Make Your Own Cat Trees, Towers, and Other Structures
Why Homemade Cat Structures?
Cat trees, condos, and scratching posts can be some of the most expensive items you'll ever buy for your cat, yet they really enrich the lives of our feline friends. They give cats places to play, areas to claw, and perches from which to view their territories. Cats without these things are really missing out, and you are too, since watching them enjoy their trees and condos is great fun, plus it saves your furniture from being used instead.
Store-bought cat structures can be pretty expensive. Depending on quality and size, they can run up to hundreds of dollars. But it's not necessary to spend that much. With even the barest of carpentry skills, you can build your own and custom design them with your house and cat in mind.
Simple Platform Tree
It's not hard at all to make a cat tree. You just need a solid base, some posts, and a few platforms. Things to consider in your design:
- Keep in mind that it will be more comfortable for the cat if they can access the levels in stair-step fashion. Arrange the levels from shortest to tallest to make it easy for your cat to climb.
- Cover the posts with rope or carpeting. Keep in mind that carpet wears out pretty fast and is hard to replace, while rope is pretty easy. Also, it seems that most cats prefer the rope.
Sphynx on a Simple Tree Branch Cat Tree
To make this cat tree, you will need the items listed below, though you may want to alter the design to fit your cat and home. Perhaps you want it shorter or wider, bigger or smaller platforms, whatever— simply adjust the sizes to fit.
- 3 4" x 4" posts: 2' long, 3' long, and 4' long
- 3 round or square shelves (about a foot square)
- 19 L-brackets
- A large (about 3' square), heavy piece of wood for the base, fairly thick (3/4" is good)
- Bolts with matching nuts to connect the platforms to the posts and the posts to the base with the brackets. Make sure the bolts are fairly short, but long enough to go through the wood and still have room to put a bolt on the other side
- Really short wood screws (about 1/2")
- 1" wood screws
- Staples and a staple gun
- Carpet and/or rope
- First, cut the wood to the desired sizes. Often your neighborhood home improvement store can do this for you for little or no cost. You may want to alter the post length a little so that one 8' 4" x 4" post will be enough for your entire project. Don't forget to check the cut bin at the store: Sometimes you'll find some great usable pieces there. You can also use scrap wood if you want.
- On the base, mark out where you want the posts. Try to get them fairly close to center so the structure will be steady. Mark the outlines of the 4" x 4"s on the base, so you have three 4" x 4" squares outlined on the base. (Tip: Make sure you use one of the posts as a stencil, since 4" x 4"s are not always exactly 4" x 4").
- Arrange one of the L-brackets along one side of each post's outline and mark where you need to drill the holes. Move the bracket out of the way and drill holes for the bolts all the way through the base. Do this for each of the four L-brackets that are going around each post. You may want to countersink the area around each hole on the bottom of the base to prevent the bolts from coming in contact with the floor and scratching it up.
- Feed a bolt up from the bottom of the base, through the hole in the bracket, and then put a nut on it. Do this for each of the bolts until all of the brackets are in place. Test the post to make sure it fits and make adjustments if necessary.
- Now that all the brackets are in place, you will want to carpet the base. Get a piece of carpet big enough to cover the entire top of the base with several inches left over on all sides. Set the carpet on top of the base, then mark where you will need to cut holes for the posts. Cut just an X where the post will go at first, then make sure the carpet is in the exact right place so that the brackets come through the hole. Push the carpet all the way down to where it will sit. This will leave the brackets uncovered and the carpet in place. Trim off the edges of the carpet.
- Attach the edges of the carpet under the base using the short wood screws. When you drill them in, make sure they don't come out the top of the board. If your wood screws aren't short enough, you will need to use a staple gun instead.
- After the carpet is secured to the base, set each post in its spot and attach to the brackets using the 1" wood screws.
- Attach the end of the rope near the bottom of a post using a wood screw. Don't worry about having it at the exact bottom: You can overlap the rope over it (thereby covering the end and making the rope more secure). Wrap the rope around and around the post, covering up the end and then working your way all the way to the top. Secure at the top with a few more wood screws so it won't come undone. Do the other posts.
- After the posts are wrapped, secure the platforms to the top of the posts with brackets. Do this by setting the platforms on top of their posts, marking where the holes need to be, then drilling holes for the bolts to go through. Putting the bolts through the holes in the shelves first, then through the brackets, will leave the bigger, bulkier ends underneath the shelves and not visible.
