How to Choose a Cat Tree

By
Jason C.
How to Choose a Cat Tree

We know it can be a daunting task to choose a cat tree that is suitable not only for your cat, but also for you, and your home. Anyone that has googled ‘cat tree’ knows there is a plethora of cat trees on the market. Manufacturers have become more creative with cat tree design & construction, accessorizing them will all sorts of bells and whistles, it’s hard to keep track. To further add to our headache, they gave cat trees new names without any logic or structure. To help alleviate some stress in the process of selecting a cat tree, we have created this buying advice guide to provided some structure in this chaos. We categorized different styles of cat trees on the market and also provided some features and deciding factors that may be useful in helping you narrow down your selection.

See the infographic on how to choose a cat tree

Why buy a Cat Tree?

So why buy a cat tree at all? After all since the Neolithic age about 9,500 years ago, humans have domesticated cats. Did our ancestors have cat trees back then? We doubt it. Only about 50 years ago, did one of the first cat tree became available.

Cats were not kept strictly indoors back then. They roamed the territory around it’s household and had the luxury of climbing up and down different objects outside. It is in a cat’s instinct to climb to high places and to scratch its claws on objects. However, times have changed where it might not be feasible or safe to let our cats outside anymore, especially when you live in an apartment on the 15th floor.

Cats Need to Climb

Notice when you look for your cats inside your home, they are most likely in an elevated location? They are naturally drawn to higher places where they can overlook their environment. It is a instincts passed on from their predatory ancestors, to increase their territory while having a high ground to spot their surroundings. If you have multiple cats in the same household, vertical climbing space will give them the feeling of an increased territory and thus reducing fights between cats.

Cats Need to Scratch

When you catch your cats scratching on your furniture, you might view the behavior as an attempt to remodel your sofas or to get back at you for scratching their bellies earlier - an eye for an eye. The scratching behavior is nothing but normal, even beneficial for our feline friends. It is a complex and important topic that warrants a discussion of it’s own. The trick for cat owners is to teach our cats what they can scratch and what is off limits.

For You and Your cats

Cat trees usually feature 1 or more vertical post with perches or condos for cats to nap and rest on. They are frequently covered with materials that encourage scratching such as carpet or faux fur. When your cats get excited, it is common for them to jump on or off, scratch, and even bite on objects. Manufacturers know this and have gone great lengths to design stable and durable cat tree. They also try to balance between functionality, aesthetics, and durability.

Certainly, you can let your cats climb and scratch your cabinets, appliances, furniture, but you will probably end up spending more money replacing them every once in a while. A cat tree is not only beneficial for a cat’s health, but also alleviates many headaches for cat owners. If you have a cat, then do yourself and your cat a favor and buy a cat tree!

Types of Cat Trees

On the market, there are too many names for cat trees. We categorize cat trees as the main term for any vertical cat furniture with at least one resting platform. Some of the most common ones you will see are: cat condos, cat perches, cat apartments, cat houses, cat activity trees, and cat towers. There are even very obscure terms like cat castles and cat headquarters, but they mostly mean some sort of vertical cat furniture with a minimum of one resting platform. We categorize these as umbrella terms of cat trees, each with slight differences in features. These days, the types of cat trees can be loosely grouped into a few broad, ill-defined, and overlapping terms. Keep in mind many cat trees on the market have a hybrid of features. There isn’t an industry standard but it is merely my attempt to help you understand the different types of cat trees that are most common and its most dominant features:

Cat Condos

Cat condos are typically an enclosed compartment situated at any height on a cat tree. It is an attempt to mimic modern day city dwellers’ condo or apartment unit.

Cat condos can come in different shapes and sizes, such as a house, box, or a barrel and they usually feature at least one entrance for cats to navigate in and out of. Entrances are typically located on the sides of a condo, but it isn’t uncommon to see designs where they are located on the top or bottom. These hidden designs are not only amusing for cats to navigate in and out of, but also more difficult for dogs and children to reach in. When your cat needs to take a break from the dogs and kids, these are the perfect solution. If you have multiple cats in your household, hidden entrance designs might not be enough to deter fights among cats. Multiple entrances will provide alternative exit routes when cats are fight over cat condos.

Most cats, especially timid cats, are naturally gravitated towards enclosed space like a cat condo because they provide a sense of security. They are a great timeout box cats can put themselves in when they want to take a break from other pets or children in your home.

Cat Perches

Cat perches are also known as shelves, platforms, levels, on a cat tree. Its purpose is mostly for cats to rest on, but also serves the purpose of being midway levels for cats to climb to the top of a cat tree. Perches do not emphasize an enclosed space, but are typically a flat surface or a semi-enclosed compartment.

Semi-enclosed versions can come in designs of baskets, shelves, or trays where the sides are usually just as tall as a cat when lying down. For this reason, cat owners like to put food and water on perches for the cats. It is difficult for children and dogs to reach these heights, so you won’t have to worry about non-cat household members stealing cat food. The semi-enclosed perches also feature a border where it can prevent food and water bowls from falling off.

