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How to Set Up the Purrfect Cat Shelves: Benefits, Planning and Installation

published on
March 16, 2023
Hayley Williams
Table of Contents
This post may contain affiliate links, which means I’ll receive a commission if you purchase through my links, at no extra cost to you. Please read full disclosure for more information.

Have you heard about the benefits of cat shelves but don’t know where to start creating a stylish wall that you and your cat will love? In this post I’ll walk you through the process for how to plan a cat shelf wall based on your cat and share my tips for installing a custom cat shelf wall that blends in stylishly while satisfying your cat's needs for exercise, protecting your furniture, reducing boredom or stress and more. 

Benefits of Cat Shelves

Not convinced that cat shelves are an essential part of enriching your cat’s environment? Read my six reasons why you should incorporate them into your home design.

Build confidence - For cats who are on the shy side, shelves and cat walks give them the confidence to survey their territory from above.

Good for multi-pet households - Shelves offer a way for your cat to get away from other pets in the household.

Encourage independence
- They can be close by without being underfoot or on the counters.

Reduce clutter in small spaces
- When space is at a premium getting things off the floor is key.

Deter unwanted behavior
- Scratching and climbing and more can be reduced by adding cat shelves. It's important to note that while we as cat guardians want to lessen our cats scratching our furniture and using the couch as a jungle gym, it is a natural behavior and not necessarily a bad one. They're not doing it out of spite, they are just trying to satisfying their needs. Such as stretching and shedding their claws. I'll go more in depth in a post on this soon.

Decrease boredom
- Contrary to popular belief if your cat sleeps more than 16+ hours a day, your cat could be bored and unhappy and wishing for something to do. Giving them a climbing wall can enrich their day to day and make for a happier cat.

Planning Out Your Cat Shelves

So now you know why you should do it for your cat's well-being, but before you add shelves to your cart and pick up that drill, read on. Let's start with the basics to consider to customize it for you and your cat.

Number of cats

A wall for one cat is going to be designed differently than one for multiple cats. One for multiple cats needs more lanes of traffic so that a cat doesn’t get stuck if another is in the way. They also need multiple escape routes to prevent discord or traffic jams.

Our current cat wall is a perfect example of a one lane traffic set up but it's being used for two cats. See how Luna is stuck up top because she doesn't feel comfortable passing Leon? Luna feeling blocked often leads to a cat fight. But it's easily remedied with alternative paths on and off the ramp. This is a good example that it is okay to learn and make mistakes – I do it too. We will be remedying this traffic jam in a future post. I hope you can learn from my mistake and if you have more than one cat think about how one cat can avoid the other when they're on the walkway.

Size, personality and activity level of the cat(s)

Consider each of your cat's size, weight, personality and activity levels. Keep this in consideration when choosing the shelf types you are purchasing for your wall. The needs of a Bengal cat are going to be different from the needs of a Munchkin cat. 

Disabilities or preferred styles of lounging

There are 3 types of cats when it comes to where they feel confident in a space. Take some time to determine which styles your cats prefer to occupy a space when lounging. 

Bush Cat

There’s the bush dweller who is confident in spots that are down low and somewhat hidden from view. This type of cat will prefer access to shelves that are more enclosed with the ability for them to see but not be seen. (There is a difference between this type of cat and a hiding, anxious cat that’s hiding under your bed.)

Your cat is a Bush Cat if:

Here’s an example of a shelf that would work for a bush cat:


Why It Works:

Tree Cat

Next are tree dwellers, these cats prefer to survey their territory from off the ground. These are also the types of cats who will try to find the highest point in the house like the tops of your cabinets or fridge. But that doesn’t necessarily mean your cat is not a tree cat if they’re not trying to go all the way to the ceiling. Something as low as a chair can be a tree for your cat, anything that will get them up off the floor. (There is a difference between this type of cat and a hiding, anxious cat that’s on top of your fridge.) 

Your cat is a Tree Cat if:

Here’s an example of a shelf that would work for a tree cat:


Why It Works:

Beach Cat

In contrast there is a third type of cat called the beach cat. They’re a cat that tends to like all feet on the floor, out in the open. You might even call them a speed bump because you have to go around them or you’ll trip over them in the middle of the floor. However, that doesn’t mean this kind of cat won’t like shelves. They will probably prefer open shelving or hammocks where they can splay out and claim their territory by taking up space and it might be lower to the ground.

Your cat is a Beach Cat if:

Here’s an example of a shelf that would work for a beach cat:


Why It Works:

Confused about which one is your cat?

