Is Your Cat A Tree Dweller or A Bush Dweller?

tree dweller bush dweller

If you’ve watched Jackson Galaxy work his magic with challenging cats on Animal Planet’s My Cat From Hell, you know that one of the concepts he frequently explains to cat guardians is the difference between cats who are “tree dwellers” and cats who are “bush dwellers.”

Tree dwellers need vertical space. These are the cats that like to jump up on counters, sit on top of the refrigerator, climb curtains or bookshelves. Bush dwellers, on the other hand, prefer to stay low to the ground. They tend to seek out spots that are hidden, such as under an end table, or even under the sofa or bed.

In multi-cat households, it is critical that you understand your cats’ preferences, and provide options to accommodate both behavior styles.

Tree dwellers

Tree dwellers will need plenty of cat trees and climbing shelves. Jackson created the term “cat superhighway” when explaining how to accommodate these cats’ need for vertical  territory. Cat superhighways are especially important in households with more than one cat. They give cats opportunities to share territory on more than one level, without bumping into each other and creating possible altercations.

A good cat superhighway includes the following elements:

  • multiple lanes offering alternate routes
  • on and off ramps
  • no dead ends
  • rest stops and lookout points

You can create a cat superhighway by using cat trees and condosor wall-mounted cat shelves and stairs. You can also use existing furniture.

Bush dwellers

Bush dwellers tend to be skittish cats who may even react with aggression, depending on the trigger. They will need plenty of hiding spaces where they can get away and feel safe. In addition to using existing furniture such as end tables and coffee tables, you can use cat tunnels, cat cubes, or covered beds. This way, your cat can remove himself safely from perceived stressors or threats, and you’ll avoid confrontation or redirected aggression toward another cat, or the human, in the household.

Allegra is more of a bush dweller, although she will seek out the top of the cat tree at times. Ruby likes to be up on counters, perches, and the top of the refrigerator, so I’d definitely classify her as more of a tree dweller.

By understanding your cat’s environmental preferences, and “catifying” your living space, you can create a stimulating and safe environment for tree dwellers and bush dwellers alike.

Are your cats tree dwellers or bush dwellers? How have you accommodated their different personalities in your home?

14 Comments on Is Your Cat A Tree Dweller or A Bush Dweller?

  1. Tiffany
    July 31, 2014 at 1:11 am (3 years ago)

    Our recent 8 year old adoptee, Asha is definitely a bush dweller. It is through her that I have learnt that there even is such a thing in the cat world! I had no idea. All our previous cats have been 100% tree dwellers and I just assumed all cats loved to jump up on stuff. The highest I’ve seen Asha go in the 6 weeks since we adopted her is the back of the lounge and if we even try to pop her on her new and very expensive cat tree she freaks like we’re trying to kill her. She’s more than happy to spend her day on or under a bed and with 4 children under 8 we have given her many escape routes. She is not at all shy or skittish but we would love it if she could “escape” to the top of the cat tree instead of under a bed so she can still be out and part of the family. Is there a way to help a bush dweller enjoy time as a tree dweller, even if just part time?

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 31, 2014 at 6:37 am (3 years ago)

      Tiffany, maybe try some of the smaller cat furniture pieces that have a condo type “cave” at the bottom?

      Reply
  2. Shawn
    February 21, 2014 at 8:48 am (3 years ago)

    I think all 3 of mine are tree dwellers. Especially Oreo, who likes to sleep up high on the mantle, or do the vertical leap 5+ ft to the top of my dresser so he can climb on top of my display case. He also likes leaping off the couch with as much vertical as he can get to land hard on an end table. Looking at my black cat Neko, he is currently purched on the corner of a desk surveying my room. Patches likes being up on the mantle to

    Reply
  3. Deb Barnes - Zee and Zoey
    July 27, 2013 at 12:19 pm (4 years ago)

    I did a post on this subject a while back and really enjoyed sharing how unique each of my cats are when it comes to the matter. I think that while they all have tendencies towards both traits, the most important thing is that I provide them with lots of low and high options for whatever suits the mood at the moment.

    I truly believe because I have provided them with such a wide variety of habitat stimulation, that it makes having a multi-cat household so much more fun and peaceful!

    Reply
  4. Monica Ackerman
    July 24, 2013 at 7:37 pm (4 years ago)

    I have one of each also, again lucky me. They get along but when Chelsea gets tired of Charlie, she gets on top of the book case to get away. He rarely folows her up there but he does claim it once in a while although he is what I call a “cave dweller.” He loves the closet, under the bed, or just on the floor next to the bed, out of sight. But then…once in a while he will climb onto her perch on the bookcase which is situated between two windows to the outside, probably just to see what the world looks like from above. The only problem with Charlie is that he goes and hides whenever someone comes to my door, or even pulls up outisde in my driveway, so for my friends who want to see him I take pictures. Constantly. I do love Jackson Galaxy and have passed on some of his suggestions to friends with cat problems. I never miss a show, even the re-runs are great. Animal Planet!

    Reply
  5. Michael A. Johnson
    July 24, 2013 at 2:15 pm (4 years ago)

    Honey is both. She will spend hours on top of her cat tree, and then alternate hours underneath the bed in her special hiding place. What to make of it?

    Reply
  6. Julia C.
    July 24, 2013 at 11:40 am (4 years ago)

    Alvin is totally a bush dweller! No climbing at all.

    Reply
  7. Glogirly and Katie
    July 24, 2013 at 11:19 am (4 years ago)

    I have one of each!
    Waffles is a tree dweller of the highest order. …hence his nickname of Monkey.
    Katie is a bush dweller. Often found looking over her shoulder at the trees.
    ; )

    Reply
    • Ingrid
      July 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm (4 years ago)

      LOL Debbie!

      Reply
  8. Vicki Cook
    July 24, 2013 at 9:40 am (4 years ago)

    Out of my six cats, Zelda is the only bush dweller. She prefers to be under the bed or sofa. If she is feeling very secure, she will lay on top of the bed/sofa or sit in the windows. My other five are tree dwellers. They like to sit/lay on top of tables, counters or the refrigerator – and of course, they also like to sit the windows. Have a lot of horizontal surfaces of varying heights seems to be key.

    Reply
  9. Caren Gittleman
    July 24, 2013 at 9:26 am (4 years ago)

    Cody is a DEFINITE Tree Dweller (the majority of the time), or he is on “middle ground” somewhere.

    My Angel Bobo was a DEFINITE Bush dweller.

    Reply
  10. Bopeeps
    July 24, 2013 at 9:03 am (4 years ago)

    I really think Lucy and Rikki are a combo of both.

    Diana

    Reply
  11. Sue Stiwald
    July 24, 2013 at 7:54 am (4 years ago)

    Gin Gin is definitely a tree dweller. She even likes to sleep on her perches. TC is both a tree dweller and a bush dweller. But she mainly prefers under the bed.
    Spicy and Punkins are both bush dwellers unless it involves laying next to me while they sleep!

    Reply
  12. Jobi and Fisher
    July 24, 2013 at 5:09 am (4 years ago)

    Alice (kitten) is both for now, and Scooter the 5 year old is definitely a bush cat. Great article and it makes a lot of sense.

    Reply

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