Is your cat a climber? Does your favourite feline always find a way to scale wardrobes, bookcases and even your curtains? Have you ever wondered why cats like to perch in high places?
Do you have a cat that never seems to spend much time at ground level? Do they enjoy exploring high places around your home, knocking nick-nacks off your top shelf or miaowing incessantly because they’ve found a way to get on top of the wardrobe but can’t get down again?
To your cat, this height-seeking behaviour is all purrfectly normal.
Being up high makes cats feel safe
“Cats live in three dimensions – they’re not earthbound creatures like dogs,” says Trish McMillan Loehr, a certified cat behaviour consultant, who emphasises the importance of providing cats with plenty of vertical space. “They simply love to climb. Cats feel safe when they’re up high, especially if you have small kids or dogs who may follow and annoy them.”
Being up high makes cats feel in control of their surroundings and provides them with more space
In fact, seeking out high spaces is hardwired into your pampered, well-fed cat’s genes, even if they no longer have to source their own dinner. “In the wild, a higher place serves as a concealed site from which to hunt,” explains Bridget Lehet, a certified feline training and behaviour specialist.
Cats Protection adds: “Cats feel safer if they can view their surroundings from a height and this also increases their territory by providing extra vertical space that they can use. Climbing is another of your cat’s natural pastimes, as they love to get up high so they can survey their surroundings.”
Being up high can be a status symbol
In multi-cat households, every feline needs their own space, where they have the opportunity spend time away from each other. For some cats, being at the highest point in the house could suggest that they’re asserting their position as feline-in-chief.
“Height can indirectly be a sign of status,” observes Bridget Lehet. “The cat who controls the best perches is generally the most dominant, literally the ‘top cat’. From that location, the cat can survey his ‘realm’ and be more aware of activities of people and other pets.”
Being up high enables cats to investigate interesting stuff
While scaling furniture and fittings can be entertaining for your cat, it’s not so great for their human if they insist on clambering up on your kitchen surfaces or continually jump onto your ornament-filled mantelpiece.
Veterinary charity PDSA advises: “A cat’s natural instinct is to jump and climb. It’s fun for them to do and forms part of their natural behaviour. If your cat is jumping because something on the shelf or worktop has caught their interest, try clearing it off. An empty shelf with no toys on it won’t be as fun for your cat. Try to keep kitchen work surfaces clear of food and anything else that may tempt your cat, so they become boring for them.”
Being up high can be beneficial to your cat’s wellbeing
“Vertical space is very, very important to cats,” says Dr Jennifer Fry, a veterinarian based in Pennsylvania, USA. “Cats instinctually like and take comfort from heights, but they also require vertical spaces to feel mentally stimulated. You can increase vertical space by hanging shelves on the wall for them to climb, and you should have at least one tall condo for each cat.”
For added feline fun, place shelves or cat trees near a closed window, adding an outdoor suction cup birdfeeder. “This safely provides much-needed enrichment through watching birds – also known as ‘Bird TV’ for cats,” suggests Bridget Lehet.
How to help your cat enjoy the high life safely
Providing safe, securely fitted climbing and perching facilities will prove a popular choice with height-loving cats.
PDSA advises: “Cat trees can be a great way to offer your cat lots of different levels to explore. You can also use floating cat shelves as mounted platforms on your walls to provide paths to higher reaches. You can even put beds up here so they can spend time feeling safe and relaxed. Put toys on them to encourage your cat to use them and reward them when they do – for example with a healthy treat, playtime or petting, whichever they like best.”
Outside, you could provide shelves or ledges that are securely fitted to a wall or install an outdoor cat tree. If you’re lucky enough to have a tree with accessible branches in your garden, you could add a tree-house platform, which may make your feline friend the envy of all the other cats in the neighbourhood.
What to do if you need to offer your cat some alternatives
If you’re not happy about some of the locations your clambering cat has taken a liking to, make sure your cat has plenty of cosy spaces and toys to play with in alternative places.
PDSA advises: “If you’re not allowing your cat somewhere, it’s really important to make sure they can still have their fun elsewhere. Your cat might be climbing and jumping simply because they enjoy it and like to be up high, or it offers them a path to get elsewhere, or they want to be near you or watch you while you’re doing your thing. Offer them an alternative space that they are allowed to climb on that satisfies the same purpose. For example, if your cat likes to climb on your desk and wander all over your laptop or sit on important papers, put a cat bed on a side-table. This way they can still enjoy your company while you work, but they’re not in the way.”
If your cat persists in climbing up in places you’re not happy about, telling them off is not a good way to handle the situation. Conscious Cat, an online resource for cat lovers across the world that seeks to improve the lives of pets and their humans, warns: “Punishment doesn’t work and often results in stressed-out and confused cats who don’t understand what’s expected. Without alternative activities, cats don’t have the physical resources required to meet their basic needs, which can lead to stress and anxiety.”
Because cats climb out of instinct, the best way to move your cat away from curtain climbing, for example, is to provide them with an appropriate way to engage with the world as they naturally would.
Conscious Cat advises: “The best way to convince cats to stop climbing curtains is to give them a more attractive way to meet the same need. Many cats will happily pivot to napping in cat trees or exploring mounted cat shelves. Cat shelves and trees are excellent products since they give pets places to hang out and keep tabs on things. With just a few cat shelves and a hammock, you can create an outstanding play and relaxation area where your cat can jump, climb, and relax.”
Plenty of playtime is also vital. PDSA adds: “Try to play with your cat as much as you can. This will make them happy, let them exercise their natural instincts and (hopefully) tire them out. The more they play with you, the less likely they are to get bored and want to go exploring where you don’t want them to. Remember to keep playtime interesting and varied by playing with different toys and alternating them regularly.”
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