CW's First Bogus Theory of Cats...
Watching cat behavior over the years, I have noticed that they scratch not only to flex their feet and claws, they actually like to stretch their shoulders and back, using their claws as leverage. This stretching behavior will tip over a commercially available 'normal' sized scratching post.
Whenever I have observed one of my cats try to get a good stretch out of a standard cat post, it has moved or tipped and the cat has immediately given up and gone to find a more suitable object for an anchor - usually my sofa.
I have noticed that when my cats start scratching at the furniture, the pieces they choose to destroy have a few things in common:
1. They are stable and heavy. (I have observed that my cats always prefer a post that does not move when they dig their claws in and yank.)
2. They are wider than any standard cat posts. (My cats prefer a post that is wider than their shoulders.)
3. They are taller than any standard cat posts. (My cats prefer a post that is at least twice as tall as they are long. They like to reach up as high as they can and get a good long stretch.)
Eventually, I developed a theory, which I have dubbed CW's first bogus theory of cats:
Merely disciplining a cat for using the furniture as a scratching post, but not providing them with an alternative that meets their needs is not likely to be a successful method of training. A post that serves a cat's needs better than the furniture does will be naturally preferred for scratching, and it should make training the cats much easier, since they will not be deprived of stretching out and getting a good scratch in, when their physiology demands it.
So, I have created this tree-sized post, which allows a cat to flex their whole body, from their paws all the way to their tail, if they so choose. Also, it is tall enough to allow them to exercise their innate and instinctive climbing abilities, without wrecking the curtains or other furniture.
Step 1: Get Ready - Collect Supplies and Tools
- 10 x wide elbows (Lowes part number: 96076 A21 2X1 ANGLE)
- 2 x narrow elbows (Lowes part number: 315683 STAN 1-1/2” ZN CNR BRC)
- 22 x .5 inch washers
- 26 x .75 inch screws
- 44 x 1 inch screws
- 2 x scrap lumber (½ inch thick, by 3.5 inches wide, by 36 inches long)
- 1 x concrete tube (10 inches in diameter, by 48 inches tall)
- 1 x edge-glued wood panel .75 inches thick, by 20 inches wide, by 36 inches long
- ½ bucket of plaster (about 6 lbs)
- A few feet of duct tape
- 5 x rolls of sisal (.25 inches thick, by 100 feet long, for a total of 500 ft)
- 1 x plywood circle (12 inch diameter or 18 inch if you have two or more cats)
- 1 x circle of foam (12 inch diameter or 18 inch if you have two or more cats)
- 1 x circle of cloth batting (12 inch diameter or 18 inch if you have two or more cats)
- 1 x large bottle of fast-drying wood glue (16 oz)
- 1 x piece of cloth or carpet to cover the top platform (I used a cotton bath mat.)
- hand saw
- screw driver
- drill with 1/8” bit and 1/2” bit
- stirring stick for plaster
- mixing bucket for plaster
- magnet on a string (for fishing out tools and screws that you drop into the tube)
*Wrapping the sisal takes hours, so get your patience all stocked up before you start.
Step 2: Prepare the Post
Carve a notch out of two sides of the cardboard tube on the top and bottom edges, to accommodate the depth of the metal elbow brackets.
Step 3: Reinforce the Cardboard Post With Wood
Saw the scrap lumber into two small pieces, about five inches long, and two longish pieces, about 31” long. These will go inside of the cardboard tube, to stabilize and strengthen the design, so don't worry about how they look.
To attach each wood support inside of the cardboard tube, first screw the long side of a wide bracket to the end of the wood. Leave a ½ inch space to one side of the wood, which will be used later by a second, narrower bracket. (see photos)
Line up the bracket on the end of the piece of wood with a notch in the tube end. Place one of the narrow brackets on the outside of the tube, where the screws will be able to reach into the wood. Screw through the cardboard and into the wood from the outside of the tube, using long screws.
(I used 1.25 inch screws, which protrude, because that's what I had lying around and the protruding ends will be safely sealed inside the post, which will never be accessible by my cats or kids. You can use 1” screws or shorter, as long as they get a good bite on the wood.)
Add several more screws and washers along the length of the wood. Fasten it to the tube as securely as possible. Be careful not to dimple the cardboard tube too much, causing weak points. Just screw the washers down until they are snug and you are sure you have a good connection to the wood inside. There is no need to crank them all the way down.
