Is Your Cat a Tree Dweller or a Bush Dweller?

Contributor: Maren Boyer Charlton- Agriculture Communications Student at Utah State University and Vice President of National Agriculture Communicators of Tomorrow.

Please note that I have received compensation in exchange for this blog post.

One of the biggest struggles known to cat owners is when you buy a brand-new cat tree, and as you anticipate your cat’s admiration and love towards the new fixture, instead, it settles itself in the box it came it. While at times it feels like our cats do this just to frustrate us, there is, in fact, more of a behavioral instinct behind it. Cats can usually be classified as either a ‘tree dweller’ or a ‘bush dweller.’ Knowing the difference can help you surround your cat with toys and furniture that will best suit your cat’s habits, and it might save you from spending money on something your cat won’t use.

All About Tree Dwellers

Tree dwellers are cats that love and thrive best on vertical surfaces. The top of your fridge, cabinets, and bookshelves serve as perfect lookout points to allow your cat to be aware of its surroundings. This behavior can be linked to the fundamental fact that our cats still have predator and prey instincts. Sitting higher up can give them a great vantage point for hunting mice, birds, and other prey, while also serving as protection against predators that may be hunting as well. This behavior shows that while our cats fully rely on us to feed them, deep down, they will always have their biological and survivor instincts rooted in them. However, this might not be the only reason your cat loves the top of your fridge. Maybe the top of the fridge serves as a nice escape from the chaos below, perhaps it might just be a nice warm spot, or maybe your cat just likes the room!

Recognizing that your cat is a tree dweller can help you not only arrange your furniture and décor but also create spots for your cat to have the space it needs. Veterinarian Brendon Charlton recommends the following for your tree dweller cat:

  • Cat trees at a variety of heights
  • Scratching posts
  • Open shelves that are sturdy enough for your cat
  • Ramps and stairs
  • A fridge that has been cleaned off for perching
  • Window lounges 
  • Open dressers and shelves
  • Wall-mounted shelves

All About Bush Dwellers

Bush dwellers are cats that tend to be shy and more skittish, and love to be beneath furniture and in covered areas. Bush dweller cats feel safe under covered areas and hiding places, serving the same biological and survival instincts as tree dwellers. Hiding in covered areas can be an excellent hunting technique for cats, as well as allow them to observe their surroundings. It could also be that bush dwelling cats really love their space, and enjoy having a safe area away from the hustle and bustle. Or perhaps bush dwelling cats deal with a degree of anxiety and fear of being cornered when facing a possible threat. Veterinarian Brendon Charlton suggests that bush dweller cats are typically less assertive than tree dweller cats, so they recommend the following to help create a haven for them:

  • Empty boxes
  • Room in the closet
  • Space under the bed
  • Cat cubes or condos
  • Cat tunnels
  • Big covers or comforters
  • Paper bags

It’s important to remember that our cat’s behavior is deeply rooted in evolutionary survival techniques that have been bred into them through centuries of existence. At times our cats can transition into being nervous bush cats when brought into a new environment, or become more of a confident tree dwelling cats. Recognizing your cat’s behavior can be a perfect way for you to create an environment for your cat that can help them feel more at home, and recognize what is causing them stress, fear, or aggression. It can also serve as a great bonding experience for you and your cat, instead of the hint of resentment you feel when your cat prefers the box over the new cat tree!