Selecting the Perfect Cat Shelves: 8 Things to Consider

Earlier this year, I knew I wanted to install cat shelves somewhere in our house. But I was overwhelmed with knowing how and where to get started. So, I teamed up with designer Hayley Williams from Cat Therapy in order to get the project going.

white cat standing on cat  shelf on cat wall
Sophie on the new cat shelf wall.

Disclosure: Some links below are affiliate links. This means that, at zero cost to you, I will earn an affiliate commission if you click through the link and finalize a purchase.

Selecting the Perfect Cat Shelves: 8 Things to Consider

While some items in this list may seem obvious when designing, selecting and installing cat shelves on a wall, some may be less so. This comprehensive list will cover pretty much everything you’ll need to consider when planning for your cat shelf project.

1. What Are Your Goals?

It could be as simple as I want a fun new area for my cat to play. Or, maybe you’re trying to establish a wall art statement piece with the design of your cat shelves. Perhaps you’re looking for shelves that function as both cat perches and shelving for some of your décor items.

I had three goals for my project:

  1. Give my cats a new area to play.
  2. Get the microchip pet feeders off the ground (so our puppy would stop licking them).
  3. Create a functional space for us humans as well (easier to take care of the cats, also doubles as a guest room).

Getting the feeders off the ground would allow for no more paws in the face while trying to eat. (Although this isn’t Sophie’s feeder, so she can’t be mad. I guess someone didn’t learn how to read.)

white cat sitting near microchip pet feeder
Sophie tries to access another cat’s feeder.

2. Installation Location

This one leans toward the obvious, but you’ll need to have a space in mind for where you want the cat shelves. Here are some things to think about:

  • The location could be one room in your house or multiple areas. Where do your cats hang out the most? Do you want to lure them into another area with the cat shelves?
  • Do you want the shelves by a window for your cat’s viewing pleasure? Is there any fun “cat TV” out of a certain window, like birds or squirrels to watch?
  • Maybe you don’t want the shelves too close to an outside door in case you have a door dasher.

For my situation, the logical installation place was in the room where the cats are fed, and it’s also where we have one of our litter closets. We called it our cat room. But once we installed the cat shelves, it truly became a cat room.

Not super exciting, but these are the walls before we installed the cat shelves.

3. Overall Space Needed

Depending on your ideal location for installation, you’ll also want to consider the footprint of the cat shelf itself. As in, how much wall space does it need and how far will the cat shelf stick out? If you’ve selected an area that has a lot of traffic or is a main pathway, this may be an issue.

Also, if you’re installing a cat shelf a little higher on your wall, you’ll want to consider the vertical space necessary for your cat to climb or jump up to that height as well as having ample space above the shelf for them to play.

If you’re asking how far apart should cat shelves be, there is no one-size-fits-all answer. It depends on your space, the aesthetic you’re going for, and your cat’s jumping ability. But a good idea is to generally have them close enough for a small jump – not requiring any huge leap, since some cats won’t have that ability, especially as they age.

Also, consider what human furniture may be near the shelves and allow for plenty of space for yourself as well.

I do have one tight space in our cat room, where I need to reach a little to access one of the cat feeders (the button to open the feeder is at the back of the unit). I have no reason to walk into the corner (and now there’s a cat scratcher back there), so overall, it’s fine. But ample clearance with (human) furniture is something to remember when measuring.

showing the small space  between the couch and the feeder shelf
The tight space between the end of the sofa and the cat shelf.

4. Designing the Cat Wall Layout

Now for the fun part – designing the cat wall! I say fun, but this is actually the area that tripped me up and is what prevented me from starting the cat shelf project for so long, which is why I turned to designer Hayley Williams from Cat Therapy. She did most of the leg work for me.

Whether or not you hire a cat stylist like Hayley, here’s what you’ll need to consider for this stage:

Your cat’s preferences

Does your cat like to climb? Does your cat love enclosed spaces? Are they a tree dweller or bush dweller type cat?

tabby cat on cat tree looking out window
Our Woodrow likes being higher up so he can look out the window.