- In the photograph, all of the shelves are round. You can choose round, square, or rectangular platforms. Also, the picture shows shelves with sides on them: I'm including sides for the shelves in these instructions because they can be fairly difficult to make and your cat will like it just fine without them. If you want, you can affix a kitty bed with sides on top of one of the shelves.
- After the platforms are attached to the posts, simply cover each one with carpet, wrapping the edges down underneath the platform and attaching with either wood screws or staples just as you did with the base.
That's it! A fairly simple and very nice little cat tree.
Homemade Cat Tree Diagram
Cat Tree Attached to the WallClick thumbnail to view full-size
Large Cat Tree
Ideas for Cat Trees
- A Four-Perch Cat Tree
This is my favorite plan and design for a cat tree. It is well-explained, has a list of materials and instructions, and a picture of the final result.
- Martha Stewart Cat Tree
This is another cat tree made out of an actual piece of tree. It has a beautiful look to it, and I'm sure if you looked around you could find an awesome piece of wood to use.
- Head Start Cat Tree
This person uses a small kitty condo he already had for a head start on making this cat tree.
- Ladder Cat Tree
This is a cat tree made out of a ladder. It requires very little building, and is a great tree for those who aren't handy with tools.
- DIY Inspiration: Designer Drawers for Kitty
This cat tree uses dresser drawers to create levels for cat relaxation.
Cats Need to Scratch
In the wild, cats use their claws quite often to catch food, protect themselves, and defend their territory. Being kept in the house does not cause a cat's claws to grow less. Physically and psychologically, cats need to use their claws and use them often.
Without cat trees and scratching posts, cats will scratch your furniture and anything else that satisfies their natural need to claw. It is something that you will have to deal with if you decide to have a cat: their claws and their need to use them are just part of what makes them cats and there's no way to prevent this behavior. Even "declawing" them by removing their fingertips (cutting of the section that grows their claws) does not remove their obsession with clawing, it just makes it irritating to painful for them.
That's why it is so important to have at least a few scratching posts around. This gives them a healthy and harmless outlet for their natural behavior and may prevent them from scratching your furniture.
The Simplest of DIY Scratching Posts
For a really easy scratching post, take a small board, cover it with rope, then hang it on the wall. All you need is board, rope, a staple gun, and a nail to hang it.
Since cats like to stretch up as far as possible to mark their territory with their claws, place this scratch so that your cat's paws reach about the middle of the pad when he or she is fully stretched out.
Climbing Scratching Post
The scratching post shown in the video above isn't homemade, it's actually just a modified cat tree, but if you think your cats might like to climb as well as scratch, it wouldn't be that difficult to make your own.
- Cover a tall board or long pole with sisal rope by attaching the end of the rope to the bottom of the pole with a staple gun, then keep wrapping it until you reach the top. Staple the rope to that end and cut off the excess.
- You might also want to drill a few screws into the wood at various places to secure the rope and make sure it won't come loose when kitty is climbing on it. Long staples could also work, though you'd want to be very careful to ensure that they're secure and don't work loose over time.
- The trickiest part is connecting the post to the floor and ceiling. You'll want a nice steady base— if the post moves around, the cat won't use it, and it won't be safe. You can attach the post to the floor and ceiling using at least four L-brackets such as those used to hold up shelves: One on each side of the post, top and bottom, will make it pretty sturdy. Another option, and I think the simplest and best, is to nail the post to the wall. This is an easy and stable solution. Attach it to the wall in several places to make it really sturdy. Whatever you do though, make sure the post doesn't have a chance of tipping over, it could really hurt your furry one if it did.
Customizing Options: You can play with this idea and customize your own structure. For example, for the cat who likes to climb up and then sit to survey the scene, instead of one long post you could have several shelves covered in rope and staggered up the wall.
If you already have posts in your house as part of the design, I've seen people wrap those posts with rope so their cats can use them. If you're lucky enough to have a random post in your house, you might do the same.
Homemade Scratch Pad
Create a Quick and Simple Cat Scratcher
This is one of the simplest ways to create a cat scratcher: Simply find a nice log to use. Most cats actually prefer real wood logs over anything else. They don't care about fancy or pretty, all they care about is if it is scratchable. A nice log, about eight inches wide or more and a couple of feet long, that is still pretty fresh is the ultimate in their eyes. You can easily find some nice-looking ones in the woods or even go to a place that sells firewood. It is cheap, easy, and popular, though the shredded pieces of wood can make a bit of a mess.
If you bring a log into your house, make sure there are no uninvited guests (like termites or beetles) coming with it. Get a fresh log, then wrap it tight inside a plastic trash bag and leave it outside for a week or so. This should kill any insects.
