A cat tree is an excellent way to make your home both more inviting and more exciting for your kitty — especially if they’re an exclusively indoor cat. “Cat trees are great because they allow your cat to climb and observe what’s going on in their environment, it provides them with a safe place that’s entirely theirs, and it’s a scratching surface as well,” says cat-behavior consultant Dr. Mikel Delgado. If your cat is constantly shredding your couch, perching on your counter, or clawing up your curtains, it may be worth investing in a piece of furniture dedicated to letting them act on their natural instincts. Below, we’ve consulted with multiple veterinarians and cat experts on what makes a great cat tree — and how to ensure that it doesn’t become a futile expense for a disinterested feline friend.
What we’re looking for
Cat trees come in a variety of heights; some are fairly short and squat, while others might reach nearly to your ceiling. The one best suited for your cat depends on whether they prefer to roost up high or stay closer to the ground. “My cat has always been more of a ground dweller and likes to be under things and in things rather than up,” says Kerrie McKeon, resident cat expert at the animal-welfare and adoption organization Bideawee. “But if you have a cat who is athletic and climbs on your table, who is running across the back of the sofa, then they might want a cat tree that’s very tall.” When in doubt, choose a tree that’s about the same height as your windows; that way, your cat can have “something to look at. They don’t want to be in a corner, they want to watch the entertainment outside,” McKeon advises.
If you’re not a fan of the look of traditional cat trees with bland beige carpeting, there are plenty of good-looking, design-forward cat trees out there — just ask Kate Benjamin, founder of the stylish cat-gear website Hauspanther. “There’s a lot of different looks that can work with different décor. There’s some darker woods that work with more traditional interiors. There’s a lot of white and gray that looks good in modern and contemporary homes. There’s super fun, eclectic things like cat trees that have fake leaves,” Benjamin says. “My take on it is you can either find something that matches your décor, so it just blends in seamlessly, or you can find something that really stands out, like a conversation piece.”
Most cat trees are constructed from hardy structural materials like plywood or corrugated cardboard, then covered in a textured fabric like carpet or sisal. When shopping for a cat tree, look for one that’s durable, well-built, and can withstand some roughhousing. “Stability is really important. It may need a really big base, or you might be able to attach the top to the wall,” Benjamin says, and Delgado agrees: “It should not tip over or wiggle too easily because cats are going to jump on it and play and they don’t want feel like they’re going to get knocked over.” You also want to make sure that it’s “easily cleanable — you can vacuum or wipe it down,” advises Dr. Brian Evans, veterinarian and clinical director at Dutch, a 24/7 online vet-care service. And though the look of sleek, sculptural wooden cat trees may be tempting, function should always come before form: “If it’s too slick, like if it’s just really beautiful wood, they’re not gonna be able to grab onto that and climb. So make sure that there is enough texture, that it’s going to be a functional tree for them,” Dr. Evans says.
Many cat trees come equipped with a host of features to entice your kitty. Some have built-in scratching posts to give your cat traction for climbing and something to sharpen their claws on; some have little cubbies or hidey-holes (a must if your cat prefers to be covered rather than out in the open); some have fluffy feathers or balls for your cat to bat around. Think about what you already own and what you know your cat is interested in — if you already have a separate scratching post, or a pile of cat toys that often go untouched, such add-ons may not be necessary.
Best overall cat tree
Height: 47.5 inches tall | Aesthetic: Traditional design | Construction: Wood, sisal | Features: Scratching post, cubby, rope toy
When former Strategist senior writer Karen Iorio Adelson went shopping for a cat tree for her cat Lovey, she had a few nonnegotiable criteria in mind. It had to have “multiple levels for lounging and surfaces to scratch. It also had to be somewhat decent-looking and preferably not made of cardboard, which she would shred in minutes. And I wanted it to have some height,” Adelson writes. This Frisco tree that ticked all her boxes: “Just shy of four feet tall, it would let Lovey get up high enough to feel safe but not overwhelm the space, and it had durable sisal scratching posts, a fluffy white carpet lining the top perch, and an enclosed cubby for lounging.” Adelson was able to assemble it herself in less than an hour, and Lovey immediately took to it, “jumping from level to level, exploring her new digs, before ultimately settling on the top perch.”
