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Home > Cats > Do Cats Need a Cat Tree? Vet Approved Benefits & Alternatives

Do Cats Need a Cat Tree? Vet Approved Benefits & Alternatives

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Dr. Lauren Demos

Veterinarian, DVM

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Last time you visited a cat owner’s house, there’s a good chance you noticed their cat tree—a big, carpet-covered tower in the corner of the room. But when you’re getting your own cat, you might wonder how important a cat tree really is. Maybe you have limited space or don’t like the look of cat trees you’ve seen, or else maybe you’re worried about the expense.

But cat trees are highly recommended because they meet many of your cat’s needs. If you really can’t have a traditional cat tree, there are alternative options available, but it can be hard to find one that lets a cat scratch, climb, rest, and observe as a cat tree does.


Top 4 Benefits of Having a Cat Tree

Cat trees are popular because they are multipurpose cat spaces. They function to fill a ton of your cat’s needs in one place and fulfill their need for environmental enrichment. Even though they aren’t the only option for your cat, it’s hard to beat their versatility. Here are a few of the feline functions that a cat tree can help fill:

1. Rest

Most cat trees have a cozy nest at the top, and many have other rest spaces at different heights. Your cat spends a lot of time napping, and a safe nap spot is important. This resting spot is perfect for many cats, especially if you use a favorite blanket to help bring in familiar scents at first.

Gray cat lying down a cat tree with scratching post
Image Credit: husnerova, Pixabay

2. Scratching

Cats have a strong urge to scratch surfaces in order to sharpen their claws. Cat trees often have vertical areas that are perfect for scratching, and some have horizontal scratchers too. These help your cat stay healthy and provide an alternative to couches or other furniture that your cat might scratch instead.

3. Height

Cats like to be able to observe what’s going on around them, and many cats get a kick from being someplace elevated. A tall perch to look out the window or keep an eye on the household activities is perfect for helping your cat feel safe and engaged.

funny cats playing on tree
Image Credit: Africa Studio, Shutterstock

4. Climbing and Jumping

Cats need daily exercise, including running, climbing, and jumping. If you have a tight apartment, the vertical exercise space is even more important! Giving your cat a tree will encourage them to exercise and help avoid boredom.


Alternatives to Cat Trees

All those perks are great, but if a cat tree doesn’t fit in your space, there are other options too. You still need to fill your cat’s needs for vertical exercise space, elevated perches, and scratching, but you don’t need to have one piece of furniture that fits all of those.

Some kind of scratcher is a must-have for cats. Most cats prefer a vertical scratching tree or pad, but a few like a horizontal scratcher on the floor better. Cardboard scratchers are a cheap option for many cat owners. Your cat also may need someplace all their own to rest—a cat nest or cave. Other cats are happy to find their own nest on the couch or in an odd cranny.

The other major environmental need for a cat is vertical space. Your cat will want to run and jump, and they probably will enjoy an elevated perch. There are lots of options available here, too. If you don’t have a ton of space, you can use wall-mounted shelves to make a kitty “jungle gym.” Some cats even will claim a space on your bookshelf as their elevated space.

two cats on a tree looking in one direction in front of a white wall
Image Credit: Teixeira, Shutterstock

Do I Need More Than One Tree?

If you only have one cat, you shouldn’t need more than one tree. However, once you start introducing multiple cats to the equation, it can get trickier. There’s no hard and fast answer to how many trees you need—some cats are happy to share a tree, especially if it’s larger, while others will feel like they need more “territory.” This might require some experimenting to figure out if your cats need space or if they coexist without trouble. At the very least, there should be more perches available on your tree than cats in the house.

Many cat owners do find they need a second scratcher of some kind to help protect their furniture from cat claws. Cats like to have multiple safe scratching spaces, and some prefer different materials or horizontal scratching pads to a vertical post.


Last Thoughts

Cat trees aren’t strictly necessary for cat owners, but they are a handy tool. They fill many of the needs that cats have and offer lots of space to rest, play, and exercise. If you decide to go with a cat tree alternative, that’s fine, but you’ll want to make sure that your setup still meets all of your cat’s behavioral and environmental needs.

Featured Image Credit: K Lim, Shutterstock

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