Tepee Cat Scratching Post
This is quite simple to make at home.
- All you need is two pieces of wood that are the same size plus one piece that is about four inches longer on all sides.
- Cover them with carpet or rope, then attach the two smaller boards to the larger one with six brackets from the hardware store: Two V-shaped brackets to attach the boards at the top of the peak, and another two brackets to secure each board to the base (two on each board).
Customization Options: You could include a little platform at the top of the tepee. You could also use hinges instead of brackets so that it folds down. If you do this, you'll have to think of some way to secure each hinge so that it doesn't fold when you don't want it to. You might consider installing the hinges or brackets so that they go under the carpet to make it look a little bit nicer.
Kitty Castle & Cat Condos
With some plywood, carpet, wood, a cardboard box, and some nails, you can get creative when building a condo or castle for your cat. Scroll down for design ideas.
Cardboard Cat CondoClick thumbnail to view full-size
Make a Cat Castle
Ideas for Cat Condos
- DIY Cardboard Cat Cocoon
There are no plans for making this stunning looking cat cocoon, but it's fairly self-explanatory. Someone took an Xacto knife and carved through layers of cardboard, then glued the pieces together.
- The Catsle Condo
A fairly simple tall rectangular enclosure with opening cut out for cats to get in, and shelves for them to lounge. It could be designed to blend into any decor.
- Lowe's Kitty Tri-Rise Play House
Build the purr-fect cat house for less than $40. This plan from Lowe's Home Improvement uses cement tubes, glue, and carpet to make places for your kitties to curl up and relax.
- Cardboard Cat House
This cat house is made out of three cardboard boxes and is a super cute place for your feline friend to hang out.
Kitty Hideout Made of Boxes
You don't have to have any carpentry skills to put something together, all you need is some sturdy boxes and tape. Kitties don't care what their play structure looks like.
The benefits of using boxes:
- You can cover it with pretty paper or fabric to match your decor.
- Because it didn't cost a thing, you can simply get rid of it if you have company.
- It won't last very long. A well-made structure for a gentle cat could last for years, but for hyper kitties it will be lucky to last six months. Replace it with a new and different play structure and you cat will never get bored.
Making a Cat HouseClick thumbnail to view full-size
Heated Cat House
Many people who live in cold areas worry about stray or feral cats when it gets cold out. This heated cat house is a great way to deal with that problem. It does cost quite a bit, about $100 due to the heating mechanism and thermostat, but even the basic box without the heating mechanism would be a nice treat for stray kitties and I'm sure if you look around you might be able to find a thermostat-controlled heating pad or heating blanket that would work well and cost less, maybe even at a thrift store (though as always, be cautious of old wiring). Rain will follow any cords, so make sure you hang the cord so water won't follow it into the box. Or even better, place the entire thing in a sheltered location such as the garage or under your porch.
Multi Cat House
Ideas for Cat Play Areas
- DIY Outdoor Cat Enclosure
This article doesn’t include plans for the outdoor enclosure, but the pictures are good enough to show you how to build it.
Cat Windowseats and Windowsill Perches
- Cat Windowsill Perch
This is an attractive window seat for kitty that includes a hidey-hole below the perch. It's great for a cat or two to lounge and enjoy life.
Ideas for Other Cat Items
- Wine Box Cat Shelf
There are no instructions for this cat perch, but it's fairly self-explanatory. They used an attractive wine crate for the perch and attached it to the wall using brackets, probably L-brackets. Remember to always attach items like this to wall studs.
- How to Hack together a Modular Cat Ladder from Ikea Bits
This person installed shelves from Ikea covered with fabric so his cats could climb the wall and sit on top of his entertainment center.
- Wall-Mounted Cat Perch
Create wall shelves for your feline friend with toy storage and space so your cat can bask in the sun or watch birds. Build a small shelf or one long enough to span a window.
- Build a Kitty Play Station
This is a great idea and includes well-designed plans for building a place for your cat to play. Your cat will love yanking on lengths of rope and will be entertained for quite a while.
A pretty easy scratching and playing item for your cats is a tunnel made out of a cardboard tube covered in carpet. It is extremely easy:
- Take a cardboard tube such as a Quik-tube for concrete pilings and some scrap carpet.
- Cut the tube to the length you want, then place the carpet against the tube and measure to fit.
- Trim the carpet so that it will fit securely around the tube, with a little hanging over on each end, then cover the tube with a strong glue that will work on both the carpet and the cardboard. You may want to do a little at a time: Add some glue, push the carpet onto that area, then coat another bit of area.
