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Cat’s Love 3-D Playgrounds at Home

Kitty Corner

Thinking my cat Annabelle needed company, I adopted two male kittens. Arlo, the larger of the two boys, was constantly in motion — and climbing the walls. Returning Arlo to the shelter was a looming possibility. But I considered how “catscaping” might improve the situation and added shelves for the cats. That changed everything.

Once the shelves were up, not only was Arlo more at ease, but his older sister came alive in a totally unexpected way, climbing, running, and jumping around on the shelves like she finally had a home that was meant for her. Until then, I had mistaken Annabelle’s contentment for satisfaction.

Thirty shelves later, the cats have a three-dimensional playground and a myriad of exquisite perching and resting places. It turns out that cat shelves are recommended by cat behaviorists routinely, and experts in the field of feline enrichment refer to the incorporation of cat shelves as a significant aspect of “catification.”

Beyond honoring a cat’s affinity for high places, installing cat shelves can reduce cat stress — and resolve behavioral problems — in households with children, dogs, and multiple cats. Even a solitary cat’s quality of life is greatly improved when he has an elevated place to “get away from it all” while he can still be a part of the home and family. Other practical benefits of cat shelves are that cats spend less time underfoot or on counters and tables, and cat shelves increase the usable square footage for cats without consuming valuable floor space.

What’s a more perfect solution for cohabitating with cats than to give cats the gift of their own domain? If you want to create “catscapes” at home, you can use cat shelves that are on the market and/or build your own.

For the DIY approach, a simple board held up with a couple of L-brackets is much better than nothing, but this solution is a bit like giving an inflatable wading pool to an Olympic swimmer or a toy keyboard to a concert pianist. Cats are healthiest and happiest when they are fully engaged and can really run around, climb, and play at full velocity.

Often the time spent designing, fetching materials, building, reworking, and  installing home-made shelves results in abandoned projects or “catscapes” of sub-optimal usefulness and appearance.

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There are cat shelves on the market, and some offer ample options for arrangement. Before buying, cat lovers should consider the style, the ease of installation, and whether the product engages the cats. Many are simply perches, not shelves, though perhaps perches are better than nothing and can be nice; still, they don’t invite cat climbing or accommodate speeding cats doing zoomies.

Generally, the more engaging the shelf is for cats, the bulkier and less elegant its appearance, but as commercial cat shelves catch on, products that do both are showing up.

When it comes to installation, ask the vendor for online instructions like videos that demonstrate how the shelves are put together and installed. Most cat people I know will use a handy-person. Just make sure the shelf will work in your space.

For a better outcome, keep these basic design tips in mind: Measure out and use painter’s tape to map where you might want the shelves to go, keeping in mind that some shelves must be placed on studs. Though most cats can do with less, they like to have at least 12 inches between the ceiling and the top of the shelf; 18 inches is better, and cats make an arc when they jump, so they need more space if you’re arranging shelves for jumping. For variety, consider placing shelves at angles. Some shelves are better for this than others. Older cats especially will appreciate gentle ramps rather than vertical poles. Make sure the shelves aren’t too high and have safe landings.

Making a good idea a fantastic reality requires some investment, but the difference you will be making in your cats’ lives for years to come is big enough that it is probably worth it.

Aaron Feldman is a resident and native of Berkeley and the CEO of CatScapes. CatScapes offers design services and is launching a unique modular shelving system for cats this month. Visit the website,, for information, or contact him at

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Main article photo by: Photos courtesy Aaron Feldman/CatScapes