Cat Towers

Cat towers are cat trees thats features tall vertical posts with a perch or condo on the top. Due to its taller vertical height, cat trees that feature cat towers usually are larger than your average cat tree because it needs a wider base to provide for stability. Cat towers are usually taller, about 4 ft. & up. To allow cats to climb their way to the top, there are usually perches, acting like a flight of stairs that guides your cats to the top of the tower. Some cat towers do not have a wider base, but instead feature harnesses that you will need to install into walls and ceilings. These kind of cat towers are designed to take up less space and still give your cats that height feature to ‘tower’ over their environment. If your cat loves to climb onto your bookshelves or your fridge, this is an excellent choice.

Buying the Right Cat Tree

The first step in choosing a cat tree is to understand the needs of your cat, yourself, and your home. Ask yourself some of these questions to discover what you should rule out from the get-go. Sections below will help you answer some of these questions and provide additional guidelines to selecting the most suitable cat tree.

Take a moment and ask yourself these questions. How many cats do you have in your household and are they very territorial? How much space do you have inside your home for a cat tree? Will your cats have difficulty climbing or jumping up and down a cat tree? Do you need the cat tree to look nice and blend into your decor? Are you handy enough to assemble cat trees by yourself? Do you want to invest into an expensive cat tree that will last longer because of its more durable materials?

Capacity

Cats can be friendly with each other, but are still territorial animals. It is common for cats to claim a room or a piece of furniture inside homes as part of their territory. When another cat or dog comes near it, they stand their ground, often resulting in vocal altercations or even

physical fights. In most of our homes, we do not have the luxury of giving each of our cats their ideal territorial space. For this reason, cat trees are an optimal choice to give cats that additional space - vertically. When looking for cat trees, make sure there are more than enough perches, condos, or platforms to go around so they won’t have to compete for spot. It is akin to picking a car. When you have a lot of children, you might want to look into the minivan or SUV section.

We recommend choosing a cat tree that has minimum of perches and condos that is 2 times the number of cats in your home. For example, if you have 2 cats, look for a cat tree that have at least 4 perches or condos.

Size

Another deciding factor similar to capacity are the sizes of the cat tree’s condos and perches. Although cats love confined spaces, feeling wrapped snug by their surroundings, larger breeds like Maine Coons might have difficulty napping onto a small cat perch. From experience, we’ve seen cats curled up on perches that are far smaller than the cats themselves. Especially when your perch has a border or ledge, cats like to rest their head on them while napping. This allows them to use perches that are a bit shorter than their body’s length. Our recommendation is to find a cat tree with perches that are at least ¾ the length of your cat.

As for the size of entrances, cats have the ability to fit into holes as narrow as their whiskers. We haven’t seen holes that are so small that cats cannot fit into them, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the size of entrance holes.

If you have a kitten, a large cat tree might be difficult of kittens to climb because of height and that kittens might not have learnt how to balance/climb efficiently yet. Buying a more difficult cat tree for kittens does mean they will get the opportunity to hone their climbing skills faster. Our recommendation is to start off with a smaller cat tree and see how your cat reacts to it. If it doesn’t work out, at least you didn’t spend a fortune on it. In the event that your cat loves it, it wouldn’t hurt to invest an additional cat tree that is larger.

Construction

We’ve seen industrial staples, glue, nails, bolts, and screws used to hold cat trees together. Most of these fasteners do a great job of holding everything together. Just make sure that none of these are exposed on the surface of the cat tree that would hurt your cat.

Stability

Regardless of how excited your cats can get before they need to go use their litter box, stability should be one of the most important deciding factors when choosing a cat tree. If a cat tree is not stable, it could potentially topple over and break things in your home. Worse yet, it might hurt your cat. Our recommendation is to look for a cat tree that is on the heavier side, the heavier the better. Heavier usually means larger, so if you don’t have the required space for a large cat tree, look for a cat tree that has a heavy base. There are a couple tricks that you can do to stabilize cat trees, to prevent it from tipping over. You can try putting it in a corner so at least you will have 2 directions topple-proofed. Another trick is to put them on flooring instead of carpet. If all else fails, you can install corner braces, furniture straps, or even add weight onto the base.

Structural Materials

In cat trees, the most common structural materials found are solid wood, plywood, medium density fiberboard (MDF), and particle board.

Solid wood will be your best bet when choosing a strong cat tree. It is much stiffer and stronger when compared to plywood. New Cat Condos Skyscraper Cat Tree is an example of solid wood cat tree. One disadvantage of solid wood is that it is prone to humidity. If it isn’t solid wood wasn’t treated, cracking may occur. Plywood on the other hand is weaker than compressed wood, but still stronger than compressed wood.