It may be confusing to figure out which cat is what. Don't worry, it's just a starting place. Some cats can be in multiple categories depending on the situation and their confidence in those spaces. Cat's can't communicate their preferences with words but they definitely communicate through action. It's best to try them all and see which ones your cat prefers. And if you have multiple cats. One cat may prefer one part of the walkway while the other prefers another part.


Cats who are older, have balance issues or other physical disabilities can still use shelves but you’ll have to think about how you’ll adapt it to their needs. Perhaps they are lower to the ground, a wider platform and softer materials as well can be used. Also utilizing on and off ramps from the ground can help a cat with mobility issues.

Primary purpose

Think about what problems you might be trying to solve. Is your cat waking up in the middle of the night? Do you have a small space and need to go vertical? Here are some reasons to build a cat wall for your cat:

Exercise - Cat shelves are great for getting your cat’s energy out so they can sleep better. By getting enough exercise this can also improve your sleep so you’re not waking up to 3am zoomies and caterwauling.

Protecting your furniture - Designing the right path for your shelves has the added benefit of protecting your furniture so that it doesn’t become their personal playground or a source of scratching.

Reduce clutter on the floor - While cat trees and scratchers are great, they take up a lot of floor space. In a small space, floor space is valuable. Which is why it’s important to reduce clutter and use vertical space.

Reduce stress - Is your goal to reduce your cat’s stress levels? Ever had guests over and your cat disappears for hours? You brought home a kitten and now your cat hisses and attacks you when you try to interact with them? Cats need the ability to escape from stressors. Sometimes when they don’t have a way to feel safe and confident they turn to destructive behaviors like peeing outside the litter box, destroying furniture or aggression to let you know they're scared and unhappy. By increasing their confidence with shelves you allow your cat to socialize from afar and to be a part of the room without fear.

Creating access - Sometimes we have built in cat highways but the cats can’t quite access them without a shelf. Consider where you want your cat to be able to go. Do you need a shelf in a specific spot so that they can access the top of the kitchen cabinets, a loft area or the second floor of the house? Does the cat need to have the option not to touch the floor because of kids or a dog? Then you might consider a full 360 wall installation versus just creating one wall.

Function of the room

Consider the function of the room for you and your cat. Is it a bathroom, living room or a multifunctional space? Write down what you as the cat guardian use the space for as well as what the cats use it for. Is it where their food or litter box lives? What are their favorite spots where they already hang out? Next consider how you want the room to function differently. What are the pain points? Could the shelf be multifunctional? Here are some examples of what a shelf could be used for: cat lounging, book shelf, toy storage, art display and more. It can also be helpful to search Pinterest and see what others have done. You can check out our cat shelf board here.

Sketch It Out

As the final step, sketch out your plan. Take each wall and sketch out basics shapes and lines for where you want things to go. Thinking about how the cat might use that particular shelf and where they could go next. Here's a simple sketch of what mine plan was. It doesn't have to be digital either. It can be on a piece of paper. Just use pencil so you can erase and rework as needed.

Tips for Installing Your Cat Shelves

Tip 1: Check weight limit and surface area - Check the weight limit for your shelf and also check the size of the shelf vs your cat’s length. If you have a big cat like a Maine Coon you’ll need different shelves than someone with a small Domestic Short Hair.

Tip 2: Floating shelves - Floating shelves may look more seamless but speaking from experience they tend to make more noise than shelves with L brackets.

Tip 3: Use painters tape to plan out your layout - Roughly measure out where you want to place your shelves on the wall with painters tape to keep from making unnecessary holes in the wall.

Tip 4: Use a level to make sure it’s straight - You might need a second person or a ladder to keep your shelf up while you check that it’s level and then mark the screw holes with a pencil.

Tip 5: Add a non-slip surface to your shelves for safety - Choose materials that cats can grip onto but are easily replaceable when worn out or soiled such as sisal, carpet squares, rugs, marine carpet, astroturf and other durable non-slip surfaces.

Tip 6: Clearance vertically and horizontally - The recommended clearance between each shelf vertically is about 12-18” and horizontally about 12-16” for them to safely scale the wall. Alternatively, you can also use your cat as reference making sure the next shelf is eye level so they can see where they are going next.

Tip 7: Screws and anchors - Using the right anchors and screws for your wall is essential. Not every cat shelf comes with the right hardware for your walls. Here are some tips for different types of walls you might encounter:

Each cat shelf wall install will be unique to you, your cat and your space. If my process was helpful to you or you have more questions leave a comment and I’ll guide you through the process and help you find a solution that works for you and your cat.

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