Is a Cat Tree Necessary for My Cat?

by Britt
Photo credit: Nils Jacobi /

When you first bring home a new cat, it’s an exciting time – especially if you’re a first-time cat parent. However, amidst the excitement, there are many questions that may be holding you back from fully embracing the joy. Are you prepared to meet all your cat’s needs? Are there “must-have” items you have overlooked? The struggle is real!

We have good news… Many of the items that are deemed “necessary” are actually optional. One such item is the traditional cat tree or cat scratcher.

Do they offer benefits? Yes! Can they help to improve your cat’s mental and physical health? Yes! But is a cat tree necessary for your cat? No, it’s not. There are other ways you can meet your cat’s needs if your budget or space doesn’t allow for a large piece of cat furniture.

Let’s dig into the truth about cat trees and your cat.

What is the Point of Cat Trees?

If you’re currently standing in your local pet store, looking over the wide assortment of cat furniture available, you may wonder – what exactly is the purpose of cat furniture? Is it just a fancy bed solution for your cat, or are there other considerations when these products are developed?

It’s an honest question I often hear from first-time cat parents. After all, these large, elaborate structures often come with a hefty price tag. If they do nothing more than provide a place to sleep, wouldn’t a simple cat bed suffice?

Cat furniture is designed to meet many of your cat’s instincts, including their need to scratch, hide, climb, and oversee their surroundings. Each type of cat furniture has its benefits to consider.

7 Different Types of Cat Furniture & Cat Trees

Whether you’re searching for an alternative to a traditional cat tree for your home or planning on incorporating multiple elements to create a cat paradise, the options are endless! Take a moment to look at the space available to work with. You will also need to consider your cat’s interests. For example, some cats enjoy climbing a sisal rope scratch post, while others won’t touch it.

In our home, we have one large cat tree that connects with a series of shelves, allowing our cats to move through the living room without stepping on the floor. This is set up to appeal to our cat Jinx’s love for sitting above everyone else, overlooking her surroundings.

Understanding the options will help you ensure that you are investing your hard-earned money into a product that is best suited for your cat’s needs.

Cat Beds

When someone mentions a cat bed, you likely think about a small fuzzy mat. But there are many different cat bed styles to choose from. As we have learned more about the preferences of cats, new options have emerged, such as covered cat beds, raised cat beds, and heated cat beds.

Cat Scratchers

One struggle many cat parents encounter is a cat’s need to scratch. When not provided with a positive outlet for this desire, they often resort to scratching our furniture or even our legs! Luckily, there are many cat scratchers to choose from, including basic scratch posts, cardboard scratchers, vertical scratchers, and wall-mounted scratchers. These are generally simple products with a single purpose – to provide a desirable place to scratch.

Cat Trees

These large pieces of furniture are called “trees” due to their size and the different “branches” or platforms they offer. They can range from simple cat trees with a singular central post featuring a few flat platforms to more elaborate cat tree structures with multiple posts, platforms, ladders, hammocks, hideouts, and attached toys.

Cat trees allow you to meet multiple needs all in one product. For example, if your cat likes to scratch and is seeking a comfortable place to watch over your home from an elevated bed or perch, that is easy to provide. However, they are large and require more space. Plus, the more elaborate they are, the more they will cost.

Cat Houses

A cat house is the perfect solution if your cat is searching for a place to hide out comfortably, like a small den. Houses are available for indoor and outdoor use, but the underlying goal remains the same… creating a cozy place where your cat can feel safe and secure.

Indoor cat houses may appear like a cube or small side table with a hole for your cat to enter, or they may be fully padded and machine washable, like a cat bed with a cover. Outdoor cat houses are usually more focused on structure, with a roof and solid walls that protect a cat from the elements.

Cat Condos

These pieces of cat furniture are best described as multiple cat houses or structures together in a single unit. Think of it like a condo building, allowing it to accommodate multiple cats with plenty of space for each to be comfortable. In addition to cat houses, your cat’s condo may include a platform to rest on, a built-in cat toy, or a scratcher along one side. This allows it to meet multiple needs, like a cat tree, without requiring as much room.

Cat Shelves

A fun twist on cat trees, cat shelves are a great way to give your cat a place to scratch, climb, and explore without needing the floor space required by a traditional cat tree. They are individual platforms, beds, condos, and other elements mounted on the wall. Not only does this take up less space in your home, but it opens the door for you to experiment and be creative with their placement, the paths you create, and the individual elements included in your cat’s setup.