Below plywood and solid wood are the compressed wood materials - MDF & particle boards. Compressed wood are those found in IKEA furniture. It can get quite technical, but just know that MDF is much denser and stronger than a particle board.

Our recommendation is to choose plywood or solid wood cat trees. Although compressed wood cat trees are adequate, they are more prone to structural damage, hence replacement.

Surface Materials

Carpet

When people think of cat trees, a climbing structure covered with carpet probably comes to mind. In fact, the majority of cat trees on the market are covered with carpet not with no reason. The texture of carpet encourages cats to scratch and claw on it. It also resembles a lot of household furniture, to prevent them from scratching furniture. Carpets are also soft and provides a cushion for cats to lounge on. Other than the fact that they are prone to collect dust and hair, they are a great choice for most cats.

Faux Fur

This kind of surface fabric material has a finer texture than carpet on cat trees. It is silky to the touch and easy for the hand to brush across. It’s is a very comfortable surface for cats to lounge on. Compared to carpet, it provides less cushion because of its finer fiber, thus less volume. If your cat likes to lounge on soft and cushioned objects, this is probably not the best choice. Faux fur would be more suitable for cats that prefer to lounge on fine and silky materials, like your silk or polyester dress.

Sisal Rope

Sisal is derived from the leaf fibre of sisal plants. After drying and brushing, it yields a stiff fibre that cats are attracted to scratch on. We haven’t seen a cat that does not to scratch on sisal rope. They are honestly the best material for cats to shed their nails on through scratching. Some sisal rope comes treated with chemical and oil coated on it - these aren’t necessary and are toxic for your cats. Look for natural sisal rope with no chemical or oil added.

Laminate

Laminated wood surfaces are most common in more premium cat trees and are focused on aesthetic design. This material paired with a sleek modern design, they can be easily mistaken for a designer furniture piece inside a home. Laminated materials are not as easy to climb or scratch on for cats. If you have seen cats try to run on laminate flooring, it is just like that. Cats may slip because the surface material lacks grip. On the bright side, it is easy to clean and does not look like a typical cat tree. Most cat trees with laminate surface material often comes with softer material that provides a more comfortable place for cats to lounge or scratch on.

Features

Cat trees come with all sorts of features. Below are a list of the most common features we have found to on cat trees. Most of these are essential to a cat tree and provides different function to keep your cats healthy and entertained.

Scratching Post

Scratching posts are covered with sisal rope on cat trees most of the time. They can be vertical or horizontal depending on the design and where it is located on the cat tree. Scratching posts are most common as one of the pillars on a cat tree wrapped around by sisal rope. Make sure the scratching post is tall enough for the cats to stand up and scratch on.

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Cubbyhole

This a small and snug place like a cat condo where cats use as a place of safety or to nap away. They can be covered in fabric or laminate material. If you buy one with that isn’t lined with fabric, you can try to line it with a towel inside to make it more comfy for cats. Cubbyhole can come with multiple entrances and exits, making it also suitable for play time.

Resting Perch

Most cat tree comes with at least 1 resting perch. These are typically U shaped or with raised edges. When wrapped snug, cats feel more secure and safe as opposed to just a flat surface. Added with height on a cat tree, it is easily a cat’s favourite place to relax. If you have more than one cat, look for a cat tree that has multiple perches to avoid competition.

Tunnels & Ramps

Tunnels and ramps are great features for play but also for accessibility. If your cat has difficulty climbing or jumping to higher places such as older cats or cats that were declawed, ramps will make it much easier for them to enjoy their ascent on the cat tree.

Toys

Toys such as dangling sisal rope or a bell hanging off the top shelf of a cat tree is something that many cat trees feature. It is a great way to keep the cats entertained when you are unable to. Most toys are stapled on and may come loose or fall off after extended use. Simply staple it back on or staple a new cat toy if this happens.

Assembly

Assembly is something most people shy away from nowadays when purchasing a cat tree. Most of the installation required are mostly slotting posts into holes or tightening screws together. We’ve seen instruction manuals that were written in English but didn’t make any sense. Most of the installation were pretty straightforward to figure out without the manual. If you aren’t as handy, many cat trees are shipped pre-assembled, meaning you just have to take away the wrapping and packaging before letting your cats play on them.

Aesthetic Design

Most cat trees do stand out like an 800 pound elephant inside a home. They are often covered with carpet and look like a really ugly and barebone shelf. If you are worried that cat trees won’t blend in with your home, look for modern design cat trees that are minimalist and elegant.

Selecting cat trees with neutral colors such as grey or beige will also make it less obvious before your furniture. However, modern design cat trees are less cat friendly, meaning they lack grip or scratching areas such as carpets. A mid point would be to buy a smaller cat tree with carpeting that isn’t as tall as your average cat tree. This will keep it low profile while still meeting your cats needs.

Conclusion

Hopefully that was enough information to narrow down your search for the most suitable cat tree for you and your cat!

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