These wood supports will be the structural strength of the post, and will bear the weight and force of your cat jumping on and off of the post, climbing up and down, clawing at it, and generally trying to wreck it. If your cats are anywhere near as rambunctious as mine, without this wood support, I think the cardboard would give out pretty quickly.
Step 4: Attach the Base
Screw the post as-is to the large wood panel. I lined mine up a little towards the back of the rectangle, so that it will be closer to the wall and it hopefully won't bang around too much when my cats jump against it. If you are going to have your post free-standing in the middle of the room, you may want to use a 30” or larger square for stability, instead of a rectangle.
Step 5: Add Plaster for Weight and Stability
Use duct tape to seal around the edges of the base.
Mix about three pounds (¼ bucket) of plaster and pour it in. Wait a few minutes until the plaster sets, then mix another three pounds and add it. (By adding the plaster a little at a time, you preserve the weak seal made by the duct tape. If you add too much weight of liquid plaster at one time, the duct tape will give way and leak all over.)
Wait a couple of hours for the plaster to cure and the cardboard tube to dry completely before proceeding.
Step 6: Reinforce the Base Joint
Add the remaining wide brackets around the bottom of the post, to secure it to the wood. Use short screws to fasten the brackets to the wood base and longer screws to go deeply into the plaster.
Step 7: Add the Platform Top
Using the same technique as before, add the short pieces of wood to the inside of the top of the post. Secure them from the outside using washers and long screws.
Set the 12” diameter plywood circle on top of the post, lining it up so that the brackets do not protrude past the edges. If you're drilling pilot holes, as I did, it is helpful to trace the outline of the brackets, as well as the location of the screw holes.
Secure the plywood using short screws, so they don't protrude from the top of the wood.
You could also use this piece of plywood as a base to secure a larger platform to the post. I haven't decided whether to make a larger platform yet. I'm going to wait and see how often my cats perch up there before deciding.
Note: Four months later I added an 18 inch circle for the top platform because my two cats were fighting over it too much. If you have only one cat, 12" will probably be fine. If you have two or more cats, I suggest using an 18" or larger platform from the very beginning, now that I've seen how my cats squabbled over it.
If you use a larger platform, offset it, so a cat can climb over the lip easily. Make it so that the ledge on one side overhangs no more than a few inches, depending on the athletic ability and physical condition of your cat(s).
Step 8: Add Handles to the Base
At this point, I found that the post was becoming too awkward to move easily. You want to avoid picking it up by the post, or putting too much sideways pressure on it, so it is problematic to move without help.
To solve the problem, I propped up the base and drilled two pairs of ½” holes. Then, I knotted sisal through them, to make simple handles.
Even with the handles, it's heavy and awkward at this point, so you may want to enlist someone to help you move it.
(Also, if you were smarter than me, you could put the handles on the base BEFORE you attach the post to it.)
Step 9: Wrap the Sisal
This step takes a long time. It took me about three hours.
Starting at the base and working your way up in a spiral, wrap and glue the sisal to the post. I glued three sides of the post, leaving one side densely packed but unglued. (This way, I could sit on one side of the post, glue to my right, center, and left for each row, without having to constantly get up and walk around the post.)
You have to glue at least half way around the post, all the way up, or the sisal will slide and pull into big gaps after the cats get their claws into it.
Be sure to cover up the screws and washers all the way around the post. They have a tendency to grab the sisal and prevent it from lining up snug with the other layers.
Also, watch out for unsightly globs of glue on the outside of the sisal. The Elmer's that I got dries to a light orange that blends in as long as there isn't a lot of excess showing. If you're not careful, you could have a blotchy and unattractive orange post when you're done.
Step 10: Cover the Bottom Brackets
Use a couple of rows of sisal to cover the brackets at the base. Alternatively, you could use carpet to cover the whole piece of wood, but I didn't want to do that. You could also stain the base before you start, if you want a finished appearance, or if you want to match your furniture.
Step 11: Finish the Top
Use a small amount of glue to tack the foam to the top of the plywood platform. If it ever wears out, you can replace it easily if you don't over-glue it.