Intrigued by Adelson’s endorsement, I tested the tree out for myself — or rather, for my roommate’s cat, Harry. Assembly was quick and straightforward, and though we did have to get rid of an accent chair to make room, the tree occupied a fairly minimal footprint in the corner of our living room — about the same stature as a flourishing fiddle-leaf fig. After an initial cautious inspection, Harry gladly took advantage of the rope toy and the scratching posts. Since he’s more of a lounger than a leaper, he had a bit of trouble jumping onto the middle and top tiers, but for a more athletically inclined kitty, the platforms likely won’t pose a problem. I placed the tree in front of a window, and once Harry had settled comfortably into his perch, he seemed to like lording over the passersby on the street.
Best cat tree for multiple cats
Height: 76 inches tall | Aesthetic: Traditional design | Construction: Wood, sisal, faux fleece | Features: Scratching post, cubbies, ball toy
According to McKeon, if you have multiple cats, you want a tree that has “lots of hidey-holes so that everybody has some space that they can share and switch off.” Ideally, you would get multiple trees so that each cat has their own territory, but if you can’t spare that kind of space, then a tree with several nooks and crannies is the way to go. This heavy-duty Frisco cat condo has six different platforms and two cubbies; since it’s furnished with hammocks, flat open spaces, and sheltered holes, all your cats can enjoy it no matter what kind of lounging spot they prefer.
Best cat tree for kittens
Height: 78 inches tall | Aesthetic: Traditional design | Construction: Faux fur, press board | Features: Scratching post, cubby, rope toy, rope ladder
Young, spry kittens have a lot of energy and may benefit from cat trees that challenge by requiring them to perform a variety of maneuvers. “There are various trees that are almost connected by extremes,” says Dr. Evans. “They have to walk across ladders and do big acrobatic things to get around. As much as you can encourage the chaos for these kittens, the better for them.” This Armarkat tree, which is approved by cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy (of My Cat From Hell fame), is equipped with an assortment of obstacles; kittens can bat at the hanging toys, scamper up the rope ladder, balance in the hammock, or leap through the air to reach the farthest perch. The tree is championed by Benjamin, who likes it for its “modern and streamlined look.”
Best cat tree for senior cats
Height: 36 inches tall | Aesthetic: House design | Construction: Faux fur, particleboard | Features: Scratching post, cubby, ramp
Unlike kittens, senior cats may not be quite so thrilled at the idea of having to perform feats of gymnastics to access their favorite resting spot. If your feline friend is on the older side, look for a cat tree that’s lower to ground, “has platforms that are not as far apart, and more soft places to lounge,” says Benjamin. This 36-inch-tall cat tree isn’t too complicated, is lined all over with plush faux fleece for maximum coziness, and comes with a nice gentle ramp, in case your cat has trouble with jumping or climbing. It’s also a good choice for cats who are a bit heavier or just have a more laid-back personality.
Best modern cat tree
Height: 46 inches tall | Aesthetic: Modern design | Construction: Wood, wicker | Features: Basket perch, cave, ball toy
Michelle Humphrey, owner of “catfluencer” Rosie, wanted a sleek, chic cat tree that would be a good-looking addition to her space. This Mau tree came up in her search because “the brand has some really beautiful images” on its Instagram: “They just look really clean and elevated,” Humphrey says. Of course, just because a cat tree is aesthetically appealing doesn’t mean your cat will use it, but according to Humphrey, Rosie took to the tree like a duck to water. “She’s obsessed with it. She seems to gravitate toward the basket design — she’s always napping and cuddling up in them,” Humphrey says. “I think she feels really snug and secure.” The tree shows little wear and tear even after a year of use, with next to no fraying or shedding, and its sturdy design means Rosie can easily claw her way to the top to look out the window and observe “the birds, squirrels, and people walking by.”
Best (less expensive) modern cat tree
Height: 54.3 inches tall | Aesthetic: Modern design | Construction: Wood, sisal, particleboard | Features: Perches, cave, hammock
For a still stylish but less splurge-y option, Samantha Rober, owner of “catfluencers” Pesto and Tessie, has this Feandrea cat tree that’s less than half the price of the Mau one. Rober has “a very specific aesthetic in my house, and the darker wood and clean white matches it really well,” she says. “It’s not like one of those classic ugly cat trees, where it’s super-obvious that I have cats running around everywhere.” Both of her cats like to nap in the cave and avail themselves of the different perches. “It’s so cute when they’re on two different levels and they’re both looking outside,” she says, adding that they also enjoy lolling in the hammock and sharpening their claws on the scratching posts.
