Why Do Cats Like Heights?
By Monica Weymouth
To us humans, a refrigerator is simply a kitchen appliance—no more, no less. But to some cats the top of the refrigerator is the Promised Land, a must-visit destination to be reached at all costs.
What’s behind the strange choice of hang-out? It’s not about the food (this time, at least). As one of the highest vantage points in your home, the refrigerator holds a special place in your cat’s height-loving heart.
“Cats live in three dimensions—they’re not earthbound creatures like dogs,” says Trish McMillan Loehr, a certified cat behavior consultant. “They simply love to climb.”
Why Do Cats Like Heights?
Cats have a long and storied history with heights. Long before your kitty was scaling the dining room curtains and prowling across the top of the kitchen cabinets, his wild, just-as-agile ancestors were climbing trees to survey their meal options.
“In the wild, a higher place serves as a concealed site from which to hunt,” explains Bridget Lehet, a certified feline training and behavior specialist.
Trees also help wild animals from becoming meals themselves, perfect for escaping land-bound predators and hiding from birds of prey. While your home likely isn’t teeming with hyenas, it may have two other pesky threats that require constant monitoring and quick exits: dogs and children.
“Cats feel safe when they’re up high, especially if you have small kids or dogs who may follow and annoy them,” explains Loehr, who stresses that it’s important to provide cats with plenty of vertical space to feel secure.
There’s also a certain prestige that comes along with the highest spot in the house. For multi-cat households, the position is equivalent to the corner office—and may be defended just as aggressively.
“Height can indirectly be a sign of status,” says Lehet. “The cat who controls the best perches is generally the most dominant, literally the ‘top cat.’ From that location, the cat can survey his ‘realm’ and be more aware of activities of people and other pets.”
How to Give Cats Vertical Space at Home
Yes, cats instinctually like and take comfort from heights, but they also require vertical spaces to feel mentally stimulated. So it’s crucial that you provide kitty with plenty of opportunities to climb and explore inside the home.
“Vertical space is very, very important to cats,” says Dr. Jennifer Fry, a Pennsylvania-based veterinarian who stresses that a lone bookcase won’t cut it. “You can increase vertical space by hanging shelves on the wall for them to climb, and you should have at least one tall condo for each cat.”
Katenna Jones, a certified cat behavior consultant, agrees that homes should be outfitted with cat-specific vertical spaces to keep everyone engaged, happy, and healthy. City-dwellers in particular want to make sure to maximize their square-footage—if you think your apartment’s tiny, imagine spending all day in it. “The smaller your home, the more you need vertical space,” she advises. “Climbing posts are like litter boxes—they’re simply a must-have.”
Windows provide an especially exciting vantage point for cats—especially windows frequented by birds. But keep in mind that curiosity has notoriously gotten the best of cats, and an open window or balcony door or a loose screen can turn deadly. During the warmer months, cats are at risk of “high-rise syndrome,” a term coined by veterinarians to refer to injuries sustained from falls from buildings.
Still, you can give kitty a safe and entertaining window hangout with a little creativity, says Lehet. Consider a suction-cup perch for prime-time viewing, or positioning cat trees near closed windows—if the window has a bird feeder, all the better. “This safely provides much-needed enrichment through watching birds—also known as ‘Bird TV’ for cats,” she says.