Stairway to (cat) Heaven
August 5, 2007 12:42 AM   Subscribe

How would I build a three-story high cat structure? That's three human stories, 25 feet or so high.

Now that I finally have my own place, I'm planning to get one or two cats, but I worry about leaving animals alone for much of the day with nothing to do. It occurred to me that my 3-story "tall/skinny" townhouse has the ideal space for the ultimate cat tree: a narrow central space through the middle of the staircase, a straight vertical shot at least 25 feet high and about 1.5' x 4.5' in horizontal cross section, with a skylight at the top. That should keep any cat busy and active, right?

I'm inspired by the Cat's House, but it's more horizontal than vertical. Unfortunately, the pictures on that site are not working at the moment, but the front page has one glimpse that gives you the general idea.

What I'm looking for, I think, is some kind of modular cat condo kit that can be extended indefinitely and anchored into the wall periodically. The trick here is that with the rectangular spiral form of the staircase, I'd have to anchor to different sides as the tower goes up. I also don't want to make the thing too wide, since the central airway is for air and light, not just cats :-).

Has anyone out there ever seen or tried something like this before?
posted by Araucaria to Pets & Animals (18 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that the central airway is open on one or two sides almost all the way up, in a spiral, of course. The 1.5' x 4.5' cross section is what you see when you look down from the top. So if there's a kit that includes platforms wider than 18 inches, it should be possible to fit them in there with clever placement.
posted by Araucaria at 12:46 AM on August 5, 2007

I'm a dog owner, not a cat fancier. But I think the general rule for any pet toy or structure is not to provide something that can harm a pet, in use. Constructing something with the intent of your cats climbing 25 feet off the ground doesn't sound like a good idea, considering the number of cats that routinely get "stranded" just climbing trees. Cats really aren't too smart about climbing down, and their claws don't work as well as other animal's claws do for "head first" descent. So, cats routinely go up to places that they have no idea how to climb down from. I've seen cats chase squirrels up trees, and watched as the squirrels got higher than the cats were willing to go, and then turn around, heads down, looking at the cats below them, who had not a clue of how to go down, and no way of going up. And I've done more than 1 ladder rescue of cats out of trees, with scratches, yowling and hissing for my trouble. And I've seen one or two fall out of trees after a day or two, exhausted, when they couldn't hold on any longer.

A fall from 25 feet off the floor is likely to be hurtful to your pet, if it happened.
posted by paulsc at 1:28 AM on August 5, 2007 [1 favorite]

Seconding paulsc. The title of your question might turn out to be very prophetic, and I'd hate to see your cats get hurt because you wanted to take good care of them, it'd be awfully ironic. Even if they'd manage to climb up and down pretty well (depending on your structure, it might end up more 'climb friendly' than the trees that paulsc describes), the structure would be there for playing, right? Cats aren't always that careful when playing, especially not when you've got more than one.
posted by Ms. Next at 1:34 AM on August 5, 2007

you know the saying "if you build it, they will come"? this doesn't apply to cats. your cats will take no notice whatsoever of the time, effort and expense you put into this in arriving at their decision whether or not to use it.
posted by bruce at 1:48 AM on August 5, 2007 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Note in your case the cats won't have to climb down, they can take the stairs.

There are a few places out there selling Modular Cat funiture (Google: Modular cat furniture. None of it is 25' tall but there doesn't appear to be any technical limitation for this, especially if you at willing to fasten it to the wall. Kind of hard on the wallet though.

However you may want to consider something like KatWalks. They are just carpet covered boards mounted to the walls with stair hand railing brackets. Something similar can be done with stamped or forged metal shelf brackets. If you used 12" boards applied in spiral fashion to the stairs in the well (either in steps or continuous) your cats could climb up and rest along any point without you have to construct a free standing structure. You could mix it up by wrapping some sections with sisal cord to act as scratching areas. Kitty could fall at most a half story (because the 12" shelf protrudes 60% across the open space) before encountering another shelf. The latter is a decent safety feature and even absent some designated cat furniture my cats will run in between the balusters on our stairway. They seem to delight in high places.

If you wanted you could also mix it up with horizontal sections formed by two shelves joined with verticals composed of 4X4s, sonotubes or carpet roll cores wrapped in carpet. Constructed correctly it would give your cats a place to visit with you at railing height. You could also make some box shaped shelves with access holes for hidey places to sleep. Or you could have a ladder going from one side to the other. Basically anything available on commercial scratching posts/condos could be attached directly to the walls with shelf brackets.
posted by Mitheral at 2:53 AM on August 5, 2007 [2 favorites]

Try out something from this company:
The structures last forever, and because all the components are modular, they can be re-designed whenever the inspiration strikes you. My cats LOVE theirs, and if you get the wide base, it is a very sturdy piece of furniture.