What about scratching preferences – sisal or mats? This wall cat tree offers both scratching surfaces, and we have it installed in our cat room.

tabby cat scratching on cat tree tower
Woodrow scratches on the newly installed wall cat tree.

Providing variety

There are so many types of cat shelves that you’re sure to find something that works for your situation. There are basic shelves for lounging. There are shelves with holes for climbing through. There are cat trees that attach to walls, cat houses, cat bridges, cat climbing poles, cat hammocks – I could go on and on! If you have the space, try incorporating different types of shelves in your design layout. This also makes sense if you have multiple cats (like I do) with different preferences.

While there are cat shelves for windows, I’ve only installed cat shelves for walls. But here are some options for window cat shelves. This cat window perch suctions to the window, while this one uses the windowsill.

Accessibility

Here, again, you’ll need to consider your specific cat (or cats). Is your cat a good jumper? (My Sophie is not!) Do they love climbing up poles? Maybe they’re a little clumsy. (Again, looking at you, Sophie!). So, maybe you’ll want a low shelf or some cat steps as well. Whatever you decide, the shelves should be easy for your cat to access, either low enough for jumping, or allowing a route up (via other shelves or cat steps).

Sophie, who is not the greatest jumper, is a pro at using the cat steps. (What goes up, must come down.)

Safety

Be sure to select cat shelves that will work for your cat. Can the shelf support their weight (if you have a large cat)? Will they fit through a hole if there is one? Do you want rounded edges on the shelves? Catastrophic Creations offers shelves with a nice rounded corner.

Catastrophic Creations rounded corner on cat shelf

The piece shown above is the Catastrophic Creations Cat Escape Hatch (18″), which we have attached to their Wall-Mounted Cat Bridge.

Function

This relates to your goals. Think about how you want the cat shelves to serve a function, if at all. Besides my cats’ enjoyment, I wanted the cat shelves to hold their microchip pet feeders. It would make it easier at feeding time, so I wouldn’t have to bend down to the floor repeatedly.

Think about if a cat shelf for food makes sense in your situation. Would that free up floor space?

tortie cat standing next to microchip pet feeder
Olive attempts to access another cat’s microchip pet feeder. Foiled!

Pictured above, Olive stands on the Catastrophic Creations Cat Escape Hatch (34″).

Maintenance

Another item to consider is how easy will the cat shelf be to clean? We all know cats keep themselves clean, but they can sure make a mess. So, is the shelf sealed to allow for easy wiping down? Is that scratching mat removable (or replaceable)? If the shelf comes with a bed or fabric hammock, is it machine-washable?

fukumaru cat shelf with removable scratching mat

This Fukumaru cat shelf shown above is pretty basic, but it has a removable scratching mat. We installed a few of these in the cat room.

Measure and Inspect

Although I talked about overall space above, you want to be sure to double and triple-check your measurements. Check where your studs are in the wall. Do you have outlets and electrical wiring you need to account for?

cat wall mockups taped to wall

During our installation, we discovered a metal air duct behind one portion of the wall, which changed our plans a little. It still worked out, but we had to move one shelf over a bit. There may be unforeseen issues that come up like this. But checking your wall structure during the planning phase is always a good idea and may help prevent issues like the one I encountered.

5. Traffic Flow and Routing

While this point could easily fit in with the “designing” section above, it’s important enough to call out on its own.

Here is where Hayley’s design skills really came into play for me. Take a look at her mockup showing the flow of traffic for our left cat wall. With four cats, it’s important that there are “escape routes” built in and not one-way traffic.

diagram of flow of traffic for cat shelves on left cat wall

This second mockup shows that one of the cat shelves has a hole for the cats to move through, in case you caught that it looked like one traffic flow was sending them directly into a cat shelf.

left cat wall design mockup

Here’s what Hayley had to say about our project regarding traffic flow.

Choosing shelves and figuring out where you want to put them is important. However, one of the things people often forget about is considering the flow of cat traffic, especially when you have multiple cats.

