Choosing a Cat Tree, Playground or Kitty Condo – What’s Best For You?
By Laura L Miller
Buying cat furniture can be a confusing and perhaps exhausting experience. Nothing is more frustrating than to set up a beautiful cat tree only to have your cats completely ignore it! I’ve owned cats all my life, and in this article I’ll try to share some of my expertise and insight with you to help make your decision a bit easier.
There are a number of factors to consider in choosing a cat tree, condo, tower, playground or gym. Here, in no particular order, are some things you’ll want to keep in mind:
* Your cat’s habits and preferences
* Placement and space requirements
* Materials and construction
* What does your cat want?
As a general rule, most cats share certain traits and habits like curiosity, a desire to hide out in a dark, enclosed space and a love of heights – but as every cat owner knows, each kitty is different!
The first thing I’d suggest is to spend a few days paying close attention to your cat’s habits. Where does he usually sleep, hang out or play? What kinds of things does she play with? When you pick her up, does she want to climb up on your shoulders? What kinds of places are you always battling to keep him out of? The answers to these questions should help you decide what kinds of features your cat will appreciate the most.
Features and the kitties who love them:
Kitty Condo: A cat who tends to choose a dark, quiet corner to sleep in will probably want a model with a kitty condo. The same could be said for cats who love to explore shopping bags, boxes, cupboards and other dark, secret places. If your household is one of those busy or hectic ones with kids playing and lots of folks coming and going, kitty might just love the peace and quiet that an enclosed cat condo brings.
Height: Some cats just need to be up high. Some kitties just like to be able to see everything, and some feel more secure up above the reach of the family dog or small children. If your cat is always trying to climb up on your shoulders when you pick her up, or likes to jump up on counters, you might consider getting the tallest cat tree, kitty gym or playground you can. A floor to ceiling tower can be a good solution, and they come in a variety of configurations – some are very simple and take up very little floor space, others can be quite elaborate. There are also a lot of free standing models over 6 feet tall that will satisfy your cat’s need to look down on us poor humans!
Secure Sleeping Spot: Our cat Lucy always sleeps leaned up against something (me, a chair cushion, or the raised lip on her favorite cat perch) – she needs the security of feeling something against her back for her to truly relax. If your cat is like Lucy, you’ll want to be sure that the cat tree or playground you choose has a place to sleep where she’ll feel secure. You might want a sleep tray with raised sides, a curved half moon shaped shelf or a kitty hammock.
Not So Secure Sleeping Spot: Our other cat, George, just sprawls out anywhere – if your cat is like him, he’ll be happy with an open shelf to nap on.
Observation Post: Pretty much every cat likes to keep an eye on things – it’s simply a survival instinct. Make sure the model you choose has a place where your cat will want to spend many hours of the day, whether it’s a flat shelf, kitty hammock, curved shelf or tray. In addition to the style of the observation post, consider the height off the floor and ease of access – especially if your cat is elderly or doesn’t get around as well as he used to.
Kitty Hammocks: We’ve found that most cats love a hammock, although timid cats may need some reassurance at first due to the extra ‘give’ they feel at first when they step on it. Once they get used to it, it may become a favorite ‘hang out’ (sorry – I couldn’t resist!). If your cat is unsure about the hammock at first, put it close to the floor for added peace of mind. As your cat gets used to it you can move it higher if you like.
Play Tubes: Playful cats like tubes or tunnels because they can charge right through them or lie in wait and pounce at unsuspecting passersby – animal or human!
Even if the cat furniture you choose has all the things your cat loves, if you put it in the wrong place he may completely ignore it. Think about where your cat spends time now – is she a ‘people cat’ who wants to be in the same room as the rest of the family? Is she more of a loner who seeks out quiet spots in unused parts of the house? Does he like to look out the window? (check for nose prints on the glass!)
Years ago we had a fabulous floor to ceiling cat tower with multiple shelves, a kitty condo – the works! The only trouble was that the one place in the house where we had space for it was a room that was hardly ever used. Since our cats like to be with us, they never used the tree, and we ended up donating it to the local humane society. Now we have a smaller cat tree that we keep in the family room where we spend much of our time, and the cats use it every day.
If you can place the tree next to a window there is a much higher likelihood that your cats will use it. A window that opens is best, especially for indoor kitties. The smells and sounds from outdoors will keep them entertained and engaged in the world around them.
Here’s where you start thinking about your needs. How much space are you willing and able to devote to cat furniture, whether it’s a playground, kitty gym or cat tree? Be sure to look at all the dimensions – baseplate size, overall dimensions and height – and actually measure the space you have in mind to make sure it will fit. Many models are modular in design, so you don’t have to put it together exactly as it is pictured. This can give you a bit of flexibility if space is an issue. Look for the phrase ‘modular design’ – not all cat trees have this feature!
Materials and Construction
One of the main considerations here should be how stable and sturdy the cat furniture is. Cats will not use a wobbly or unstable tree. Look for broad bases and bottom heavy designs that will keep it from tipping when your cat jumps up on it.