Put the batting on top of the foam. (I was using scraps, so it is in two pieces. You can piece it together or just cut out one big circle. The cover will hold it all in place, no matter what.)
Cover with whatever fabric or carpet you like. I used a cotton bath mat that my cats already adopted to sleep on.
The cover in these photos is basically a circle of cloth with a long rectangle of cloth sewn around it, to make the sides. I stitched some pretty strong elastic to the bottom edge, and it stays on even when they are rough-housing.
Step 12: Cat Reactions
When we were bringing the post into the room with the cats for the first time, they were already attempting to climb on it before we could even set it down. Within five minutes, they had both climbed it and they played King of the Mountain for the rest of the evening.
At first, they were still clawing the furniture, but I would pick them up and move them to the post, demonstrate scratching on it, and reward them if they completed their scratching behavior on the post. After a few weeks, they started going to the post and scratching at it, in order to get attention and petting. (Who's training who?)
After six months, they still scratch at the other furniture occasionally, when they are in a naughty mood and running around like maniacs, to get attention. But, they know they will be scolded and for the most part, they use the post. My new sofa is still in one piece.
Both of my cats have been using the post daily (or more likely hourly) for the past six months. They climb up and down the post like a tree, with their arms spread out around it. They fight and tumble all over it and they like to throw themselves bodily through the air and stick to the side of it like velcro.
After I put a larger, 18" diameter top on the post, I sometimes now find them curled up on top of it together, but their favorite game is still King of the Mountain.
Step 13: About Tubby Cats
When Two-ton hits the side of the post at high velocity, it sounds like an elephant breakdancing, but it's wonderful because she gets about a thousand times more exercise with this post in the house than she otherwise would. If she jumped on my furniture like that, I would scold her and not allow it, so this type of physical behavior would be unavailable to her and we'd probably end up calling her "Four-tons of fun".
Unfortunately, this is exactly what happens to many cats that are overweight. When they do play hard or stretch by scratching, they get scolded, so they are deprived of whatever little exercise they might get indoors and they get even tubbier over time, until they are finally obese and unhealthy.
If you have a tubby cat, this kind of toy will encourage them to exercise more and to use their claws and their body in the way it was designed to operate. But please be careful - if your cat is extremely obese, jumping down from a height can be dangerous to their shoulder joints and spine. To add a dimension of safety, you can add one or two lower posts next to the tall one, so the animal can jump down in shorter stages, but can still climb up and jump up the big one if they want to. This is also helpful for older cats that might have arthritis or other joint issues.
If you do have a tubby cat that needs exercise, or an elderly cat, bring a photo of this cat post to your vet and ask them what they think about it and whether it would be safe for your animal before you build it.
Step 14: Please Adopt a Cat
Zenith adopted Quasar completely as her own kitten, even though the animals are not related and she was barely over a year old when we brought them home from the rescue. She even made milk for the kitten. Although she had been at the rescue for two months, being fed regularly, she was still practically starved to death, to the point that she was skeletal when we brought her home. She must have been mostly dead when they took her in.
When we got her, she had an upper respiratory infection that caused her to cough up and sneeze blood, and she had just been spayed - she still had the stitches in place. We brought her and the 2 month old kitten, Quasar, home together and within a few days, she just spontaneously started producing milk. This for an unknown kitten, even when she was in such terrible shape and recovering from surgery.
This is just one more story of why some rescue animals are very much worth adopting. They are not all there because of behavioral problems or incurable illnesses. After just a few visits to the vet, and a good diet of healthy food, Zen has turned into the sweetest, lovey-est cat you ever met - and she also likes her belly rubbed, if you can believe it.
Quasar is going through her wacky teenaged time, but because we got her as a kitten, she does not remember any hardship in her life. Between Zenith, her adopted mom, and the humans in her life, she's spoiled rotten, but she's a sweetie anyway. She's our trickster cat. She opens and closes doors, drawers, and cabinets. She plays catch. (no, really, she does) Plus, she knows how to take the battery out of a cell phone and stash the pieces under the bed. It took us forever to find that thing. :)
If you just can't adopt, then please volunteer. Or if you can't do that, then send any amount of money, even only a dollar will help, to a LOCAL organization. National organizations use most of the donations they get for overhead costs and not a lot of it gets to the actual animals. At the local level, you can also donate items like food and litter, office paper, bleach, etc.