How to Teach Your Cat to Love the New Cat Tree


Cat Wont Use His Tree – A Familiar Problem

You spent hours reading reviews and carefully shopping for the perfect (very expensive) surprise for your furry little bundle of fun. You saved money from quite a few paychecks to pay for it, but you were sure seeing his joyful excitement upon its arrival would make it all worthwhile.  The day finally comes, and the postman leaves it on the step. You work most of the afternoon putting it together with visions of your cat playing and whiling away the hours in contented bliss on his new cat tree filling your head. Finally, it’s complete and …your cat won’t go near it.  In fact, he’s showing no interest in your love offering at all!

It’s disappointing and frustrating, rest assured that most of us have had similar experiences. First consider his age and if he might have a condition that would make it painful to jump and climb.  If he climbs on furniture and jumps off without showing any signs of discomfort, he’s good to go.  However, if he does limp or show discomfort there are cat trees that are designed with close together platforms and even ramps.  It might be possible to exchange it for a different design.

But there’s no reason your cat wouldn’t or couldn’t leap, climb, jump, hang upside down, swing like George of the Jungle, and generally have the time of his life on his new cat tree. You’ve asked, pleaded, begged, cajoled, coaxed, and then finally degraded to thinly veiled threats.  What’s going on?  Why is he showing far more interest in the box it came in than the Super Deluxe Multi-functional Triple Decker Kitty Playground with Hammock Swinging Ropes and Condos? It’s a variable kitty Disney World and your cat couldn’t care less—in fact he’s doing a pretty fair rendition of the Grinch Who Stole Christmas.

Cheer up it isn’t all for not, you can teach your cat to like his cat tree and it really isn’t all that hard.

Pick the Right Tree

Teaching your cat to love his cat tree begins before it even comes through the door.  When reading reviews if any owner mentions that the tree wobbles or is unsteady, keep right on looking.  Cats love to climb up high and watch the world from a high vantage point. But many tall cat trees do wobble.  Ask questions if possible. Websites like Amazon allow shoppers to ask customers who already own the product questions. Make yours ‘’is it stable, solid and not wobbly?’’ Cats, as well as their owners, need to know it’s safe and won’t tip.  It’s probably the number one reason cats give them a one-star rating.

Besides reading the user reviews study the design. Are both sides structurally balanced? Is the base large? Is the tree heavy?  Are the supports—usually scratching posts—large and sturdy? Are they cardboard or wood?  Cats like to stretch when they are scratching and climbing, and they need posts on a cat tree to be high and sturdy. If you have a scratching post that your cat likes you’re way ahead in the game. Look for a cat tree with posts covered in the material your cat prefers. Most cats like the sisal posts. Some prefer carpeted posts, but isn’t that essentially teaching them to scratch on carpet?

If you have a large cat choose a tree with roomy sleeping platforms and cubby holes that are large enough to accommodate it.  Also note the size of the cubby hole openings to be certain your cat will fit.  Buy one with lots of levels and be sure at least one is around 6 feet tall.

Encouraging Kitty to use the scratching post

Cat trees come with the advantage of multiple scratching posts. If you’ve never taught your cat to use a scratching post and he or she is using your expensive furniture instead it’s time to discover the benefits of this ingenious invention.

Why do cats scratch?

Cats mark their territory by scratching and they also scratch to remove the outer sheath of their nails which they periodically shed.  Some also like certain textures and scratch simply because it feels good. Read more about this in: How to Stop a Cat Scratching furniture.

How do you teach a cat to use a scratching post?

It’s usually not hard to teach a cat to use a scratching post. When you catch him scratching on the wall or furniture take him to the post and scratch on it with your own nails.  The old expression ‘’copycat’’ has its basis in fact.  They do, in fact, mimic us and learn from watching.

They also read our emotions very well. So, stay calm, stay positive, keep your voice soft or you may inadvertently scare him from his new tree.  Gently take your cat’s paw and very lightly place it on the post.  This works best with kittens. If a kitten has an older cat to learn from, they will learn by example to use the post.

What to avoid doing

I’ve heard stories of people grabbing their cat’s paws and trying to force the cat to scratch on the post—often angrily. This never works and you might even scare the cat away from the cat tree permanently.  Cats have a mind all their own and hate being forced to do anything! Manhandling a cat’s paws will never end well.

Never punish a cat or kitten for scratching on furniture or walls.  This will simply scare and confuse the cat and possibly cause serious and permanent personality problems.  They have no idea why they are being punished since scratching is a natural and necessary part of being a cat.

Squirting water in a cat’s face (or worse vinegar), yelling, slapping, shaking, or any other similar horror stories I’ve heard, or so called ‘’training techniques’’ will only make matters far, far worse.  Only positive reinforcement with praise and rewards for scratching on the scratching post will result in the behavior you’re trying to achieve.

Location, location, location! Choose carefully.

