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On Top of Everything: Why Do Cats Like to Climb Things?

Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on January 4, 2019
Posted in Behavior Management

For cat owners, it’s no surprise to enter a room and see our beloved feline friend hanging out in a box, basket, countertop or other strange place. More often than not, these hiding spaces are up high—on top of a refrigerator, on a high shelf in a closet or on the tallest perch of a cat tree.

While these height escapades are not at all surprising, they are somewhat confusing. Why on Earth do cats love to climb to high places so much? What is the appeal?

As it turns out, cats and heights go way back, according to science.

It’s in their nature

Back when all cats were feral animals left to their own devices in the wild, they had to hunt for their food and avoid being preyed on, themselves. Your cat’s ancestors used to climb trees to avoid being attacked and to better observe their surroundings to find prey for lunch and dinner.

Because of these predatory instincts, cats love to sit in places where they can observe everything without being seen or touched. Sitting in high places provides the perfect opportunity to “stalk” their “prey” (toys, humans and other pets) without being detected or snuck up on. This is similar to the reason why cats love to hide in boxes and other nooks.

It’s stimulating

Additionally, climbing and jumping to tall locations also provides your cat with healthy exercise—both physical and mental. The physical acts of leaping, stretching and balancing will strengthen its muscles and improve its movement skills. This kind of physical exercise is particularly important if your cat does not run around much or if it is cooped up in a small apartment or home with little space to explore.

Young cats may attempt to jump to tall places and fail (sometimes repeatedly!) but will eventually learn how to reach the areas they are aiming for in time.

The act of climbing is also a lot of fun for your cat. Climbing provides great mental exercise that is challenging, interesting and enjoyable.

It’s safe

Hiding spaces that are way high up in your home may also provide a level of safety and security for your cat when it is stressed. If your home has experienced sudden changes, such as a new family member or pet, new children or more noises and commotion, your cat might be stressed and will seek a far-away hiding spot to relax in. Because we humans aren’t able to leap up to heights with ease like our feline counterparts can, heights provide a barrier of safety your cat needs to calm down.

While providing hiding spaces for your cat is perfectly fine, if your cat is hiding all the time, it might be suffering from severe anxiety or stress and may need to see a vet.

Giving your cat proper climbing spaces

Your cat may love to leap up to the top of the refrigerator or furniture, but you probably don’t love having decorations knocked over and getting cat hair all over those hard-to-reach places. If there are certain areas your cat loves to hide but you don’t want it getting into, you’ll need to train it to find a new spot.

One way to train your cat to avoid these areas is to cover the spaces with a material your cat won’t like, such as double-sided tape or aluminum foil. Once your cat realizes the space is no longer enjoyable, it will begin to avoid it. It may take a few weeks for this to really sink in.

Another way to keep cats out of certain high places is to provide it with a climbing tower or other hiding spaces that will be more interesting. A suction-cup perch on a glass patio door or window is the perfect place for your cat to leap up to and enjoy stimulating views of birds and people passing by outside. Hanging shelves along the walls is another great way to provide these vertical-space nooks.

If you’re unable to hang shelves or other vertical furniture, consider building or buying a cat tree. Add numerous levels and soft, non-slippery spaces to encourage your cat to climb and leap to its heart’s content.

Make sure to keep an eye on your climbing cat and keep it away from open windows—even ones with screens—as cats are known to jump or fall out and get seriously injured. Make sure your cat’s vertical spaces are in areas where it won’t have the ability to escape the home or get hurt.

With so many new places to climb, your cat is sure to stay healthy, happy and feeling safe in your home—just don’t be surprised if you’re being watched from its hiding spot way up high!

Read also: Manual vs. Free Choice Feeding for Your Cat

Our Expert

Dr. Janice Huntingford
Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan

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