Cats can have as much fun playing with a rolled up ball of paper as with an expensive piece of cat furniture, especially if you have two littermates. They also appreciate window seats. (And as a public-safety-message: Double check that the screens are latched! I almost lost a cat when he pushed a screen out and leaped from a window.)
posted by bchaplin at 3:08 AM on August 5, 2007

Lovely idea. But depending on the age and laziness of your cat(s), you may find they don't want to do much during the day (or indeed night). My cat, now about 5, sleeps around three-quarters of the time, I think, despite encouragement to play, fight with the neighbours' cats etc. When he is active it's mostly at night, so you might want to think about whether it'll be a problem if your cats are rushing around in the night.
posted by paduasoy at 4:05 AM on August 5, 2007

I had a buddy do this in a loft space (2 story) with 4x4s wrapped in rope, and carpeted 'shelves' attached to the wall in a staggered pattern for climbing back down. The key thing is you want your cat to be able to easily transition off of the 4x4 without falling.
posted by BrotherCaine at 4:12 AM on August 5, 2007

i don't have any advice for you on how to do this, but PLEASE post pics if you follow through with the idea. i'm in the middle of doing some remodeling (post katrina rehab, actually) and am hoping to incorporate some of the ideas from the cat's house into my place when i get that far along. i love to see other people's cat projects for ideas.
posted by msconduct at 5:02 AM on August 5, 2007

Best answer: For inspiration, here are a couple links:

Apartment Therapy 1

Apartment Therapy 2
posted by ChuckLeChuck at 6:41 AM on August 5, 2007

Please Please Please keep an eye towards safety, both from an engineering standpoint and a cat accident standpoint. If you really go through with this, make sure there is some way to keep a cat from jumping or falling more than about 10 feet. The only practical thing I can think of in my current coffee-deprived state is see-through screening (did you know you can buy rolls of the stuff for repairing window screens?) fencing in all of the structure above the first floor.
posted by ilsa at 10:37 AM on August 5, 2007

Best answer: I like the idea of making a cat indoor climbing wall, using carpeted sections attached to the board in spots, but I'd suggest you approach it as a multi stage project.

Start at the ground floor, and put up a few holds.

If the cats take any notice, pay attention to what they do and fold that learning in to the next phase. Also, don't be afraid to make adjustments to stuff you've already installed.

Do you need to make the boards a little wider? Use different carpet? Do you need to adjust the height between boards, or the width of the horizontal gap between the end of one board and the start of another? Do the cats have a tendency to fall off, no matter what you do? If so, don't go up the full height. Is there a spot where one cat always waits to ambush the other? Maybe provide an alternate route.

You can also put some partially enclosed sections for them, but consider how you'll deal with them if you have a sick cat who is withdrawing (as sick cats sometimes do) and he's up in a small box with small holes 20' up a wall.
posted by Good Brain at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2007

We just bought a Lotus for our two cats. It's plenty high, they've had a few close calls jumping around on it.

Perhaps you could modify the design to make your own?
posted by cior at 1:20 PM on August 5, 2007

I think this is an interesting idea, if the design looks good in your condo. I think the 2nd one (Apartment Therapy from Chuck LeChuck) look pretty sleek.

But from an owner of two cats, don't worry about them being bored home alone without you. I can tell by all the toys that have migrated around my house... mine are plenty busy while I'm away.
posted by Sabine3283 at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2007

Response by poster: Great suggestions, everybody! I like Good Brain's suggestion of incremental construction, ChuckLeChuck's Apartment Therapy pictures (especially #2), and Mitheral's KatWALLk links.

About falling danger:

  • The stairwell is open at chest height, and the wide side rails overlooking the drop would be a tempting climbing hazard anyway. I'm not sure what to do about that, but if anything, cat platforms would reduce the danger, not increase it.

  • I'm considering getting Siberians for their reputed hypo-allergenic qualities. I'm not allergic myself but have many family members who are and would be put off from visiting otherwise. These cats get pretty big and love to climb. In their native environment, they clamber around the rafters of Russian Monasteries. So my main worry is about giving them appropriate outlets for their inclinations (no pun intended).

  • posted by Araucaria at 8:09 PM on August 5, 2007

    I have nothing of real value to contribute, but I think this idea is totally awesome. If you end up building it, you should post pictures.
    posted by Quidam at 8:55 PM on August 5, 2007

    Please post pictures! This sounds like a fabulous project I'll want to replicate some day. =)
    posted by agregoli at 11:36 AM on August 6, 2007

    I'm envious!

    We have this Floor to Ceiling Cat Tower and the cats love it. If you're handy you could put three of them together with no problems. Of course it will need bracing but you seem willing to do that.

    I can certainly understand paulsc's concerns about safety, but any cat-lover will know that cats are going to be hurling themselves in harm's way whatever you do. I wouldn't trust a dog 25 feet off the ground, but a cat is different. If I had the room I'd do it.
    posted by phliar at 4:16 PM on August 6, 2007

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