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After watching my older cat Zoe struggling to leap onto the sofa, the cat tree, and her once-favorite window perch, I thought I would give her a leg up. I went on the hunt for cat trees for older cats. Following the philosophy that “it’s not a cat tree if the cat won’t use it,” I tested a few, first on Zoe and then on our new cat, Toby, who is 23. Before we get to the results, let’s look at some reasons why our senior cats need special cat trees.
Aging in Cats
It turns out cats are considered “senior” at ages 11–14 and “geriatric” after age 15. This means that 12-year-old Mr. Tippy, who still can bound five feet to the top of a fence, is technically old! Zoe is geriatric and Toby is, I guess, really ancient.
Dr. Nicholas Dodman, former director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University, says in the newsletter Catnip that the signs of cat aging may come on slowly. Maybe you’ve noticed your older cat pays less to attention to grooming and scratches less, causing their nails to get long. You might be giving them supplements for joint stiffness. And you may have noticed that your cat’s hearing or eyesight is failing. Any of these age-related problems can make a senior cat less likely to explore, play, and get exercise. That, in turn, can result in them losing interest in their environment.
“It is very important,” Dr. Dodman says, “to provide your aging cat with an interesting, fulfilling life. Being stuck in the house all of the time, doing the same things every day will predispose him to both mental and physical problems.”
Cats, especially indoor cats, get much of their entertainment from getting on top of something and watching the world go by. If your kitty can no longer climb the cat tree to see out the window or get up on the sofa to watch the household, their days can get pretty dull. So we looked at cat trees and similar structures than can elevate your older cat—and their spirits.
Essential Features of Cat Trees for Older Cats
Cats love heights (like scaling your bookcases and kitchen cabinets) because it gives them the feeling of being hidden while at the same time seeing everything—the perfect position for a predatory animal. They love vertical space. That’s why your elderly cat will still struggle to get onto the bed or sofa while rejecting the perfectly nice cat bed you put on the floor.
Stairs, cat trees, and other senior-friendly cat furniture are good options to give an older cat the feeling of a raised perch or help them get up to their favorite raised area, such as the window sill.
When it comes to cat trees and stairs, steps that are fairly close together make the difference. And the size of the steps is important, too. I found that both Zoe and Toby were reluctant to get onto a tiny step—they wanted the room to put down all four paws before moving to the next level of a cat tree or staircase.
At the top of the cat tree, space was again an important factor. Both cats have arthritis, and they tend to sleep in stretched out poses rather than curling up tightly like kittens. Little tiny beds or precarious hammocks didn’t appeal to them. (Tip: Cat trees marketed for large cats, such as Maine Coons, sometimes work for senior cats—provided they don’t require any leaping.)
While you might think of softness as comforting to senior cats, it can also pose problems. Zoe and Toby were both suspicious of squishy surfaces and Toby actually slipped off one silky, soft staircase. They clearly prefer highly stable surfaces, such as tight carpeting, plain wood, or cardboard. Both of them love corrugated surfaces, such as corrugated scratchers—that surprised me but it’s led me to discover a cardboard cat tree that’s great for older cats.
Our Favorite Cat Trees for Older Cats
Here’s our list of the best cat trees, raised beds, stairs, and similar structures for older cats.
Senior cats like this cardboard cat tree with scratching pads because it’s easy to get from level to level. The combination of traction from the scratcher floors and the balcony-style levels seems to give them a sense of security. So if your older cat likes plenty of elevation, the Chateau could help them get there. It’s lightweight, so you can move it around. (And if your cat wants an open-air penthouse, you can remove the roof!) Purchasers remark that for a cardboard tree, it’s remarkably sturdy and able to stand up to cat activity. Dimensions: Approximately 21 by 29 inches at the base and 43 inches high (with roof).Shop on Chewy
If your cat’s problem is simply difficulty getting up to a favorite shelf or desk, try this collapsible structure. Large, durable carpeted surfaces make it easy for your cat to hop aboard and recover their balance, or settle in for a nap. The steps top out at 26 inches, providing an older cat with easy access to a desk or low bookcase. These well-designed stairs are also storage boxes—just lift the plush lids to stash cat toys, blankets, or grooming tools. Want to get them out of the way? These stairs cleverly fold flat to be tucked behind the couch or into a closet until your cat needs them.Shop on Chewy
Many of the multi-level “senior” cat trees we looked at seemed just too narrow for a large older cat to be able to maneuver from level to level without risking a fall. This 33-inch tree is a wonderful exception. The levels are close together and the stepping areas spacious enough for your senior kitty to make it safely to the top. And it’s worth getting there—the plush top area is a comfortable 16.5 inches by 22.5 inches, providing plenty of room to stretch out.Shop on Chewy
If you are looking for stability in pet steps, this solid 26-pound structure is the way to go. We like the spacious, carpeted steps, which are perfect for giving your senior cat easy access to a bed, chair, or couch. However, it tops out at 20 inches, so they probably aren’t tall enough to get kitty up to your desk—though that might be an advantage.Shop on Chewy
Cat parents report that even their large, arthritic cats take to this easy-to-climb, carpeted cat tree that will get them 30 inches off the ground. At the top, they can luxuriate in a secure 18-by-11-inch perch. This is a traditional, wood-core cat tree—heavy (33 pounds) and sturdy.Shop on Amazon
This condo, specially designed for big kitties, gives your older cat plenty of room to get around, with three levels to hang out on (though the top one, at 21 inches, might be a bit of a stretch). It’s wood covered with carpet, so expect this one to last quite a while.Shop on Wayfair
This set of carpeted steps with an easy 6-inch rise will give your older cat plenty of traction on their way to and from a sofa or bed—plus provide a comfy spot at the top to just hang out. Dimensions: 20 by 20 by 21 inches.Shop on Wayfair
If a cat tree is getting to be a bit of a stretch for your older kitty, a raised cat cave can give them that “off the floor” feeling they crave. This nicely upholstered 22-inch cat condo masquerades as a mid-century chair and fits right into your living room. The interior features a wonderfully plush 19-inch diameter cat bed.Shop on Wayfair
Kitty can’t quite get up onto the sofa anymore? Don’t let that get in their way. With their very own on-trend gray mid-century couch, your senior cat can still dream.Shop on Joss & Main
It’s awfully low for a cat tree, but Toby and Zoe both demanded that I include the PetFusion Ultimate Cat Scratcher Lounge Toy on this list They both love to hang out on it. I think it gives them just enough height that they feel ready to pounce without any of the fear of being up too high to get down again. Or maybe that’s just because there’s such excellent catnip included with this scratcher! Dimensions: 34 inches long, 10.5 inches high, and 10.5 inches wide.Shop on Chewy
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Featured image via Erica Marsland Huynh/Unsplash