Cat Tree

Q. I bought a new cat tree for my kitty to climb on, but she never goes on it. Are there ways to get her more excited about the climbing area?

A. It’s frustrating when we save up our money to purchase a deluxe item for our felines, but rather than using it, they are still more likely to climb up on the back of the sofa to rest. You can teach your cat to like her climber in a few simple steps. Of course, if your cat has difficulty climbing or seems to have pain when jumping, contact your veterinarian, as she may have an underlying health issue that is making climbing, jumping or balance difficult.

Teach Your Cat to Love Her Climber

I recently underwent a similar challenge when I tried to move my three-legged cat, Nemo, from his favorite resting place on the computer desk to his new cat tree. Despite having only three legs, Nemo, like most cats, enjoys scaling heights and looking down on the world from a high vantage point. The three-leveled cat tree we built and placed next to my desk seemed like the perfect alternative. But he wasn’t nearly as excited about the transition as I was and was more inclined to hang out on his old resting spot.     

The cat tree has become Nemo's preferred place to explore and rest, but it took a little training. Here's what worked for Nemo — and me.

Five Simple Strategies

Choose your location carefully. Put the cat tree in the part of the house your cat frequents most. In my house, this was the computer room. If you have multiple cats, they may not always share fairly, and you may need to look at getting another climbing structure and placing it in another area of the house so that all your cats can have equal access to climbing areas.

Make the cat tree a center of attention. If your cat has a close relationship with you and enjoys your interaction, one of the best ways to encourage her to use the climbing area is to give her affection, praise and petting while she's on the climbing area. If your cat enjoys being petted, you can save the kitty massage for the times when she's on the cat tree. Minimize the amount of attention she is given when she's on the ground or in her old climbing areas.

Move playtime up off the ground. Build your cat’s positive association with the cat tree right away by situating her play around and on the structure. Feather toys, ropes and other toys that can be used to get your cat’s paws moving as she interacts with you can be used to entice your cat to explore and climb the structure. Nemo's cat tree has a sturdy scratching post with feather toys on the top of it to encourage play and entice Nemo to spend more time on the tree and less time on my desk. 

Pique her interest. Food, treats and catnip can make the cat tree more interesting to your cat. A trail of tasty treats on the climbing area encourages your cat to climb to the top, while a highly palatable reward that takes longer to eat, such as a bowl of canned cat food or tuna, gets her comfortable spending more time on the structure. Placing treats, catnip or desirable toys on the cat tree randomly throughout the day can also get your cat interested in exploring the climber.

Help your cat get comfy. Make the cat structure inviting for rest by putting cushy or soft bedding on certain areas where your cat likes to rest, which will encourage her to settle in for a nap. Make sure the cat tree has been securely built, as wobbly structures can feel unsafe and cats may be less likely to use them.

By rewarding your cat while she’s on or around the structure and by making the structure itself inviting, you increase the chances that the climbing area will become her favorite resting and high vantage point in your home. Happy climbing!