Cat tree – everything about the cat’s favorite piece of furniture

Besides sleeping and hunting, scratching is one of the favorite pastimes of our house cats. Why is that? And what is there to consider so that the four-legged friend actually only uses the scratching post and not the furniture or wallpaper? On this page we tell you everything there is to know about the topic of scratching post for cats.

Click here to go directly to the twelve tips on what to do if your cat doesn’t scratch its scratching post.

A cat lies in a hollow and at the same time scratches the trunk of his cat tree
A cat tree is there for more than just sharpening claws. It is a place to relax and lounge around.

What is a cat tree? And who invented it?

A cat scratching post is a piece of furniture whose trunks, made of hardboard or plastic, are usually covered with sisal to give the velvet paws the opportunity to sharpen their claws. Meanwhile, there are also trunks made of banana leaf or wood, which are even closer to the natural scratching post for cats, the tree.

A scratching post is almost every cat's favorite piece of furniture.
A scratching post is almost every cat’s favorite piece of furniture.

Who exactly invented it is not known to me. But it has been around for decades and if in the beginning they were simple trunks, over time they have become more fancy and stylish. If you don’t want it, then you don’t have to have a scratching post that looks like one anymore, and you’ll still make your house cat (and yourself) happy.

Why cats scratch the scratching post

Cats are predators and need sharp claws. In the wild, these are indispensable to not lose their grip when climbing and hunting. In addition, all cat animals need sharp claws to prevent the hunted prey from escaping and to be able to hold the prey animal after a successful hunt.
The claws of a cat consist of different layers of horn. Scratching on solid objects removes the old and dull layers of horn and reveals the sharp claw underneath. If you’ve ever found an old claw, you know how sturdy they still are. So you can imagine that it takes some strength to strip them off.

If there is no adequate scratching post for this, other things that feel like tree trunks are used, such as the woodchip wallpaper. Or even the sofa. This is even more attractive if the cat sleeps next to it. The first thing cats like to do after getting up is to stretch and scratch. And from the floor, sofas have just the right height for our house tigers to stretch long while scratching. This is early morning sport and getting ready for the demands of everyday life from hunting and climbing in one. The instinct is also present in our stuffed tigers, which no longer have to hunt down their prey themselves.

More about this in this article: Help, my cat scratches – what’s behind it?

A single cat claw on a piece of fabric
Cat claws are made up of several layers of horn that need to be renewed and stripped regularly to keep the claw sharp.

When do I need a cat tree?

As of yesterday! Basically, you need a cat tree before you even offer a new home to the first house cat. It is an essential part of the initial equipment for cats .

Why? Because it is easier for the velvet paw to accept it when it already smells like the rest of the apartment. You must always remember that cats are creatures of habit and often struggle with change. So if she now has to process the big change of a new home and you then also put a new scratching post with again a new smell in front of her after a week, then it is often not so easily accepted. But if this is already standing, it is taken possession with the apartment.

A cat lies on a dresser
Cats may lie in places other than a scratching post, but there is still no substitute for it.

Even if you choose a kitten as your new four-legged friend, you should provide it with a scratching post right from the start. Like all young creatures, kittens love to play for their lives and thus playfully learn to use the scratching post from the very beginning.

What you should consider when buying a cat scratching post

You probably won’t find the perfect cat tree right away, you’ll have to do a little trial and error. Because it depends on several things, what makes the right cat tree. Below I have listed a few general considerations:

