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In order to survive in the wild, animals are constantly learning how best to adapt to their environment. When animals are domesticated, many of these survival traits persist as behaviors we alternately find annoying or amusing, mystifying or mesmerizing.
One thing many cat owners have noticed is that their felines often seem to gravitate toward higher perches. This can be amusing, such as when you notice your cat is keeping tabs on you from some unusual place, or annoying, such as when you need to retrieve your cat from her unusual location but find you can’t do so without dragging out the step ladder.
Why do so many of our beloved felines like to survey their realm from on high? To answer this question, it’s important to understand that cats are both predator and prey. They are predators to smaller prey, such as rabbits, rodents and birds, to name a few. However, they are also themselves prey to larger predators, such as owls and eagles from the air and from coyotes on the ground. Staying in higher places was most likely a behavior that, for smaller cats, was associated with an increased probability of survival. Staying in a high location provided a cat with a better vantage point to spot prey and predator alike. If a cat goes up into a tree’s branches, she can evade larger mammalian carnivores, like coyotes, that cannot climb trees. Cats can also sleep in higher places with decreased risk of getting hunted or surprised. Cats that hide in trees are also taking advantage of leaves and branches that provide the perfect camouflage to protect the cat from flying predators. Therefore, over time, cats that exhibited this tendency to sit in higher places were more likely to survive and pass along this behavior.
Adult cats also use their climbing ability to avoid potentially confrontational interactions with other members of their own species. Queens (mother cats) may also do this to avoid their kittens, especially during weaning time. So, in addition to all these reasons programmed through evolution, why does your domestic pampered feline still like to sit in high places? There are other factors that may promote this behavior in your cat. It may depend on how busy or quiet your household is. Your cat most likely wants to keep an eye on her environment and increase the likelihood that she will not be disturbed. Some cats, for example, have learned to stay on top of the refrigerator because it is an area of low traffic but high visibility and it can be warm. In certain cases, it may also be a safe place for frightened cats to hide or get away if a safe, low place is not available. Even when she is no longer scared, your cat may learn to associate that high place — the refrigerator, the top of the book case, the TV armoire — with safety, peace and comfort and, she may prefer to go there. And that is why you sometimes find yourself looking up at your cat!
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