Rober does mention, however, that it’s not the most “playful” cat tree and is suited for more sedate older cats. For something that’s a bit more kitten-friendly, Alyssa Bourget, mom to Wilbur, Tuffy, and Solomon, owns a different Feandra cat tree that’s a bit more whimsical and outfitted with a pair of pom-poms. “When Solomon was a kitten, he would bat at the little dangling balls,” she says, to the point where she had to reinforce them. Even though a year has passed and her cats are no longer quite as energetic toward the poms, they still “climb up and sleep on the very top perch at night.”
Best cat tree for small living spaces
Height: 23 inches tall | Aesthetic: Modern design | Construction: Recycled cardboard | Features: Scratcher bowls
Clocking in at a height of just 23 inches, this double-decker tower has just about the same dimensions as a small end table, making it perfect for those without much room to spare. It comes recommended by “Hana,” the anonymous owner of Instagram “catfluencers” Dewey and Rudy. Even though it’s made entirely from recycled cardboard, she’s found it to be “quite sturdy,” and the lounging platforms have a comfortable concave-bowl shape that her cats enjoy sleeping in: “It’s so cute when they stack on top of each other,” she told us. The entire tower can also double as a scratcher, since the fine-grain cardboard is perfect for sharpening claws; once the scratcher pads start looking a bit worse for wear, “you can just replace them, which is nice and sustainable,” Hana advises. “My boys are quite picky, but they immediately took to this, which I think says something.”
Best window perch
Height: 16 inches tall | Aesthetic: Modern design | Construction: Felt, steel, suction cups | Features: Optional “floof” blanket
Another option for those working with a tight space is a window perch, which allows for all the same lounging and birdwatching as a traditional freestanding cat tree but with a much smaller footprint. Communications manager Carolyn Rehm, owner of two social-media-beloved cats named Broccoli and Dilly, says her kitties loved this Tuft + Paw perch so much that she bought a second so “they can each have their own.” They’ll hang out together on the perches at all times of the day: in the morning “as the sun is rising, in the afternoon to watch birds and our neighbors, and for a long nap in the evening after dinner.” Though the hammocks are held aloft only by suction cups, Rehm reports that they’re “very study and have yet to fall down,” which is especially impressive since both “Broccoli and Dilly are pretty large cats.”
I was a tad skeptical of how strong those suction cups really were, so I also installed this hammock for Harry to give it a spin. I placed it in a window that faces an alleyway where a whole flock of pigeons have taken roost, to give him an alternate view. Though he’s not huge, Harry definitely has some heft — he’s a fluffy boy with a healthy appetite — but despite his scramblings to hoist himself up, the perch hasn’t once given out. He doesn’t usually nap in the hammock the way he does on the Frisco tree above (I suspect he prefers darker spots to get some shut-eye), but he’ll often stare wide-eyed at the birds teasing him just out of reach.
Best luxury cat tree
Height: 37 inches tall | Aesthetic: Heart design | Construction: Carpet, sisal, faux fur| Features: Customizable
If you’re looking for a cat tree that can double as a sculptural piece, art curator Celine Wong Katzman, owner of a cat named Melon, suggests Hollywood Kitty Company; its customizable cat furniture pieces are works of art unto themselves. “They’re just insane. They have a lot of different designs, but they’re all ridiculously ornate,” Wong Katzman says. In addition to this sweet heart-themed tree, there are rustic driftwood trees, enchanted forest trees, and even a Titanic-shaped one that will run you about $3,000. “You can also custom-order if you want your tree to have toys attached, or they’ll make it with your cat’s name on it,” she says. “I mean, it’s expensive, but amazing. It’s art!” One word of warning, however: All of Hollywood Kitty Company’s products are made to order and, depending on the complexity of the design, may take anywhere between a month and a year to complete.
• Dr. Brian Evans, veterinarian and clinical director at Dutch
• Karen Adelson, former Strategist senior writer
• Kate Benjamin, founder of the cat-gear website Hauspanther
• Carolyn Rehm, owner of “catfluencers” Broccoli and Dilly
• Michelle Humphrey, owner of “catfluencer” Rosie
• “Hana,” owner of “catfluencers” Dewey and Rudy
• Samantha Rober, owner of “catfluencers” Pesto and Tessie
• Alyssa Bourget, owner of “catfluencers” Wilbur, Tuffy, and Solomon
• Celine Wong Katzman, art curator at Rhizome
• Kerrie McKeon, resident cat expert at Bideawee
• Dr. Mikel Delgado, cat-behavior consultant
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