Next to the design of the cat tree, this is what will decide whether your cat will use the cat tree or not.  Every cat has a favorite room. This is a start. Usually it’s the family room or living room. If you work at home, it might be your home office. Put the tree in the room your cat likes to spend the most time in.  If you have more than one cat and they each like a different part of the house or they don’t get along well together, it would be a good idea to buy more than one cat tree.

Cats like to be with us

Primarily cats like to be with us (when they’re not doing their own outdoor thing).  Since they are part of the family this is easy to understand. Why would we want the sofa to be in an empty room far away from the family, television, and what’s going on? There’s one exception: If you have a very busy and noisy household your cat could appreciate having his cat tree and napping cubby holes out of the fray and in a more secluded quiet place. Cats, like people, need their space at times and do like a place to get away from everything. It just makes sense to place his new cat tree in the place he likes to spend his time. Many households have more than one cat tree in a couple places—one for family time and one for quiet time and night.

Where does your cat spend time normally?

Where he likes to spend his time is often near a window. If at all possible, place the cat tree near or in front of a window.  The windows in your house are your cat’s windows to the world.  Without exception cats love to watch what’s going on outside, especially if there’s a bird feeder or bird bath outside the window. This is your cat’s television.  Place the cat tree here and he will happily wile away the hours in contended bliss.

Often when more than one cat makes their home with you, they do things together, including bird-watching from the window.  This often creates spats over who will get the window sill. A cat tree in this spot with multiple high perches will solve the problem and your cats will thank you.

Where does your cat scratch in the house?

Another way to find out where your kitty would like his cat tree is where he scratches. This is his territory because scratching is how they mark their territory.  So, if he could he would tell you ‘’this area is mine, I want my cat tree here.’’  Put the cat tree as close to the scratched area as possible. He can scratch on his new scratching post/cat tree to his heart’s content.

Most of us find it takes a while to get used to new furniture or when our furniture is moved around.  It doesn’t always feel ‘’right’’ at first.  Since cats are creatures of habit they can feel out of place with new furniture.  Give them time to get used to the new cat tree.  Don’t push too hard and don’t scold or be angry with them. This will just make it worse.

Praise and Reassurance

Male housecats are like the old Cyndi Lauper song, they ‘’just wanna have fun.’’ They remain large kittens throughout life and their main goal in life is to play. Female cats are, in general, a bit more timid and it often takes them longer to accept something new. Teaching a cat new tricks goes far better with lots of praise and reassurance.

There isn’t a single thing they respond to more than praise. For a ‘’good boy!’’ or a ‘’good girl!’’ they will do anything! Praise coupled with affection and petting will get you everywhere.  When your cat is on the cat tree lavage your cat with it.  Don’t pay too much attention to kitty when he’s in his old haunts and he’ll soon learn the cat tree is where he gets your attention. And that’s the place he will want to be!

Make it worth while

To incite attention, excitement, and interest in the new tree have an arsenal of kitty treats, catnip and toys at the ready. You can make a trail of kitty treats on the various levels of the tree to encourage him to climb.  Hanging new toys like feathery birds and/or mice that chirp when bopped or pom poms will get the cat’s attention and give him exciting games to play on the tree.  They love new toys! Interest in the tree will soar once the ice is broken and he or she discovers that ‘’gee, it’s pretty nice up there.’’

Sprinkle cat nip on the various levels, on the platforms and in the cubby holes. Once nipped he’ll forget all about being unsure about the strange new object standing in the room.

Help your cat settle in and get comfy.

To make them feel at home on the new tree keep his favorite toys there also. Perhaps one in the sleeping cubby hole or hammock would show him this is for him and help a timid cat feel less unsure.  Another thing that you may want to try is something called Feliway. It’s a synthetic feline pheromone that will make your cat feel safe and secure.  This can be purchased on sites like Amazon. Spray a little on the tree and perhaps the cubby holes. If your cat is somewhat frightened of new things it may be just the thing to help her get used to her new cat tree. If your kitty has a favorite little security blanket fold it and place it on the tree or in the sleeping areas. Some cats have a favorite stuffed toy, that too will make the tree less of a threat and feel more like home.

Getting bored of the cat tree?

Sometimes cats get bored with even their favorite places.  When this happens, we need to create interest in it again.  A new toy or two on the cat tree for them to bop around might do the trick.  It might be time to move the tree to a different window if he can watch the birds and squirrels from a different vantage point.  Sometimes it’s just a matter of temperature. In the winter perhaps your cat would prefer his cat tree closer to a heat source.  Or next to a window with more warm sunshine.

Careful prep-work—reading reviews and shopping for the right cat tree for your home—and then placing it where your cat will enjoy it is important but don’t make the mistake of just expecting your cat to figure out what it is and what it’s for on his own.  It may look pretty strange and threatening to him. However, properly introducing the new tree to your cat and encouraging him gently, with praise, patience, and positive reinforcement, you can avoid disappointment and frustration and possibly an expensive investment that will go unused.

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