This post is written by guest author, Allison Hunter-Frederick, from Allison Helps Cats LLC.
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Escape routes allow a cat to safely move out of danger, whether real or perceived. The greater the number of pets and people in your home, the greater the need you’ll have for escape routes strategically placed throughout your house.
Blocking routes are equally important. They keep dogs from accessing your cat’s food and your cats out of restricted areas. Both types of routes should be used to create a safe living space in your house. A peaceful home environment is essential to your cat’s health and wellbeing.
ESCAPE ROUTES: HIGH
Cats typically feel safer when they can find a way to escape up high. They climb for multiple reasons including to watch for and attack prey, to escape from predators, and to eliminate the possibility of attack from behind. They also climb to display status, which is especially important if tension occurs between cats in the same household.
There are both economical and expensive ways to provide cats with vertical escape routes. You can start simply by placing a sturdy box next to shelving units or counters in your home that are already safe and appropriate for your cat to climb.
Another popular option is a cat tree, which might also include hiding spots, perches, and hammocks for beds. If there are large dogs in the house, the cat tree/tower should be secured or sturdy enough that the dog can’t knock it over and tall enough that the dog can’t reach the top.
If you’re handy with construction, wall-mounted cat furniture, such as shelves, beds, and pods can also provide easy escape routes. You can attach several shelves on a wall at increasing heights and your cat should be able to bound up the shelves until he reaches the highest one. You can also purchase bridges, which can be mounted between shelves to create longer routes.
All of these options provide vertical space, so no matter which one you choose you will increase available escape routes for your cats at home.
With regards to high places, The Catington Post raises a point that our family has found to be true. Some cats need to be taught how to make use of some of these new escape routes.
We attached three shelves to the wall to make stairs and attached a cat bed at the top. We also had a tall scratching post next to the lowest shelf, but we still had to teach our cats how to climb the shelves. We did that by luring one cat to the top of the scratching post with a treat and then lured her to the first shelf with another treat, and so on. Our former feral cat went weeks without using the shelves, but as soon as we lured her up to the cat bed once, she was hooked, and now we often find her up there.
ESCAPE ROUTES: LOW
Sometimes cats prefer to retreat to a ground level hiding place. They hide for various reasons including to find a safe and secure place away from potential predators or when they’re feeling wary about a new situation. A third reason is that they simply want to rest. Finally, according to Battersea, cats have an instinctual need to be self-reliant, so when faced with a difficult situation they prefer to avoid it.
There are several economical ways to provide cats with ground level hiding places. You can start by giving them a tunnel made simply by cutting holes at each end of a cardboard box.
Alternatively, you can use a couple of paper bags: Cat Behavior Associates says to fold a one-inch cuff at the top to make the bags sturdy, then cut the bottoms of the bags, fold a cuff around that end, and then tape bags together.
You might also invest in commercially made fabric pet tunnels.
Whichever tunnel option you pick, they all allow your cat to disappear on one end without being ambushed on the other side, as well as provide cozy spots for multiple cats who are looking for alone time.
Another low escape route option is to build your cats a fort out of cardboard boxes. In addition to forts beings safe, cats find them fun to explore and people find them fun to build. All of these options provide horizontal space and in turn increase the territory cats have available.
In my research for this article, I came across yet another idea, that of interior design. Colleagues in the IAABC Cat Group in Facebook suggested pulling furniture away from walls to create additional paths for your cats, placing litter boxes a foot away from walls, and even spacing furniture further apart. The Catington Post recommended at least 12 inches between furniture.
Sometimes the best way to keep your cat safe is to create a “blocking” route. The Catington Post described how to arrange furniture to limit how high cats might jump. This will minimize their risk of falling and injuring themselves. They’ve also used fabric walls to keep them from jumping to unwanted areas.
A “blocking” route can also serve to protect a cat’s resources from dogs or other pets. A popular low-cost option is a baby gate; the taller your dog, the taller the gate you’ll need. Cats can generally squeeze through or jump over the gate, leaving the dog behind.
If you’re handy, you might install a cat-sized, flap pet door in a bedroom door that will allow the cats inside but keep the dogs out. One member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants Group Cat Division on Facebook put holes in the walls of each of her rooms, so that her cats can move through her whole house without moving past her dog. While that solution is too ambitious for most of us, it does show the lengths that some have gone to to provide a peaceful environment for their pets. For a more high-tech option, consider a microchip cat flap that allows your pet access to a room, feeding station, or litter box but keeps away children, dogs, or other cats.
Escape routes are not an issue that cat owners typically consider. Yet without enough of them, cat aggression is more likely to occur. And in turn cats are more likely to become reluctant to use certain resources or enter certain rooms. By increasing the vertical and horizontal space in our homes, we will increase the escape routes and thereby help our cats to feel safe and secure in our homes.
About the Author: Allison Hunter-Frederick is a cat behavior consultant, cat therapy handler, and pet education blogger. Her articles have been published in local and national publications, as well as on her blog, Lincoln Pet Culture. Through her business, Allison Helps Cats LLC, she uses a research-based, positive reinforcement teaching approach to help cat owners improve their relationships with their cats all from the comfort of their home.