Not Just Towers: Adding Cat Shelves To Your Walls

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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 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.

Shelf Size

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.

Mixing Cat Shelves and Human Shelves

Who said cat shelves need to be only for the cats? There’s no reason you can’t get some enjoyment out of the shelves, too!

While cats have a reputation for knocking things off shelves, you can still incorporate decorative elements into the shelves. One option would using objects that are a bit heavier, such as books, on the shelves so they’re not easily knocked over. You can also select a really long wall shelf or multiple shelves in a row to create a longer single shelf. You can then place a second row of shelving right above it and place something that fits in the space, like books, to prevent your cat from getting to the other side. That creates additional shelving and space for you to display things.

A brown tabby cat sits on top of a wall shelf (not a cat shelf) with books on both sides. Plants are seen in the corner.
Your cat will never be bored again with all the reading material on their cat shelves! Photo by Danilo Rios.

Another creative idea? Get a cat shelf with built in food or water bowls. Rather than actually using it for food or water, use it as a planter for cat safe plants. Some hanging cat safe plants like a hoya may look really nice if you have the right lighting. A favorite hoya of mine, Hoya curtisii, has adorable little leaves and looks great as a hanging plant. Just make sure you don’t overwater the plant as there won’t be any drainage.

While I absolutely advise against displaying anything super valuable, dangerous, or breakable on shared shelves, you can still show off things that are tempting to your cat if done carefully. Using something like museum putty on the shelf will keep the object adhered to the shelf and off your floor.

Whatever objects you add to your shelves, remember that the shelves need to be able to hold them plus the weight of your cat. Don’t combine cat shelves with storage for your kettlebell collection or you may just end up with a giant hole in your wall!

Options Besides Shelves

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!

If your cat has claws (which I hope they do), you can get them a tall sisal rope covered post that they can both climb and scratch. There are even whole wall mounted cat condos you can get for extra resources for your cats.

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 so if you have specific requirements, don’t be afraid to look at multiple options.

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’ll want to get an idea of your layout ahead of time so you get the right number of shelves for your walls in order to prevent the hassle of returning shelves that won’t work.

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 for all of them where you want to put the shelves. You may want to get a stud finder if you don’t have one already to take into account where you can actually mount your shelves.

When planning the layout of the cat shelves, consider how close they are to places you don’t want your cat to easily access. Cats may use the shelves to jump on top of a tall bookcase or your cabinets. If that’s someplace the cats can’t be, consider installing the shelves further away or rearranging your furniture. That said, don’t be afraid to incorporate unused space like the top of cabinets into your cat shelves. I’ve had a lot of clients have great success with this free extension of your shelves.

I suggest marking 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 so you don’t have to fill in any holes later.

Special Considerations For Special Cats

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.

Installing The Shelves

Once you’re positive your layout is how you want it, it’s time to install them. 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. Get creative with your layout and choice of shelving, not with how you install them.

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.

The Easiest Way To Install Shelves

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/silver vine 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!

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Joey Lusvardi

Joey Lusvardi CCBC is an IAABC Certified Cat Behavior Consultant and professional cat trainer based out of Minneapolis, Minnesota. He runs a behavior consultation and cat training service, Class Act Cats, where he helps cat parents address a variety of unwanted behaviors. Joey is available for in home sessions locally or virtual sessions wherever you are located!