In Rachel’s case, with her four, it was important for me to think about all the scenarios for each shelf. For example, if Sophie is here blocking this path, where can Dexter go instead to avoid any potential conflict with Sophie? If Woodrow is eating on this shelf, how can Olive get down from the cat bed? That sort of thinking helps make sure the cats can actually use it all at the same time safely.

Hayley Williams, Cat Therapy

6. Aesthetics and Selecting the Cat Shelves

Now that we’ve looked at what goes into designing a good cat wall layout, you’ll also want to consider the overall aesthetics and which cat shelf brands you like. For my project, we used a combination of cat shelves from Catastrophic Creations and Fukumaru. Yes, it’s okay to mix and match!

If style and décor are important to you, there are plenty of offerings that should meet your needs. Wooden cat shelves come in a variety of stain colors. Hammocks can be clear or use different fun fabrics and textures.

There are floating shelves or ones that have nice wall brackets. Shelves can double as beds, and some even have built-in holders for plants or food dishes.

If individual shelf selection is too overwhelming, there are also pre-designed cat shelf sets like the Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher from Catastrophic Creations.

cats playing on the Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher by Catastrophic Creations
Photo courtesy of Catastrophic Creations

7. Assembly and Installation

Installation is another important aspect to consider during the project. Are you handy enough to install the cat shelves yourself? Or would you prefer to hire a professional?

Depending on the type of shelves you select, some may be more complicated than others to install. For example, some of the shelves we selected required that they be installed on a wall stud, while others were okay with very sturdy drywall anchors.

While I’m a pro at assembling flat-pack furniture (think IKEA), I’m not the greatest with wall-mounted items. So, I ended up hiring a handyman to install the cat shelves for me, since I didn’t want the shelves to come tumbling down when our 14-pound cat jumped up!

However, I did build all of the items that required assembly before installing, which were all of the Fukumaru pieces. This helped save time and money for when the handyman arrived. Nothing was too hard to figure out. Dexter inspected my work when I was done and said I passed.

At the suggestion of Hayley, I labeled all of the items and set them by where they were to be installed.

Our handyman went about taping where he would install the shelves and had me review them before attaching them to the wall.

8. Setting a Budget

Okay, this last point should likely be one of your first considerations, but it’s never the most fun one to think about.

Look at your goals and what you hope to accomplish by installing cat shelves, and then set a budget. If your budget doesn’t allow for buying premade cat shelves, you could consider a DIY cat shelf project.

Remember, like with all products, prices vary between cat shelf brands. The important part is that you end up with a set of shelves that you’re happy with. I mean, that your cat is happy with.

white cat sitting on cat shelf wall bridge
Sophie on the Catastrophic Creations Wall-Mounted Cat Bridge.

Our Completed Cat Room

Drumroll, please! Here are the before and after shots of our cat room walls!

Left Wall Before

empty wall

Left Wall After

left cat wall

Right Wall Before

empty wall

Right Wall After

right cat wall

As you can see, there are now four feeding stations, one for each cat. There are plenty of places for the cats to lounge, play, scratch, and to just be cats!

Here’s a full view of the room. The couch is a sleeper sofa for any cat-loving guests.

new sleeper sofa in the cat room

Cats At Play

Here’s a photo of the left cat wall in use, after I put some of the cats’ items back in the room. You can consider adding other items around the cat shelves, like scratchers and pet beds. One day, I may add some cute wall art too!

three cats in a cat room
Olive on the floor, Dexter next to his feeder, Woodrow in the corner on the cat tree.

And here’s a cute video of the cats first exploring their new space.

Working with Cat Therapy

As I mentioned earlier, I would not have finished (or probably even started) this project without Hayley’s design expertise! She walked me through every step, and I’m so happy I hired her.

Here’s what Hayley wants to know. What’s stopping you from starting a cat shelf wall?

Hayley says, “With cat shelf design, it can be easy to get decision fatigue. What cat shelves do I buy? Where do I put them? How do I anchor them to make sure they’re safe and so on. When you’re stuck about where to start, that’s when it’s a good time to seek help to help solve the problem. Then you can get your questions answered. They may even think of something you hadn’t thought of such as traffic flow or what anchor is good for your wall type.”