  • Do you have a free roamer? These often only need a small retreat and scratching area next to where they sleep because they prefer to sharpen their claws on real wood outside. But as mentioned above, all velvet paws like to scratch right after getting up. So if your pet hunts outside and sleeps inside, you should have a scratching option next to his crib so he doesn’t pick one you might not like.
  • Do you have an indoor-only cat? Then you definitely need a bigger cat tree or even several! After all, your house cat does not have the opportunity to let off steam outside, but has to get rid of his energy in your apartment. And for that he needs more than a floor, table and chair.
  • How many cats do you share your life with? If there is more than one velvet paw, then you should definitely make sure that the scratching post is big enough so that all of them can sit there at the same time. Both for playing and for sleeping. They may not often all sleep on the cat tree at the same time, but they will choose their own personal dens and hollows and won’t want anyone else sleeping there. So you should offer a sleeping place on the scratching post for every house cat.
Bright cat tree with three cats on different levels
If you are providing a home for more than one pet, then your cat tree should be appropriately sized.
  • How old are your cuddly tigers? For kittens, your scratching post should not be too high, because their play can get very wild and in the heat of the moment, a kitten has often fallen off the scratching post. On the other hand, the little ones grow very quickly. Ideally, therefore, the cat tree can be expanded and grow with it. Or you can use the small initial cat tree as a second tree when your kitten has become a full-grown house cat. On the other hand, if you have senior cats living with you, you should make sure that the cat tree is easy to climb. Because like us humans, velvet paws find it increasingly difficult to climb and jump as they get older. You then help them by choosing a cat tree with short spacing and low trunks, or by adding intermediate boards.
  • How big are your cats? There are also in the normal domestic cats large and small representatives. Especially for the high legged specimens or also the Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cats normal scratching posts are too small. They simply do not fit on the boards and levels not to mention the tubes and caves. If you count such a tiger your own, you should make sure to choose a large cat tree. Often these then also have stronger trunks and are generally built a little more stable.

The perfect size of a scratching post – especially for big cats

As mentioned above, the simple and common scratching posts are often too small for large cats.

A cat sleeps squashed on a small scratching post
On the cat tree should be enough space for your darling, so that he does not have to squeeze too much.

Especially with the naturally tall species such as Maine Coon and Norwegian Forest Cat, but also the one or other larger British Shorthair should be taken to an extra large cat tree or the boards are individually attached to the wall, so that there is enough space to jump from board to board.

Not only should the boards be larger, but you should also make sure that the logs are thicker (11 instead of 9 cm in diameter) to achieve the greatest possible stability. After all, the big cats are also the heavier ones and develop tremendous strength with their bodies when they pounce on the cat tree at full speed. This can cause everything to wobble and, if the stability is poor, to topple over.

The thicker trunks also often use thicker sisal rope, so that also ensures a longer shelf life. Because bigger cats also have more massive paws and longer claws and thus develop more power in their scratching. Small 9 cm diameter logs with 4 mm diameter sisal can not withstand this for long. Therefore, you should rather choose the larger and more stable form right away. In order not to buy twice within a short period of time.

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Otherwise, the perfect size of your cat tree also depends on the habits of your pussycat: Is he rather one of the calmer or wilder representatives? Does he prefer to scratch horizontally or vertically?

You should definitely not choose your cat tree too small. Because then it will quickly become boring and no longer be used. Just imagine what you would like if you were your cat.

High, higher, highest? Or what height must have my cat tree?

You can reduce the expansion of your cat tree by building it up in height. Again, the ideal height of a cat tree depends on several factors. Scratching trees with ceiling tensioners offer a little more stability, but are usually only available for normal height ceilings (240cm). That is, in an apartment with a higher ceiling, as is the case, for example, in old apartments, a ceiling tensioner will not help you much. So here you definitely need to attach the cat tree to the wall somehow, if it is not stable without it.

Then, of course, the height also depends on your velvet paw. There are cats who can’t get high enough. They prefer to lie on the very highest points of the apartment, so that they can look down on their kingdom and personal can opener in peace. You can also use angles to attach scratching boards or parts of the scratching post high on the wall under the ceiling to these cats, giving them extra space.

Cat enthroned under the ceiling on a scratching post
For some cats, it can’t get high enough for them to have the absolute overview.

Then there are also cats that prefer to scratch horizontally and do not dare to go up so high. For these, a smaller or flat scratching post and perhaps a scratching board on the floor will suffice. There are other scratching furniture more suitable for such velvet paws. You should definitely make sure with the scratching boards that they don’t slip away.

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As mentioned above, you should not start with a ceiling-high scratching post for very young kittens. However, you should also keep in mind that your kitten will turn into a full-grown house cat pretty quickly. Either you directly use a cat tree, which you can expand, or you make the first small cat tree the second tree in the bedroom or kitchen.

What all belongs to my cat tree?