You can purchase your cat shelves as a set, with multiple elements already paired up to create a wall or space. Alternatively, you can buy each element individually and piece them together. This means you can design your space as elaborate or budget-friendly as necessary, making it easy to customize.

Cat Window Perches

Like cat shelves, window perches offer your cat a place to relax and watch their environment – the big difference is that they are designed to provide a view indoors and out. There are two main types of window perch. The first is attached to the windowsill, extending it to provide enough space for your cat to lie down. The other uses suction cups to attach the perch to the window itself. This creates the perfect space for cats that love to bask in the sun.


Are Cats Happier with a Cat Tree?

Let’s get down to the most important question. While we established that a cat tree isn’t necessary, will purchasing cat furniture make your cat happier? There is no one-size-fits-all answer. This will largely depend on whether your current environment is set up to meet your cat’s needs.

If you don’t have space for a cat tree in your home, if it isn’t in the budget, or if you simply aren’t a fan of how one looks in your space, don’t stress! There are many other options for providing mental and physical stimulation. Consider any one of the cat furniture options mentioned above or incorporate multiple furniture elements to create a unique and one-of-a-kind kitty haven.

How Do I Choose the Best Cat Tree for My Cat?

When deciding on the best cat tree or other cat furniture options for your cat and your home, there are several factors to consider. This includes the size, style, material, and features they provide. Here are a few key elements that could impact your decision.


I highly recommend starting with a budget in mind. Many excellent budget-friendly options are on the market, so don’t worry that your budget may limit you from finding the best solution for your cat. Are you working with an incredibly tight budget? Companies like Furhaven have addressed this need with their Multi-Level Cardboard Cat House. It includes multiple hiding places, toys, and a cardboard scratcher, all built with corrugated cardboard to keep the cost down.


Take a moment to look at the space available in your home. There are some impressively large cat furniture products available. On the other end of the spectrum, there are also products made to make the most out of limited space. This includes the height of the cat tree you select and the overall footprint.


In addition to budget-friendly options made from cardboard, as we have already discussed, there are many other materials to choose from. Your choice of material will impact the appearance, function, and ease of cleaning. Wooden furniture is easy to clean with a damp cloth but limits the surfaces your cat can scratch without causing structural damage to the furniture. Cloth is an excellent option for creating portable furniture or hammocks, but it doesn’t provide the same longevity as a wooden cat tree.

The most common materials are carpet and sisal rope. These create a durable surface that can double as a scratching surface. However, these surfaces often collect dirt and cat hair, requiring regular cleaning. They also show wear and tear from scratching over time. Where possible, with carpet scratchers, opt for furniture and cat trees with removable covers for easier cleaning. This will also make updating and maintaining your cat furniture easier over time.

Style and Color

Like human furniture, the best cat furniture is both functional AND complements the décor of your home. A modern cat tree with sleek edges and a bold black and white color scheme will fit a different home design than a soft, fluffy tan carpet scratcher. This is the perfect opportunity to express your personality (and your cat’s).

Added Features

Finally, consider the different options available in terms of features. Some common elements you may find when shopping for cat furniture include:

  • Open beds and platforms
  • Enclosed condos and areas to hide
  • Sisal rope scratchers
  • Stairs or ramps leading to different levels
  • Hanging toys
  • Suspended hammocks

If your chosen cat furniture is missing one of the features your cat loves, consider pairing it with another product to meet that need. For example, if your favourite cat tree does not have an incorporated hammock, you can install a wall-mounted cat hammock accessible to your cat from one of the tree's platforms.

When to Replace Your Cat Tree

Pay careful attention to the condition of your cat’s furniture. Not only does wear and tear take away from the aesthetic appeal, but it can also create a safety risk. Watch for signs that surfaces like carpet and sisal rope are coming loose or coming off the furniture.

Final Thoughts – Is a Cat Tree Necessary?

The short answer is no. A cat tree is not necessary for your cat to live a long, happy, and fulfilled life. However, adding a cat tree or one of the many alternatives we discussed can provide mental and physical enrichment if they are not getting those elements in other aspects of their lives.

Introducing cat furniture could also help address problem behavior. For example, is your cat destroying your furniture by scratching it? You may be able to save your furniture by providing them with a positive outlet for their need to scratch.

With so many cat furniture options on the market, there is a product for everyone regardless of your budget, home décor, or your cat’s personality.

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Britt Kascjak is a proud pet mom, sharing her heart (and her home) with her “pack” which includes her husband John, their 2 dogs – Lucifer and Willow – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx. She has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. In her free time, she enjoys traveling around the country camping, hiking, and canoeing with her pets.

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