describes the high places cats climb and jump up too. It takes many forms—commercial and homemade. You do not have to go in debt in order to give your cats high places to hang out. You can make your own or use household furniture and architectural elements that are already built into your home. Armoires, bookshelves and the tops of entertainment centers are perfect places for cats to lounge and nap. Architectural elements such as beams and windows with wide sills can also double as vertical territory. Other solutions include readymade cat furniture such as cat trees, condos and shelves.

Tips for adding vertical territory. Great example of vertical territory

Example of good vertical territory

Vertical territory (VT) serves many functions for cats. It helps them feel safe, secure and entertained. From up high, cats can survey their world, picking out a stray morsel of food, watch the goings on in their homes and they can observe other resident animals who may pose a threat to them.

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.

Tips for adding vertical territory. My cat playing in his cat tree

My cat, Sudan, playing in his cat tree

Not all vertical territory is created equal: tips for adding vertical territory

Some VT solutions are perfect—others not so much. Consider these five points when buying or building cat furniture:

  1. Stability. Cat furniture needs to be stable and should not have the wobbles. If it wobbles, stabilize it with extra hardware.
  2. Shelf size matters. Shelves and perches should be large enough to accommodate 1-2 cats. Kitties like to have the option of stretching out and lounging. Many delight in sharing a shelf with a buddy, especially on a cold day when they snuggle together for warmth.
  3. Check shelving surfaces. Although some creative interpretations of cat furniture are beautiful to look at, they may not be ideal for cats. Some have perches finished with a slick varnish. Cats can slip and fall when jumping up on them. Additionally, many cats find hard surfaces uncomfortable for napping. Make the slick surfaces comfortable and slip-free by firmly securing sisal, cat beds or other material to them.
  4. Keep it safe. Rambunctious cats can cause shelves to crash to the floor and cat trees to topple. Make them safe by securing shelves to the wall with substantial brackets and by attaching stabilizing pieces of plywood to the bases of unstable cat trees.
  5. Think accessibility. Cats who have special needs and those who are not quite as agile as they once were may find it difficult to navigate tall cat furniture. Help them access the tops by giving them furniture that has shelves down low they can easily reach. The lower shelves will help the special kitties safely climb to the higher perches. Pet stairs and chairs, placed next to the furniture, will also help them enjoy hanging out on cat trees and shelves.

Don’t skimp on vertical territory. More is more—your cat will thank you for it.

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More information on how to keep cats happy is found in Marilyn’s book Naughty No More!


Hiding Places

02.10.13 In addition to high places to climb, cats enjoy places to hide. Most cats like hanging out in tunnels, igloos and paper bags with no handles.  One homemade solution is to cut large circles in the bottom and sides of a few boxes and then firmly secure them to each other—creating a tunnel with 3 or 4 access points (bottom, two sides and possible the top).

High Places

02.03.13  Cats need vertical territory (VT)—high places to climb and hang out on. You don’t have to spend a fortune on cat condos. Architectural elements, window perches, shelves, tops of refrigerators and cabinets, armoires and other household furniture, can all become part of the VT solution.

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.