There are countless different types of scratching posts, plus a bunch of accessories. Especially large scratching posts you can assemble in different ways. What a cat scratching post consists of at least and what you should consider when buying, I tell you in the following section.

Base plate

The base of your cat tree is effectively its foot and is responsible for much of its stability. Therefore, it should be large and heavy. You should make sure that it is not too narrow, so that the cat tree can not fall over in one direction. The bottom plates of the common scratching posts are made of hardboard or chipboard. If they are large enough, they are also sufficiently heavy and stable. But now there are also floor panels made of solid wood.

Cat scratching post with large base plate
A cat tree needs a large base plate for a stable stand.

Logs and sisal

Besides the base plate, the trunks are the most important part of a cat tree. In common scratching posts, these are made of hardboard wrapped with sisal. The scratchy texture of this natural rope is reminiscent of the rough bark of trees, the natural scratching posts of our cats, thus encouraging them to sharpen their claws.

Both the logs and the sisal come in different thicknesses. Common are trunks between 9 and 11 cm in diameter and sisal rope in diameter 4-12 mm. Thinner variants are cheaper, but do not withstand especially wild cats for a long time. If you know in advance that your house cat is a scratching champion, then you should definitely get the more stable version.

Meanwhile, there are also logs made of wood or metal, which are covered with sisal. Straight solid wood is particularly stable and heavy. So you have the advantage that you do not have to replace your cat tree so quickly because the sisal is scratched through or the plastic cover with the thread is broken out.

Which type you choose, however, is not only a stability issue but also a cost issue. Straight logs of solid wood are much more expensive than those made of hardboard and sisal.

Lounger and climbing boards

The lying boards are generally placed between the sisal logs and are often covered with plush. On them your cuddly tiger can sit, sleep, play. At the same time, the common plush is very fluffy, but often not very durable. Your cuddly tiger will love to lie there, but will quickly tear it especially when playing wildly.

Therefore, in the meantime, there are boards covered with carpet or made of banana leaf or water hyacinth. As with the previously mentioned components, it is both a matter of taste and cost as to which type you choose.

Large cat tree with white sleeping cat
A cat tree consists of the base, trunks, boards and many other options for lying and sleeping.

But no matter what type of construction you choose, you should make sure to stagger them when installing your boards. This allows your cuddly tiger to bounce up and down comfortably. Cats like to climb vertically, but especially older animals find this increasingly difficult. And the harder it is for them, the less the cat tree is accepted. You can counteract this by staggering boards.

Troughs, caves, tubes

A cat tree is not only for your cuddly tiger to sharpen his claws, but is also a place to sleep and relax. In addition to the boards on which they can lie, there are also various caves, tubes or hollows for lying, cuddling and napping. Since cats like to have the overview, you should attach these sleeping areas further up the cat tree. So they have everything in view and can sleep or rest or clean themselves or whatever they feel like in peace.

With the hollows or hammocks you should make sure that there is enough space at the bottom, so that your darling does not lie down somewhere. After all, you’d rather swing freely in a hammock than drag on the ground, right? If you are thinking about the size of the sleeping area, always choose the smaller one if in doubt. Sounds paradoxical? But have you ever observed the phenomenon of cats squeezing into the smallest boxes? You see! With troughs or hammocks, the phenomenon is the same. There cats do not want to be able to spread out, but squeeze in comfortably. For whatever reason. To stretch out, they then already go somewhere else.

A cat peeks out of a trough hanging from a scratching post
Troughs and hammocks are among the favorite places to sleep on a cat tree.
A tomcat lies curled up in a scratching post lying on the floor
Sometimes it’s hard to believe, but cats like to curl up tight.

Caves and tubes usually differ in the number of entrances. Make sure that they are also easy to reach. And in contrast to the troughs, it may be a little larger here. Your cuddly tiger should be able to turn around in the den and fit comfortably through the tube. Otherwise, both will be used rather less.

Ladders or sloping boards

These are rather ornamental accessories for young cats. They will most likely climb the logs vertically or jump directly onto the highest plank. But especially for older cats, these tools can be useful. And even cats that are used to climbing up or down a cat staircase will accept them.

