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Why your cat needs vertical perching space

By: Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Cat Behaviourist, host of the TV show My Cat From Hell, and author of the cat behaviour science book, The Cat Whisperer

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Header photo: Lyubina

We’ve all seen our cats perched in high places. In fact, if we don’t create environments for our cats that are rich with vertical territory options, they will often create their own, sometimes knocking down potted plants in the process. When you come home from work to find your cat on top of a shelf, your favourite books scattered on the floor beneath him, he’s giving you a hint that his territory needs some vertical enriching.

Though your cat is domestic, his need to perch can be traced back to his wildcat ancestry. Even when he is safe and happy in your home, his wildcat instincts are still ingrained in him and determine many of his actions, including avoiding potential dangers. In the wild, cats climb trees to escape predators and to gain a good vantage point to look for prey. The need to climb is so deep-rooted in your cat’s genetic makeup that he will seek out high places even in a home where he knows he is safe and well cared for.


Jumping—along with scratching—is a cat behaviour people like to discourage, but in fact these behaviours are natural and should actually be encouraged—just in more appropriate ways than allowing your cat to jump onto the stove while you’re cooking dinner or scratching the side of your expensive sofa. Providing spots to jump to encourages exercise, which is sorely lacking for many indoor cats, and scratching helps cats to shed a sheathe from
their claws, a necessity for health. Vertical spaces, such as cat trees, help your cat to be able to safely climb, jump on, and scratch furniture that has been designed for that very purpose. The more appropriate places you provide, the less inappropriate places he will seek out.

In a multi-cat home, having a variety of vertical spaces plays a critical role in how well your cats will get along. When cats live together, they develop their own systems for timesharing resources such as water, food, toys, and yes, even perching areas. Providing a variety of vertical resting areas throughout your home will decrease territorial and competitive thinking and will help your multi-cat home be more harmonious.

These days, there are a lot of options to consider when thinking about incorporating vertical spaces into your home. Cat trees are one of the most popular options because they can be purchased in any pet store and are easy to assemble. Many cat trees are multi-tiered, which allows several cats in a multi-cat home to closely share the resource without anyone feeling threatened. To cover two bases at once, look for cat trees that have scratching posts incorporated into them. Cat trees are traditionally large, heavy, and ugly, but more chic options are available if you search around, albeit for a larger price tag. Some cat trees are even designed to look like pieces of art.


Cat shelving and catwalks are also popular options. The pre-made versions of these are a bit harder to come by and will require more of an effort to assemble and install, but they will make less of a footprint in your home since they attach to walls and can be placed towards the ceiling. This type of vertical space can be simple or elaborate, depending on your budget, skills, and imagination. There are many blueprints and tutorials online (check out to create a varied environment for your cat. When constructing DIY cat shelving and catwalks, be sure that they are built wide and sturdy enough to hold the weight of your jumping cat.

Window perches are easy to install and give your cat some extra stimulation by providing a front row seat to all of the action outside. For an extra treat, add a birdfeeder just outside the window and watch your cat go nuts as the birds flutter around outside.

Many people choose to simply create vertical space with the furniture they already have in their home. A properly secured bookshelf or table can go a long way in creating valuable perching space. Despite my own home being filled with plenty of options, my cats still sometimes prefer an everyday breakfast counter stool!

In nature, where your domestic cat’s wildcat instincts come from, he would have a whole jungle’s worth of options. When choosing vertical space options, think about what you can do to create the best landscape inside your home to help your cat thrive. It will benefit your cat physically and emotionally to have multiple perching spots throughout your home just like he would out in nature.

Check out some more perfect perches here.

Last Updated:

By: Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Cat Behaviourist, host of the TV show My Cat From Hell, and author of the cat behaviour science book, The Cat Whisperer

You can watch cat behaviourist Mieshelle Nagelschneider on National Geographic. An acclaimed, New York Times-noted feline behaviour science author, Mieshelle founded The Cat Behavior Clinic in 1999 and conducts consultations remotely throughout the United States and in over 30 countries. You can schedule a consultation with her through

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