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Why do cats like high places?

Ginger cat lying on top of shelf
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Why do cats like high places? It’s a question you may have found yourself asking if your feline friend seems to spend more time exploring the heights of your home, than they do with their paws on the ground. 

Cat behavior has long been a mystery to us humans and so it’s not uncommon for us pet parents to spend a lot of time on Google trying to figure out these complex balls of fluff who are such a big and important part of our lives.

While some cats will sit and sleep at a height, sometimes in a cat hammock, purely because they enjoy being able to survey the world from above in between that all-important beauty sleep, there are actually other reasons your kitty likes high places that are more deeply embedded into their DNA.

Perching up high and watching the world go by is a common and instinctual behavior. Below, we take a look at what it is about heights that causes your kitty to seek them out and how you can provide your feline friend with more vertical space in your home.

Why do cats like high places?

If you’ve ever been fortunate to observe wild cats in their natural habitat or watched any documentaries on how big cats behave, you’ve probably noticed that they’ll often hang out perched in trees - and for good reason.

The leaves and branches of trees offer a high degree of camouflage and allow wild cats to both hunt prey and keep an eye out for any predators that might be trying to hunt them. 

While our domesticated felines aren’t in quite the same danger of being eaten as their wild brothers and sisters are, they still have the instinctual need to watch the world from above. There are also a few other reasons your kitty may like being up high:

1. It helps them feel more secure

Cats are very sensitive creatures and so it doesn’t take much for them to feel like their safety is being threatened. Having to contend with small children who might be rather boisterous around them or other pets who may want to chase them or play with them, are all things that can lead a cat to seek out high places.

2. To regulate their body heat

While some cats have a lot of fur, even those that seem to puff out and expand to three times their size come the winter months can still feel the cold just as much as we humans can. Because heat rises, you’ll often see cats sleeping up high to help warm themselves in the colder months, reversing this process in the summer by sleeping on the floor where it’s cooler. 

3. It’s a way of soothing stress and anxiety

Changes to a cat’s environment or routine can cause our furry friends to feel a great deal of stress and anxiety. Whether it’s a big change, like moving to a new home, or a seemingly small one, like relocating their litter box, cats will deal with feelings of stress and anxiety by seeking to get away from it all. 

4. The quality of their sleep is better

We know, what difference does it make if your cat sleeps up high or down low, right? Well, as it turns out, quite a lot! When your cat is on a chair or in their bed, they’re likely in the middle of a lot of foot traffic and the noise that comes from our daily routines. Finding a high place to curl up in can give a cat a sense of privacy and calm in the midst of a busy household.

5. High places = status

Yes, believe it or not, in the same way that having the corner office signals a human’s place in the organizational hierarchy, having the top perch in a cat tree or other sought after area in the home is a sign of status in multi-cat households. Basically, the cat who controls the ‘top spots’ is the dominant one and this gives them a level of prestige not afforded to other cats in the home. 

Ways to give your cat more vertical space

Grey cat lying on a shelf

(Image credit: Getty Images)

While there are plenty of reasons why cats like high places, they also need them as climbing provides your cat with both physical and mental stimulation. Vertical space is very important to cats and having access to this will help ward off boredom and prevent them from getting into mischief.

Now, before you start panicking that you’re going to have to spend the year doing expensive home renovations to provide your beloved feline friend with the vertical climbing space that they need to stay happy and healthy, rest assured there are plenty of easy and affordable ways to get the job done.

  • Invest in a cat tree or better yet, follow one of these amazing DIY cat tree plans to make your own stunning model on a budget. Not only do cat trees provide vertical climbing space, but there’s a size to suit every living space. Plus, many come with multiple perches, toys, beds and even the best cat scratching posts built right on into the design, meaning you can cut down on all that kitty clutter!
  • Put up a new set of shelves and try varying the space between them so your cat can jump from one to the other. 
  • Purchase one of the best cat hammocks for a fuss-free way to give your kitty a bit of extra height. We recommend opting for a wall-mounted or windowsill design as these can be secured up high. Don’t fancy buying one? No problem! Our guide to DIY cat hammocks has plenty of great ideas for those of you who love to get creative.
  • Clear off the top of the refrigerator and let your cat lounge about up there.

Having plenty of vertical space throughout your home is a great way of providing your cat with the enrichment they need to thrive. And of course, if you have a backyard with a few trees and don’t mind your cat going outdoors, that’s another fantastic way to give them access to high places that will let them survey the entire neighborhood.

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has spent the past two years dividing her writing time between her two great loves - pets and health and wellness. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with one very mischievous Cocker Spaniel, drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and attempting to set numerous world records for the longest ever FaceTime calls with her family back home in NZ.