A cat sits in a hollow on a scratching post and looks to the side
Perhaps a ladder is never used by some cats. Others are happy to be able to use one as they age.

You should make sure that they are not placed too steeply. Because up is still possible, but down is more difficult. In addition, sloping boards should be non-slip. On plush, there can then quickly be a slide.

Ropes, mice and other toys

In addition to climbing and sleeping opportunities, toys hang from many scratching posts. These are ropes for scratching or hacking, rubber ropes with mice or feathers on the end for playing or the like. You shouldn’t hang them all the way up on your cat’s scratching post. On the one hand, the risk of injury would increase if your cat falls off the top board in the heat of the moment while playing. On the other hand, you can no longer get the toy to play along.

If possible, the toy should be chosen interchangeable. So it can be replaced when it has broken or become uninteresting.

Costs

As you could already read in the previous sections, the cost of a cat tree varies greatly. They start at under 20 € for a small, very simple cat tree and can be extended upwards as desired.

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The common scratching posts are usually available for under a hundred to a few hundred euros, depending on the size and features. With designer scratching trees, which no longer look like such and are built of wood, it goes then also gladly into the four-digit range.

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But you should not lose sight of the purpose of the scratching post. Because it helps neither you nor your pet if the scratching post meets your sense of aesthetics, but is no longer recognized as such by your velvet paw. Finally, the ideal scratching post for your cat is a forest.

It is particularly suitable for cat beginners to buy a cheap model first and then see what the cat likes. Accordingly, the next cat tree can then be selected or the first cat tree expanded.

Set up cat tree

You’ve now made all the decisions and bought your velvet paw a cat tree that meets both your and her needs. But it is not done with buying the cat tree, he also wants to be set up. If you want your pet to accept the cat tree and spare your furniture, then you should also consider one or two things when setting it up.

The most important factor is stability! Because if you’ve ever seen how the little pelt-noses romp around on the scratching posts and what energy they muster when scratching, then you understand why such a small scratching post can topple over in the process! Therefore, the rule is: attach the scratching post for your cat to the wall with at least one angle! This is the only way to avoid accidents and injuries to your cuddly tiger.

A living room with cat tree and cat box
The wrong location is one of the main reasons why cats do not accept a scratching post.

The suitable location

The right location is the second most important factor to consider when setting up. Ask yourself the question: if you were your cat, where would you like to scratch and lie? In the dark hallway far away from family life? Or in the middle of it, so you never have your peace?

Right you should choose the happy medium! Your kitty cat wants to be there and not feel left out or pushed away. But at the same time the cat tree is his own personal kingdom. If he can’t retreat a little bit there, too, then he’s not comfortable. High to ceiling-high scratching posts have the advantage that our pelt-noses can move to the very top. There we humans do not get close to them and they have their rest but at the same time their kingdom in view.

The living room is a popular place for this. Maybe behind or next to the sofa. However, not right next to the door, which constantly opens and closes, and maybe even bangs against the scratching post. But perhaps so that the cat tree serves as a ladder for the shelves or cabinets. The cuddly tiger then sits even more out of reach and can tower over everything.

Or next to or in front of the window, so that with the lookout to the outside also a sunny spot with entertainment program is offered at the same time. There, however, you should make sure that it does not pull, so that your darling does not get conjunctivitis or the like. And you need to make sure that the window is secured just when tilting. There are serious to fatal injuries when cats get caught in a tilted window!

Hopefully, it goes without saying that the scratching post should in no case be placed next to the litter box. Or do you want to sleep next to the toilet? And also eating and sleeping we, as well as Mrs. cat would like to have separately. However, this does not exclude the smaller two-crawl in the kitchen for more overview on food preparation.

A white cat sleeping on a scratching post
The right location with an overview but still quiet, lets cat hearts sleep peacefully.

Cleaning the cat tree

Depending on what kind of cat tree you have and what material the sleeping areas are made of, you should clean your cat tree differently. With the boards it is often enough to vacuum them with a vacuum cleaner and a furniture brush. If your pet does vomit on the scratching post, gentle cleaners and a sponge are often enough. Alternatively, you can use a steam cleaner.

You should avoid chemicals or aggressive cleaners. Not only are they not suitable for many materials, but they can also be harmful to your cat’s health. In addition, the cat tree is often avoided due to the unpleasant smell.

