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How Big Of A Cat Tree Should I Get?

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Cats love cat trees!

But when it comes time to buy one, things can get a little confusing. There’s a huge variety of cat trees out there and even the word cat tree itself means different things to different people. Some folks consider a compact 20-inch tall activity tower to be a cat tree while others would call that a cat shrub!

Then there are the people that immediately think a cat tree can only mean a giant 6 feet tall wall of  beige carpet!

Of course, all these shapes and sizes are considered cat trees. But does your cat really need all that and how big of a cat tree should you actually get?

The ideal size cat tree will vary based on the space you have available, the size of your cat, and the age of your cat. But in most cases, you’ll want a minimum height of around 36 inches (91 cm) for your cat tree. 

But how the heck did we come up with that number?

It’s based on the average height of common household items. The average kitchen counter is 36 inches tall (3 feet). So in order to keep your cat tree interesting, and discourage your cat from climbing the counter, you’ll want your cat tree to at least match this height. Additionally, the height for the back of a sofa is also 36 inches!

Ideally, your cat tree is taller than both the sofa and counter but at a minimum, you’ll want to match the height of these areas.

Why Do Heights Matter To Cats?

Cats have a deeply rooted instinct to find heights and cat trees help our cats act on this.

But why would cats want to find a high place?

Heights give our cats a greater vantage point to survey the area around them. Cats are naturally territorial creatures and by taking to the trees they could be more aware of any encroachments on their turf. They could also stand a better chance of spotting their next meal on the ground below.

It’s also potentially safer to rest in a tree than on the ground. While we often think of our cats as apex predators, and within our house they certainly are, in the wild cats are both predator and prey. By taking to the trees, cats can make themselves harder to find.

Do All Cats Like Heights?

Even though it’s a natural instinct for cats to seek out heights, there is still plenty of variation amongst cats. As cat expert Jackson Galaxy explains, “Cats see territory in a three-dimensional way that other species (including humans) don’t.” He goes on to say that, “So our first order of business here is to figure out exactly where on the vertical axis they find their greatest mojo.”

Some cats clearly crave heights and you can always find them on the highest perch available to them. Whether that’s your refrigerator or the kitchen counter, these high-flying kitties will seek out the best vertical space. Other cats prefer to be out in the open and at the center of all attention. These cats often seem to be inviting you to step over them so you can get where you’re trying to go.

There’s a good chance you already know where your cat’s go-to spot is. You know, that spot where you regularly clean up a thin layer of fur? That’s likely where your cat feels safe and confident.

But if you’d like to learn more about where your cat feels their best, and how it relates to finding the right size cat tree, check out this video from Jackson Galaxy:

Why Go For A 36 Inch Tall Cat Tree?

If we want to make our cats feel their best, we want to give them the best seat in the house.

In most households, going a little over 36 inches is a good rule of thumb since that’s taller than most sofas and the standard countertop.

But this height isn’t just good for your cat- it’s also good for you!

If your cat’s tree is taller than the counter then there’s a good chance they’ll skip counter surfing for the day in favor of resting on their more comfortable cat tree. The same goes for your couch!

While it might not always be that easy, the idea here is to redirect the behavior. Rather than try to discourage your cat from doing something you don’t want them to do, you give them an appropriate outlet for what they want to do. So instead of just saying no, you give your cat an alternative. This technique is a lot more effective than just trying to spray your cat with water or other punishment techniques!

Of course, different cats will need different height cat trees but by starting with 36 inches you’re setting yourself up for success. If you’re looking for a budget-friendly but all around solid cat tree, I recommend this 36″ cat tree from YAHEETECH to get you started (Amazon link). It’s the exact height we’re looking for, has tons of positive reviews, and makes a great option for most cats.

If you want something more specific, you can check out our curated lists of the best cat trees for older cats, big cats, and even declawed cats (yep, they need cat trees and scratching posts too).

How Wide Of A Cat Tree Do I Need?

Now that we’ve got our height figured out, the next thing we need to decide is how wide we want our cat tree to be. It’s not as easy to give a hard and fast rule for the width of your cat tree but it’s also not as critical. But there are three main things to consider.

1. How Much Space Do You Have?

While this is probably obvious, the biggest consideration to figuring how big of a tree you should get, at least in terms of width, is the amount of floor space you actually have available. You’ll need to consider the actual base or footprint of the tree but also attachments like baskets that will add to the overall width.

But with so much variety in the cat tree market, there’s a good chance you can find something to match the space you have available in just about any height. One of the more extreme examples is this super tall 76.8″ cat tree on Amazon that takes up around 2 feet of actual floor space.

That means that the tree is well over 6 feet tall but only takes up a tiny bit of floor space! Of course, you have to mount it to the wall to pull that off but it’s still an interesting option if you want to go tall in a small space.

Do You Have Multiple Cats?

If you’ve got multiple cats, you may need a wider tree. Cats aren’t actually very good at sharing anything, including cat trees, but that doesn’t mean they’ll just ignore the tree if their feline roommate is on it. Instead, they’re likely to claim a certain section of the tree for themselves and having a wider tree leaves more territory to split up.

But just as important, extra width gives cats additional paths to travel for their ideal spot. With a tall and very narrow tree, cats may have to climb over each other in order to get to their favorite sleeping spot. Even if your feline roommates are best friends, no one wants to be stepped on!

One of my favorite trees for multiple cats is the Feandrea Cat Tree which you can see on Amazon by clicking here. This cat tree is tall, wide, and has matching paths on either side of the tree which means cats can find plenty of ways to climb without disturbing someone’s naptime.

How Big Is Your Cat?

Bigger cats need bigger trees. We want our kitties to enjoy napping on their cat tower but if the top platform is a measly 9 inches by 9 inches hefty cats just won’t have much room! While there’s not a ton of them, there are plenty of cat trees out there that are designed specifically for big cats (like Maine Coons) with jumbo-sized platforms.

One of the most popular brands in that market is Hey-Brother and you can read more about them and our other favorite trees for Maine Coons and other big cats in this article.

Closing Thoughts

I hope this article helped simplify the confusing world of cat trees! While you can find a cat tree in just about every height that you can imagine, if you’re not sure how big you need to go then sticking with at least 36 inches is a good rule of thumb.

That’s tall enough to be more interesting to most cats but small enough that you’re not going to break the bank or have to find space for a giant piece of cat furniture. And if you’re now wondering where in your house you should put your new cat tree, check out this article for the answer!