Wood: Some cat furniture manufacturers use plywood, others use particle board – and they will all swear that the wood they use is the absolute best! The truth is that each has advantages and disadvantages.
Plywood is quite strong because it is made from thin layers of wood and each layer has the grain running in a different direction from the layer above and below. Since the visible surfaces are covered, the manufacturer can use a lower grade of plywood that will have knots showing and may be a bit rough to the touch. So you may have rough exposed wood on the inside roof of a condo or the underside of the baseplate – not really an issue for most folks, but a good thing to know ahead of time.
Particle board is made of small wood chips bonded together by a kind of glue. It is heavier than plywood, so it adds stability to a cat tree, and the surface is much smoother than plywood. It is more likely than plywood to break – sometimes corners will chip off – but under normal use this shouldn’t be a problem.
Coverings: Carpet or fake fur? The debate rages! One thing everyone agrees on is that whatever covering you choose make sure it is not a closed loop carpet or other covering that can catch a claw. I’m sure you’ve seen a cat stretch out and get a claw caught in a bedspread or sofa cushion – in a relaxed setting the cat is usually able to extricate himself, although he may leave a snag in the fabric! Imagine your cat at top speed romping up and down his kitty playground – if the playground is covered in non cut pile carpet (like Berber) and he catches a claw it can cause a serious injury.
Carpet is soft and inviting, but since one of the purposes of cat furniture is to give your kitties a place to sharpen their claws, some folks think carpeted cat furniture just encourages or even trains your cat to sharpen his claws on the carpet on your floor. Personally, I’ve never had that problem, but I know some folks have. If you do choose carpet, make sure it is cut-pile carpet to prevent possible injury from a caught claw. Carpet is secured with staples, which have the potential to stick up and scratch fingers or paws, but well made cat furniture does not usually have this problem.
Fake fur isn’t quite as cushy as carpet, but as long as it is secured with non-toxic glue, there is no possibility of injury from an errant staple. Some manufacturers do staple the fake fur, however, and it is much harder to bury a staple in fake fur than in carpet – if you choose fake fur, make sure that it is glued, not stapled. Like the carpet vs fake fur debate, the staples vs nontoxic glue debate is a heated one. I am of the opinion that as long as the glue is nontoxic and the staples are applied properly glue is best for fake fur and staples are best for carpet. It’s a matter of personal preference as to whether you choose carpet or fur. One nice thing about fake fur is that it is washable – often times models with hammocks are covered in fake fur – check to make sure that the hammock covers zip off so you can throw them in the washing machine.
Sisal Rope: Most experts agree that sisal rope provides an ideal surface for your cat to sharpen her claws. It’s durable, yet it doesn’t ‘catch’ claws the way non cut pile carpet can. Most cats love the feel of it under their paws and will instinctively start scratching when they feel it under foot. All of our cat furniture features sisal rope, some on all poles, some in combination with carpet.
Curved Features: Any curved surface on a cat tree is made of thick cardboard tubes – they are used in construction as molds for making round concrete pillars among other things. They are quite sturdy and should last a long time, but be aware that they are cardboard and will be the weakest part of your kitty gym – especially if they ever get wet. Look for designs that offer extra support to a curved feature – two attachment points is better than one!
Expandability and Flexibility
If you’re anything like me, you get bored with your environment and need to rearrange the furniture now and then. Cats get bored too, and so many of the models we offer are of a modular design which allows you to put them together in more than one way and to add or swap out features later. If this is important to you, be sure to look for the phrase ‘modular design’ – not all models have this feature!
Price and Other Human Concerns
Cat furniture can seem expensive, but it truly is an investment in your cat’s health and happiness. A cat who has a place to burn off energy and take a safe nap is less likely to develop destructive habits like scratching your furniture or relieving himself outside the litterbox. Indoor cats especially need some extra stimulation to keep them from getting bored.
Of course, you are the one who has to decide how much to spend on your cats, but in cat furniture you really do get what you pay for. If your budget is small, you are better off getting a smaller model than a large cheap model. Cheap cat furniture is likely to suffer from poor quality materials and workmanship which will shorten its life. Also, it will probably be wobbly and therefore less appealing to your cats so they may not use it at all. You may get lucky, but in my experience cheap cat furniture is a waste of money.
Aesthetically speaking, your cat couldn’t care less what the cat tree looks like, cats are much more concerned with function, so please yourself in the aesthetics department! And as far as color is concerned, cats’ eyes are optimized for hunting in low light – they don’t really see color. So choose a color that works for you, one that matches your decor or a neutral color that will blend in even if you change your decorating scheme. Some cat owners choose colors to match their cat’s fur so the cat hair won’t show as much, others like a very different color to inspire them to keep the cat tree vacuumed – color is purely a personal decision and will not affect your cat’s enjoyment one way or the other!
I hope I’ve been able to help you sort out some of the maze of decisions that need to be made in choosing the right cat tree for your kitty and for you. Hopefully I haven’t just added to the confusion!
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