Cat tree change

When you replace your old cat tree with a new one is up to you. At the latest when it broke, you should get a new one. Here it is often helpful to already build a new cat tree when the old one is still standing. This increases the acceptance especially with sensitive cats. Because as you remember, cats are creatures of habit. And replacing their entire scratching post with a new one all at once is a big change that can cause upset on your cat’s part. Maybe you can use a part of the old scratching post and integrate it into the new one. Or you can leave it as a secondary tree in another place in the home.

Disposal of the old cat tree

To dispose of your cat tree, you need to unscrew it again. After that, you can take the individual parts to the recycling center. Or you can leave it together in larger pieces and order the bulky waste. Your course of action should depend on how furniture scrapping is handled in your area.

What you should avoid at all costs is disposing of it in your household trash. On the one hand, there is not enough space and on the other hand, a scratching post does not belong in there.

Build cat tree yourself

There can be several reasons to build a cat tree yourself:

  • You enjoy manual work
  • You want to save costs
  • You want to use high quality materials
  • You need an individual cat tree, which corresponds exactly to your own conceptions and fits to your mechanism
  • – …

There are as many possibilities as creativity allows. On some DIY sites, you’ll find great building instructions for scratching posts (and various other cat-related DIYs). However, you should be aware that the very high quality and artfully designed scratching posts are rarely actually less expensive than the ready-bought ones.

But there are also simpler and quite decorative variants, which even the rather unskilled can openers can certainly accomplish.

How to build my own cat tree?

If you are very handy, then of course you can make a great big cat tree yourself with all the woodwork from the craft instructions above.

However, for the not-so-crafty cat owners, there are variations that are easier to do:

  • Use prefabricated individual parts from the cat tree and assemble only individually
  • Use prefabricated shelves made of untreated wood, such as the system Ivar from IKEA, on which strong, young cats may well scratch. The only thing you need to keep in mind is that the shelf must be firmly and securely fixed to the wall.
  • Use other shelves such as lacquer from IKEA and stick with sisal carpet, as described for this cat wall.
  • Get completely creative on their own and build scratching posts out of simple everyday objects (You can find an example here).

And if you do venture into a little crafting, here’s how to build a scratching post.

Cat sitting on scratching bucket
A scratching post is an alternative to the classic scratching posts and is relatively easy to build yourself.

Materials

If you build your own cat tree, then you should definitely attach importance to high-quality materials. We have listed what you should pay attention to:

Wood

Use only untreated wood. A glaze or varnish leads on the one hand to the fact that your cat slips off the board and on the other hand the glaze is possibly poisonous for your house cat.
Depending on the type of wood you use, the wood is more or less hard. That is, it is more or less suitable for scratching. Should you actually want to use the wood for sharpening claws, you should make sure that it does not splinter too easily. You can also get advice on this at the hardware store.
Real tree trunks are even nicer to look at for a cat tree, of course. Keep in mind, however, that in most cases your cat’s original scratching tree bears bark, and it is the bark on which the tigers sharpen their claws. The only thing is that if you have a tree trunk with bark on it, you’re very likely to bring one or two creepy crawlies into your house. Do you know a forester? Great, then let him advise you :-)

Small white cat scratching a tree in the garden
Trees are the natural scratching posts of our house cats.

Rope

Sisal rope is used for cat scratching posts. The thinnest ropes with 4mm break pretty quickly. Better are 8-12mm thick ropes. If you want to wrap sisal rope around a log or similar yourself, make sure it’s neither too tight nor too loose. Because either your cat then can not scratch properly on it or but the sisal loosens again directly.
Alternatively, you can buy already ready-made sisal logs, paying attention to their quality, or work with sisal carpet, which you can glue.

Fabric

Basically, there are no limits to what you can do with the fabric. You should only make sure that the fabric is not too sensitive, otherwise the claws of your cuddly cats will soon have done him in. Proven in the case of a cat tree carpet remnants. They are generally not very expensive and nice and sturdy. And one or the other carpet invites not only to cuddle but also to scratch!

