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One of the most important parts of owning a cat is making sure their needs are met. One need I often see... ahem... neglected is the need for vertical space. Many people don't like having cat towers in their homes (even though there are many non-carpeted options or even options that don't look like cat towers) or don't have much space to add in vertical space. Other times, we need to add vertical space in an area without much floor space. What can be done in these situations?
If you can drill into your walls, the easiest solution is often adding cat shelves to the wall! Cat shelves allow the cat to satisfy their need to climb and provides them with some space that is their own. This can help with a LOT of behavior problems, both addressing and preventing them.
Picking The Shelves
While you could start planning how you want to set up the shelves first, you may actually want to start by seeing what types of shelving is available. This can give you some inspiration and keep your expectations realistic as you plan your cat wall.
What are some things to consider when looking for cat shelves? The first is price. Obviously, you need to be able to afford whatever shelves you want to add. If your budget is tight, you might be able to get away with floating shelves that are meant for decorations as long as they can hold the weight of your cat (or multiple cats). It's always good to overestimate the weight capacity you'll need if you're not sure. Ikea shelves can be a great, inexpensive way to add vertical space on a budget! Hills has a great guide on making your own cat shelves if you want to learn more.
Another important consideration is the size of the shelves themselves. You want to make sure your cat has enough room to navigate the shelves or to comfortably rest should they decide to lounge a bit. You also want to think about how the shelves will fit in the space without impeding its functioning for the humans. If you are installing them in a hall, you could consider doing slightly narrower shelves a bit lower (don't go too narrow though!) and get wider shelves once they are higher than most humans. Another choice would be installing a "stairway" of shelves in an area with more room (for example, just outside the hallway) and having it lead up to a higher series of platforms that won't hit human heads. On the other end of the hallway, install another "stairway" leading down.
If you have it in your budget, your options become more robust. In addition to straight up shelves, you begin having other options. For example, you can get stairs for your cat to climb!
These can be used on their own, but often they're combined with other cat furniture to create a cat highway on your walls or allow you to give a cozy, relaxing spot for your cat to hang out a bit higher on the wall. You can get bundles of multiple different options to give your cat a few options of where to hang out.
I LOVE the cat shelves Fukumaru has as it's got a nice neutral wood color so it fits in with a lot of decor and is high quality. Plus, there's a lot of variety! In addition to stairs and hammocks, they have suspension bridges, scratching posts, and even an adorable house shaped cat bed for your wall!
Other options exist including some more artsy looking shelves such as this amazing waved platform from the Refined Feline. It actually enhances your decor. Plus, your cat will love hanging out on it! Regardless of what color scheme you want or your aesthetic preferences, there's something out there that can fit your needs!
Planning Your Layout
Once you have an idea of what's out there and how much you and what fits your budget, the next step before purchasing is planning!
You may want to use post it notes or painter's tape on the wall to mark where you want things to go so you can have somewhat of a visual representation of things. If you have specific products in mind, check their dimensions so you make sure you have room.
If you have older cats or less nimble cats, you may want to place platforms slightly closer together so the cats can easily get between them. Another option is setting things up so there's minimal if any jumping involved. Cats can leap pretty high and far, but they may be less inclined to use the platforms if they have to do too much work too often.
If you have multiple cats in your home, it's very important you don't create a situation where your cats may be trapped. A cornered cat is going to have the opposite of a stress relieving effect and may even cause cats that usually get along to have a rift in their relationships. Make sure there are always multiple exits and your cats won't ever end up cornered at the top of the shelves.
I suggest adding some painter's tape to where you want each shelf or object to go and then taking a step back to look it over. You want to make sure you get the layout right when you are ready to install the shelves!
Installing The Shelves
Once you're positive your layout is how you want it, then it's time to install! I'm not going to pretend this part is where my expertise lies so I won't be providing a step by step guide on installation, but most sources suggest mounting cat shelves into a stud for stability. Here is a guide from Lowe's on installing floating shelves that can apply to cat shelves, though do your research before grabbing your stud finder and drill. Make sure your method of installing the shelves is secure and will hold your cats' weight plus take into account the fact that your cats will be leaping onto the shelves!
When in doubt, follow the installation guide that comes with the cat shelves. They will give you specific mounting requirements and give you the best chance of a safe install. This part is not the part to get creative on!
If you aren't a DIY expert or don't have experience installing your own shelves, I recommend against installing shelves yourself. Why? First, it's easy to screw up and expensive to fix your walls. You could easily accidentally damage your home and create bigger problems or safety concerns during the installation. More importantly, if you don't install the shelves properly it could be a safety concern for your cats. If the shelf is installed into the wrong part of the wall, it may not be strong enough and over time the attachment to the wall may fail. This could lead to it falling while your cat is on it or falling off the wall onto your cat (or you!). This isn't an area you want to cut corners on as the installation is extremely important.
Thankfully, you don't have to be a construction expert to install cat shelves as there's an easy solution: hire a professional! This is what I recommend for most people. They'll know how to properly install the shelves in way that is safe for humans and cats. Plus, it will likely take less time and frustration than attempting to do something that's not in your skillset. Make sure you read reviews before hiring someone and ask lots of questions to ensure they know how to properly install cat shelves.
Once the cat shelves are installed, it's time to let your cats enjoy them! Let your cats decide to go up or not, though if needed you can use some catnip/silvervine to attract them to a shelf or leave out some treats to entice them to explore. I don't suggest picking your cat up and placing them on the shelves as this may scare them (kind of like how I don't suggest picking your cat up to "show" them where the litter box is located) and then they'll be less likely to use the shelves. That would be a lot of work and money invested for your cats to develop an aversion to the shelves!
Deciding how to catify your space can be overwhelming so if you'd like some personalized help, check out my Catification package! I'll come to your home and help you decide on what to do and how to layout your space to prevent behavior problems and make your cat happy. We aren't limited to talking about cat shelves, either! I'm happy to come up with a custom plan to make your space cat AND human friendly!
About the author: Joey Lusvardi CCBC is a Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. He is available for consultation in the Twin Cities or virtually wherever you are located.