Need help with your cat wall design? Email hayley@cattherapy.co for a free consultation regarding her virtual cat-friendly design services. Or visit CatTherapy.co.

tabby cat and white cat sitting on cat shelves

Special Giveaway with Catastrophic Creations

UPDATE: The giveaway is now closed.

And now, I have a special giveaway for you today, thanks to Catastrophic Creations! After I purchased my cat shelves for our cat room project, I got to know the owner, Mike. He generously offered to give away to one reader their new Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher! The giveaway is open to U.S. residents, full details below.

The Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher is one of their latest product launches and will be ready to ship to customers in October.

cats playing on the Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher by Catastrophic Creations

Requirements to enter the giveaway:

  1. Subscribe to the Cat Lady Alley newsletter via the Newsletter Signup form below. If you’re already a newsletter subscriber, great! You don’t need to subscribe again. If you’re a new subscriber, you must confirm your subscription, so check your spam folder!  (Form now removed).
  2. Leave a comment on this blog post about anything! Example: Have you ever installed cat shelves before?
  3. Confirm your two required entries via the Rafflecopter widget below. Bonus/optional entries are available as well.

The giveaway is open to residents in the U.S., 18+ years of age, except where prohibited by law. One winner will be selected randomly by Rafflecopter and contacted via email on Monday, September 18, 2023 after 5:00pm Pacific. The winner will have 48 hours to claim their prize through email. Failure to do so will result in forfeiture of the prize, and a new winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter. The Crossroads Wall Cat Scratcher will be sent to the winner from Catastrophic Creations after the product has officially launched, likely around October 1st. The winner can choose from the available colors in stock. The giveaway closes on September 18, 2023 at 5:00pm Pacific.

Bonus entries through the Rafflecopter widget below!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Our Cat Shelf Inventory / Shopping List

Here’s a complete list of the items installed in our cat room. We purchased multiples of some of these items. If you have any questions, please ask in the comments! I’m happy to share more about our cat shelf project and cat room!

From Catastrophic Creations

From Fukumaru

Sophie says, I make my own traffic flow! (Cats will be cats, and we love them for it!)


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60 Comments

  1. I’m so excited to see this post and your giveaway raffle! We just adopted two energetic 8-week-old kittens and are planning to build more cat shelves for them. I’ve been getting inspirations from your cat room and the items on Amazon lists. This crossroads wall cat scratcher is on the top of my list. Thank you for making all these informative and fun content!

  2. I’ve never installed cat shelves but have all manor of trees, posts, scratching pads, turbo scratchers and feather dancers….yes, totally spoiled, lol!

  3. Not sure how my cats would feel about cat shelves, but I did just order microchip feeds like you have, so I’m excited to give those a try.

  4. These look so awesome! I’ve never put up shelves for my cats but have thought about it. My cats love to climb and are very playful. They would absolutely love these!

  5. I would love this for my Pip. He loves exploring vertical spaces despite having three legs, and this looks like a safe, lovely option for him!

  6. My cats would enjoy that wall. I have furniture under windows with cat beds for their viewing pleasure (we have a lot of critters outside!). This looks like an interesting project! Thanks for sharing.

  7. I recently adopted 2 kittens, but in the past with my other cats, I have not used wall shelves. I have noticed that one of my kittens prefers the cardboard scratcher while the other one prefers the sisal on their cat tree

  8. I’ve always wanted to build my own cat shelves, but would probably be better off buying something like this. Gotta keep em safe.

  9. This is so cute and my cats would absolutely love this! Thanks so much for sharing such amazing tips too! Wishing everyone an incredibly purr-fect fall season!

  10. I’m sorry to say I have no cats. I love cats but my son is very allergic. I am trying to win this for a friend who just saved a stray kitten. She also has an older cat as well.

  11. I have not installed cat shelves before. My cats love their cat tower and scratch pads, but their tower is starting to fall apart. These cat shelves look great.

  12. Volunteer at an animal rescue, and we’ve been thinking about an upgrade to a space for the cats. Am going to show your amazing cat shelves and maybe we can incorporate some of the ideas!