The Quality of a Cat’s Living Space

I am sure most cat owners require that their cat fit in with the human indoor environment (why isn’t there human furniture that is designed to be cat scratched?). In multi-cat households some consideration should be given to the quality of the space in which the cats live – from a cat’s perspective.

Bengal cat ZenDada Sun Dog at a high vantage point

Bengal cat ZenDada Sun Dog at a high vantage point

As we know, the domestic cat evolved from the African-Asian wildcat. This wild cat species could be described as ‘semi-arboreal’¹ meaning it likes to be in a tree from time to time. This means the domestic cat, which is a cigarette paper’s width away from the wildcat’s characteristics, also likes to occupy high vantage points from time to time.

Bengal cats, which are wildcat hybrids are particularly attracted to high vantage points (see more of Zendada)

Apparently cats in pens or enclosures (shelter cats or breeding cats) spend less time on the floor than off it, on raised surfaces². High vantage points are more popular than low ones.

Cats need these vantage points to feel comfortable. In short, cats live in a vertical dimension as well as horizontal. Humans are very much horizontal in mind set.

A indoor environment that has a vertical dimension should therefore include such structures as:

  • shelves that a cat can climb to;
  • specialist cat furniture that might also include a place to hide. It would seem sensible if it was placed near a window so a cat can alternate between sleeping high up and looking out;
  • walkways – it is unlikely that home owners would build walkways around a room! However, it has been done. It depends how much a person wants to modify the human environment and make it primarily a cat’s environment;
  • accessible windowsills. Cats like to spend time looking out of windows anyway, so a high and wide window sill would be perfect provided there was access to it.

As to the kind of material cats prefer to lie on, apparently a study³ concluded that:

  • cats prefer polyester fleece to cotton looped towel and;
  • cats prefer wood to plastic as a support surface (or a pizza box!) and;
  • materials that maintain an even temperature such as straw, hay, wood and fabrics4.

In multicat households these facilities should ideally be available to each cat separately. Cats also need a place to retreat to and which feels safe. Such a place could be:

  • a box;
  • an igloo style den (such as seen in commercial cat furniture);
  • a high sided cat bed.

Cats also like to be alone and out of sight of other cats from time to time (does this also refer to us as we are perceived as cats, I would suggest, to our cat companion?). To meet this requirement there should be areas that are compartmentalized (dividing screens, walls etc.).

Finally, as to toilet facilities, there should be a sufficient number of litter trays of the correct size, which as a minimum should be one tray for two cats and ideally one tray for each cat. I am not sure if this is practical but it is the suggestion of scientists involved in research studies. Litter trays should be positioned away from food and resting sites.

As cats are individuals each cat will probably have preferences as to litter type and tray style. Those preferences will extend to other aspects of a cat’s ideal living space.


  1. I Rochlitz, The Welfare of Cats page 181.
  2. Podberseek and others from 1991 research
  3. Howthorne and others 1995
  4. Roy 1992
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The Quality of a Cat’s Living Space — 2 Comments

  1. As Jackson Galaxy said, some cats are “tree dwellers” and some are “cave dwellers”. I can see this with my own cats. 2 always like to be up high, and the other one likes to be low down and often a bit hidden. The other important thing, along with these cat routes through the house that are up and away from us humans, which is important, is that there are no dead-ends. Especially in multi cat households. That way no cat will be cornered by another cat. Having these routes, and following certain rules such as the “no dead-end” rule often solves behavioural issues that many indoor cats have. ‘Caves’ and hiding places are just as important. Having all of this makes a HUGE difference to the lives of cats living inside with humans. A tall cat tree is a minimum requirement. Preferably it should have an access from the top to some shelves for cats, as Michael said. Shelves that form a route around the room perhaps leading to some tall furniture and so on to the other end. Then your cats may cross the room without touching the floor, safely up and away from the humans if they are so inclined.

    Other things I like to do is leave anything that interests my cats which is safe. I will leave boxes for them obviously. The other day one of my cats was playing with an empty bottle from a yoghurt drink, and so I now leave those for her to play with for a time instead of throwing them away. Cats will go for many things, and certainly not necessarily things designed specifically for cat. Its so so important to follow what it is that your cats enjoy and encourage them to enjoy those things more and even to build upon them. For example I could now hang one of these new found bottles on a string from the cat tree and I bet she would go for that.
    Another important thing I think is to put out toys in cycles so they dont always have them all. If you keep some hidden away and bring them out later they will have a renewed interest in those toys. Nothing mykes me more happy than to see my cats stimulated and happy and playful. 🙂

    Michael, I think this is a very important subject, worthy of alot of consideration. Also, there is a wealth of philisophy and of products designed for cats living spaces and I think its a bit our duty to research and be up to date on this so we can make the best choices and not miss out on things that our individual cats might take specific likings to. Afterall they are all different and have different prefences and tastes. It’s out job to support that and encourage their unique characters to flourish.

    • I completely agree that is is a very important subject and one that most people don’t really want to get involved in. I can understand that but people should really get more involved with cat friendly environments.

      Most cat owners as I said do some work to make the home cat friendly but by and large expect their cat to fit in.

      You have a very cat friendly house. I’d love to be a cat living at your place!

      It is a question of mind set for people ensuring that the home has a decent amount of modifications to nicely accommodate a cat.

      I like the way you leave toys or any object that is enjoyable for a while out. In other words the cat decides what to play with and what stimulates him.

      I have a kind of a dream that house builders provide an extra option, a house style that is designed for a companion cat. So the builder builds in all these extra facilities including an enclosure.

      And governments should make it obligatory! How about that for an idea…

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