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Cat trees vary in height and complexity, with most cats preferring features offering height over comfort, particularly if tall enough to allow a clear survey of their territory. While most cats seem to prefer tall cat trees, some prefer options which offer shelter or a secluded escape, which may be at any height of the structure.
Conventional cat tree designs are of a floor based solid structure, composed of square shaped sheets of particle board (as platforms, boxes and enclosed structures) combined with wooden studs and planks (used as elevators and/or stairs), with exteriors and interiors typically covered with carpet. Elevators are also frequently covered with an abrasive materials (sisal rope being the most common), intended to inducing cats to scratch in those areas and reduce overall wear of the structure. The levels created by the layer of interactive features offer cats anything from bedding and shelter to exercise and play.
More recently, specialized alternatives have emerged, offering improved function for cats. These alternative designs include wall mounted pieces and sets, as well as ergonomic designs and geometries that contour to feline anatomy. Some designs even simulate the shape and/or appearance of real trees. Soft textiles and heavy weight fabrics have also replaced abrasive carpet in some of the more luxury-themed designs.
Cat trees are meant to offer cats a sense of security, by creating interactive areas that are only used by them. While cat trees can help to deter cats from scratching on other furniture, not every cat will react the same and cat owners have reported varied results in that regard.
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