December 14, 2014

How to: Build a Cat Tree

Two weekends ago, Matt and I ventured out and bought a Christmas tree. I am of the school of thought that a fake tree is a better investment than a real one, simply for the fact that while a real one costs less up front, in the long term it's less hassle and less expensive. Even if I only use a fake tree for 3 years, I've already made back my money (unless you bought this one, in which case, it'll take you justttttt a bit longer). That and the pine needles... and the vacuuming... and the watering... and the potential critters... really dissuades me from pursuing a white pine or a blue spruce from yonder forest - also known as the roadside market.

And I was certain that my normally well-behaved adorable cat-kids would be less inclined to try and climb a fake one and that is what brings us to today's post.

We bought this 7.5' tree from Home Depot, an easy-assembly, non-prelit tree that was 20% off in honor of black Friday weekend. We brought it home and I made Matt stand outside and fake "cut it down" so that I could have the cute photo that everyone else seemed to have on Facebook and Instagram about their "First Tree". And then, naturally, we made the mistake of bringing it inside.

Apparently, my fuzzy-children do not care that the tree is fake, nor do they care that it is comprised of thin, unstable, metal branches. They don't mind one bit that the tree weighs a total of 20 lbs and could easily be knocked over on top of one of them, tragically breaking their little kitty necks. The most frustrating part of this was that I hadn't even decorated it yet: no lights, no skirt, no cat-toy-like ornaments to encourage their curiosity. It was simply the fact that the tree WAS IN THE HOUSE that made them nutty.

So for the last week I have been standing guard in the living room with a pink water bottle, ready to aim and fire at a moment's notice. I should point out here that I'm a terrible shot. And the smaller of the two fluffballs doesn't really mind getting wet anyway. Honestly, it's a wonder that the plastic tree hasn't grown with the amount of water I have dumped on it in my efforts to prevent it's demise.

I researched techniques for dissuading their interest in the tree. I leave plenty of other toys around, I yell (and sometimes stomp in fury) or make a loud noise to scare them away from it, I even left the ornaments off for a full week so that perhaps they would get used to it's presence. I wrapped the branches and the base in aluminum foil as, according to a handful of websites, cats do not like tinfoil and with avoid stepping on it. They failed to mention however, that your smallest kitten-kid will try to eat it, regardless of the displeasure it causes him. This weekend, I even grabbed a handful of citrus scented air fresheners and sprays, since felines don't like the smell of oranges or lemon. Cue the part where they both start licking the faux-needles.

So we decided to try something else. On the following Sunday, Matt ran off to play basketball and I came up with a general concept for developing a cat tree. The thought process behind this was that if they had something else to climb, particularly if that something else had catnip rubbed all over it, they might stay away from the Christmas tree. The other thought was "how hard can it be?" and honestly it's not that hard. After basketball, I met Matt over at Home Depot for some supplies. 

What You Need

•  A few 2" x 4"'s at various lengths (we had three at different heights)
•  3 inch screws
•  Plywood or particle board of your choosing (keeping in mind that you want something sturdy for the base. We used inch-thick MDF particle board for the bottom and the platforms).
•  Rug (we got 1' x 12' for about $7). 
•  Staple gun
•  Measuring tape/yard stick
•  Box cutter
  Drill and screw bits
•  Rope/twine

What You Do

1. Start by getting a general idea of how big you want your tree and platforms to be. If we were smarter, we would totally have measured doorways and hall ways and the various entrances that this cat tree would need to travel through. We didn't do that and it just so happens we got lucky and everything fit. I recommend measuring all the things

2. Measure and mark the areas where you want your risers (the 2" x 4"s) to be. I referred to this photo I found on Pinterest for my inspiration. 

3. Screw risers into place. Add your platforms, arranged how you want them (keeping in mind the cats need room to jump from platform to platform, so prevent them from overlapping too much). 

4. After we got the tree assembled, we brought it upstairs to its intended home. As I mentioned, we were lucky enough that it fit through all the appropriate doors. Once upstairs, I eyeballed the rug, and using the box cutter cut the rug two inches extra on each side. Matt and I tag-teamed stapling and tucking the corners. We cut excess so that the staples would stick. 

5. Also using the staple gun, I wrapped the twine (50' of 1/4" twine...covers about 15 inches of 2" x 4") around one of the risers and stapled it along the back and side every 3-4 inches. I tried using a little contact glue for extra support, but it didn't do much given the loose fibers of the twine I chose. If you use a tighter rope, you may have better luck with the glue. 

Ultimately, we were forced to move it downstairs because the cats prefer to be near us and don't hang out upstairs as much as I would like. It's not that I dislike their company, it's just that that Rocket is not a rule follower by any means and is constantly jumping on the counters and knocking stuff off tables and sticking his little paws into drinks. It drives me bananas.

This was very much a fly-by-the-seat-of-our-pants-because-we're-desperate type of project and it's not 100% finished yet. I plan on painting it and adding a few features and I know that Matt wants to add a little hide-away box at some point. For now, however, maybe it'll save our tree - which, I should mention, no longer has any ornaments on any of the bottom branches within three feet of the ground. 

The project cost about $50 from top to bottom and was cheaper than purchasing one from a store. If you're making a cat tree of your own, I encourage you to do some research particularly about safety precautions to prevent injuries. I once read somewhere about someone who had purchased a cat tree, only to have it fall and crush their little friend. Please don't let that happen to yours and take all the necessary steps to make sure that your tree is pet friendly! 

Happy building!



  1. When I first opened this and saw the picture of the cat in the tree, I thought that was going to be the "cat tree." I thought you were going to say, "You don't need to make one; just buy a Christmas tree!" hahahaha.

    I have been wanting to make a cat tree forever, but I just haven't done it. I bought this really cheap crappy one at Walmart ( ...and I'm fairly certain it was only $50) awhile ago. You can't really tell in the picture, but it goes all the way to the ceiling. All of my cats fight for the top tier. I'm not kidding when I say I have seen one sleeping up there, and another one goes up and pushes it off! So at this point, I'm not sure if they'd want anything to do with a "normal" height cat tree. But I really would like to have a nicer one, and I'd like to design/build it myself. We'll see.

    1. Also, your tree looks beautiful, even post-cats!

    2. Thank you, Nicki! I looked at quite a few online and there are actually a handful available on Amazon right now (a bit taller than the one we made) that are $50 or under, but it was kind of fun to get my hands dirty! If you make one I would love to see it! And as for the picture of my tree, admittedly that was taken before Operation Kitty Destroy took place. Now the bottom 10 branches are so are all bent from the weight of my chubby felines and all the ornaments are hidden in various locations throughout the house. I'm sure I'll still be finding them at Easter!

  2. Replies
    1. Hi Mike! Honestly, I think it cost us about $50 (which is what an in-store cat tree might cost). That said, I liked that we were able to customize it and decide how we wanted it arranged/ to fit in the house. And it's held up great! The carpet is a little worn out around the edges where it's been scratched, but the rest of the tree is sturdy and my cats sleep and play on it regularly!

  3. My one comment is about the staple direction on the rope. The staples should be verticle, not horizontal. Even with them pounded in, the cats risk catching a claw when they are horizontal.



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