This article has been put together by the Feline Welfare Team at International Cat Care, a leading cat charity that works hard to improve the welfares of cats across the world. This post looks at the benefits of providing 3-Dimensional space in the home that allows cats to play out their natural instincts, and be within an environment that feels safe and secure.
Cats are able to live alone or in social groups but they are solitary hunters and, as a result, the risk of self-injury can be considered a risk to an individual’s survival. To reduce the risk of injury from a perceived threat, cats tend to ‘avoid and evade’ rather than ‘engage’ in conflict which could result in harm. As a result, cats will often withdraw to a ‘safe place’ in situations they may find threatening or unfamiliar. A safe place is a space in which a cat feels protected from perceived threats of danger and these are often elevated. Access to an elevated area increases the cat’s vertical space and allows them to monitor its environment. As cats are also a prey species as well as a predator species, they will seek isolated areas when resting and these are often high off the ground for increased safety.
A cat’s natural behaviours includes climbing and using vantage points off the ground to survey their environment, both of which are important for maintaining and protecting their territories. Therefore, raised areas within the home allow cats to express these natural behaviours as well as giving cats increased opportunity for seclusion. They also provide cats with a sense of environmental control by enabling them to retreat away and avoid stressors in their environment. For cats in multi-cat environments, vertical spaces may allow cats to separate themselves from one another and in this way, relieve any potential stress that may arise if they were forced to rest in close proximity.
What should vertical safe spaces include?
When considering how we can best provide vertical spaces in our homes for cats we should take into account the following;
· Vertical spaces should be provided throughout the cat’s environment both inside the home and outside (if they have outside access). This enables a cat to access places of height to safely rest and survey throughout their territory.
· High perches should only be big enough to fit one cat to ensure cats can have an area of seclusion from other cats (in multi-cat homes). However, owners might like to provide vertical rest areas that are large enough for multiple cats to enjoy if they own cats who have a very good relationship with one another. Choice of elevated resting areas is important to avoid cats in multi cat homes having to compete for resources.
· Staggered steps should be available to ensure cats can easily access high places. This is particularly important for cats that have reduced mobility for example, due to arthritis which is a prevalent disease in older cats.
· Vertical spaces could include walkways and shelving to enable cats to move from place-to-place without having to risk getting down on the ground. This is particularly useful if the cat is living with potential stressors such as children or other pets that may block access to resources.
· Vertical safe spaces should have an element of enclosure edges such as lips and/or dips to increase a cat’s feeling of security and safety when using them to rest through the feeling of enclosure.