- Once the carpet is completely covering the outside of the tube, put some glue around the inside edge and press the carpet onto it so that all the carpet is attached. If you want you can also line the inside of the tube with carpet.
- You can also use sturdy fabric in place of the carpet, and just attach it the same way.
- Let the tube dry thoroughly, then lay this down on the ground and kitty will love to run around inside.
These are just some more great ideas to make your cat structures better. Putting shelves on the walls for them, ladders to areas they like to go, and just generally adding stuff you know they will like will all make your cats happier and more content. Use these pictures to spark your own ideas about what might work in your house.
Kitty Cat Playroom
Fun Kitty Cat Room
A Building Shortcut
There is a way to build a cat structure without having to do much construction: Simply use furniture as a starting point. Is there some old chair or shelf you've been storing in the garage for years, thinking of getting rid of? It's simple to cover it in carpet or rope and it can make a wonderful area for your cats to claw on and play with. Run by a few thrift stores to find the perfect piece that your cats will love— it will probably be cheaper than buying supplies at the home improvement store. You simply need to look at them with eyes that are open to the possibilities.
Keep It Safe
When making anything for the kitties, it's always important to keep the stuff as safe as possible. Whether homemade or store-bought, cat items can be dangerous, but if you're making them yourself, you can make it safer than anything you'd find in the store. Simply follow these tips:
Design the cat tree or other items to be structurally sound.
Don't make something that isn't going to handle the weight of your kitty jumping on it. Since cats can weigh quite a bit, add as much support as possible. You can never have too much support, but you can have too little.
Ensure that everything is going to be balanced.
I've seen cats leap five feet through the air to land on top of a cat tower, sending it rocking. If it didn't have a wide enough base, the tower and the cat would have tipped right over. Think of the cat tree you want and imagine a crazed beast launching itself straight at it: Is it going to hold up to the onslaught? The wider the base the better, and if possible, it's always nice to attach the structure to the wall. Water-heater earthquake straps work well for this. Also, put heavier sections down lower, and smaller platforms up higher. The added weight at the base will keep the structure steadier.
Attach everything well.
Nails are better than tacks, and screws are better than nails. Whatever you attach, whether it is carpet or rope or whatever, you don't want it easily coming loose. Nails and tacks and staples tend to work their way out over time, and a loose nail is a dangerous nail. Make sure anything is pounded into the wood really well, and if possible use screws where you can. If you use staples anywhere, give them an extra tap with a hammer to make sure they're seated deeply in the wood since most staple guns do not sink them fully.
Items Useful for Cat Structures
Sonotubes or Quik-Tubes
Sonotubes or Quik-tubes are brand-name sturdy cardboard tubes used as molds for wet cement. They are essential for building cat condos and other cat structures. Covered with carpet or rope, cats love to lay in them and play inside them. They come in several different sizes, including 8", 10", and 12" in diameter, and different lengths as well. They are usually available in the concrete or masonry section of your local home improvement store.
Cardboard barrels are used to hold food and other bulk items in many big stores. If you can find them, these make great cat condos and tree bases since sometimes the cardboard cement tubes are not big enough. Cardboard barrels come in several sizes, and are most likely to be found at places that stock bulk food or at some army surplus stores.
It's important to use natural ropes such as sisal or hemp to wrap the cat tower since slippery, plasticky-feeling synthetic materials like nylon aren't good. Sisal is cheap and readily available. Hemp is a bit more expensive but it is sturdier. Since you will need quite a lot of it and it is supposed to be torn up by your cats, most people get the cheaper sisal. 3/8" is the best size to use for cat items.
If you have scrap carpet, that's just fine, especially if you had your house carpeted and have some leftover since the cat structure will match your house. If you have to purchase carpet, try to get a good kind that is stain-resistant as well as sturdy since it will endure some heavy wear and tear and you want it to last. Most cats prefer short-napped, Berber-type carpets, though if you are going to buy something you may want to bring a sample home to see if your kitty likes it since cats have very definite opinions about what they like and don't like.
When you purchase wood for your cat structures, you will most likely be getting things like plywood and 2x4 posts. It's often best to have the store cut the wood to the size you need since then you don't have to use a saw or deal with large sheets of lumber. Do not get “treated” or “pressure-treated” wood; it is soaked in toxic substances that are harmful for cats and people to breathe or ingest.
More in this Series
Don't spend lots of money on toys your cats don't even like. Make your own homemade cat toys simply and easily instead.
Think you know all about cats? Are you a cat fan? Take the kitty cat quiz and find out how much you really know.