What else you should consider

Fastening is the be-all and end-all for any cat tree! Keep in mind that your fur-balls do get their wild 5-minutes on a regular basis, and the cat tree then has to withstand an onslaught from a full run. And nothing spoils a cat’s scratching post more than if it were about to fall over. So fasten your scratching opportunity well and securely with the right anchors and screws in the wall and the individual parts to each other. If you have any questions, it is better to get advice once more than once too little. (And yet, there are also nice employees at home improvement stores!)

And what if the cat does not scratch the scratching post?

Cat scratching on a wall
If your cat scratches the wall instead of the scratching post, there’s a reason to find.

Scratching is one of the main activities of our little house cats, next to eating and sleeping. As described above, all predators sharpen their claws. In the wild, they have trees with nice firm bark for this purpose. In the living room at home, such objects are rather rare. Therefore, the small predators have to find other opportunities that suit them. If this disregards the cat tree, you should think about what the reason is.

  • Is the cat tree stable and does not wobble when your cat uses it?
  • Did you choose the right location? Is it not too far from the hustle and bustle, but also quiet enough? Doesn’t it pull or smell funny?
  • Is the cat tree recognizable as such for your cat? Or is it stylish, but lacks the scratching, sleeping and playing options?
  • Have you recently cleaned the cat tree or the furniture around it and used the wrong cleaner? Or has another smell been added at this point?

All these questions can lead you to the point that prevents your house cat from using the scratching post. Sometimes it’s obvious things you may have just never thought about before, sometimes it’s little things.

How do I get my cat to use the scratching post and not the furniture?

If your pet uses the furniture instead of the scratching post, then it’s annoying. But you should always remember: your cat does not do this to annoy you! It is an instinct. And this one you just have to take advantage of and steer into the right habit.

  1. Take your cat and put it on the scratching post as soon as it scratches somewhere else. There you can show her what it is good for or that she need not be afraid of it.
  2. When scratching on the wall, you should put or hang a scratching board in this place or even build a small scratching post.
  3. If your pet scratches the sofa, the tip from above with the scratching board can work. Or you can try putting a smooth sheet or blanket over it so there’s nothing left for the claws to slam into.
  4. Try to move the cat basket to another position. Cats scratch immediately after waking up. Ideally, therefore, the sleeping place should be next to a scratching opportunity.
  5. Create enough variety and play with your cat regularly. Just many pure apartment cats scratch not only to sharpen their claws, but out of sheer boredom. For everything you can do to keep your cat busy, read our guide to cat toys.

How do I make the cat tree palatable to my cat?

Cats are creatures of habit. A new cat tree can be a huge disruptive factor. But with the following tricks you can make the new scratching possibility palatable to your house cat.

  1. Give your pet treats on the cat tree. Either lure him to the cat tree and feed him from your hand, or hand out his favorite treats on the different levels. Then he connects it directly with something positive and will also jump up in the future and see if there is not something somewhere.
  2. Play with your cat on the scratching post. Move your daily playtime to the new scratching furniture. There you can romp much nicer over the plains and maybe your house cat will stay right after playing.
  3. You can also hold cuddle sessions on the cat tree and thus integrate it into everyday life.
  4. If you know your pet likes it, spray or sprinkle catnip on the cat tree. Most cats like it and rub and roll in it. Thus, they immediately also distribute their smell on the scratching post and then use it even without catnip. However, you should be absolutely sure beforehand that your darling likes this smell and you should be careful with the dosage. The smell stays for a while and is not so easy to remove.
  5. Valerian has a similar almost intoxicating effect on many cats. Again, dose carefully and be sure your cat likes the smell. It’s best to try it out beforehand with a small toy or something similar that you can throw away if necessary. Because there are also cats that do not like the smell and try to cover it with peeing.
A cat lounges in a hollow on a scratching post
If you follow all the tips, nothing should stand in the way of a relaxing cat tree experience.

With this comprehensive guide, you should be able to find the perfect cat tree for you and your pet. Hopefully, the tips and tricks will help restore a great deal of harmony to your life together.

Can you think of anything else?

Have we forgotten anything?

Do you have any questions, other instructions or photos?

Then we are happy about every comment!

Bild:

(c) Stefanie Vogt

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