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6 Things to Consider if Your Cats Have Access to Stairs

My new house has two sets of stairs, and they're now a big part of my cats' lives.

Catherine Holm  |  Sep 28th 2015


For more than 20 years, I lived in a place where there were no steps, no second floor, and no basement. Steps and cats weren’t something I had to think about. Prior to that, I had a very small place with steps into a basement. The cats I had at the time loved to tear up and down the stairs. I remember Jamie, my medium-haired orange kitty, jumping off the side of the stairs (chasing a ball) onto the basement floor. He actually injured a paw in his enthusiasm. Only then did I realize that there might be considerations when it came to steps and cats. I didn’t have to think about it again for a long time.

Now, we are living in a place with a basement and a second floor. I have discovered that the steps are a big part of the cats’ lives, mostly in a good way. Here are some things to think about regarding steps and cats:

1. Stairs are great exercise for cats

Cats love to tear up and down stairs (depending upon your cat, his age, and his energy level). This can be a great way to get exercise. Cats also love the vertical advantage steps give them, especially if they are able to see, from some vantage point, what’s below.

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Cat climbing stairs by Shutterstock.com

2. Stairs make lovely places for cats to nap

We have two flights of stairs. Strangely, the cats really seem to prefer hanging out on the basement stairs. I am not sure why — perhaps the treads on that flight of stairs are a little nicer than laying on the bare wood of the stairs that go to the second floor. Beware, though — your cats will turn into bricks, as they can on a bed. They will NOT move as you go up and down the stairs. It makes for some interesting contortions as my husband and I go up and down the stairs and step gingerly over and around three cats who won’t move.

3. Stairs make lovely places for cats to eat

Jamie Bluebell, for some reason, loves to have her food in a bowl on the basement stairs. She’ll wait patiently until I bring the bowl to her on her designated step. Maybe there’s something about eating up high that makes her feel more secure.

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Cute kid and kitten on stairs by Shutterstock.com

4. Not all steps are created equal

In my living space, one staircase has a wall and a banister around it. In other words, a cat on this staircase cannot see below to the first floor. The staircase that goes to the basement has a wall on one side and is open on the other side — on that open side, cats can sit on those stairs and watch the goings on below. This is much more interesting for the cats, and probably the reason why they seem to love the basement staircase better than the one leading from first to second floor. The basement staircase also presents a opportunity for cats to jump (or fall) off that open side, onto the basement floor below. So far, it hasn’t happened, but it would sure be something to think about if you had a cat with mobility or coordination issues. Even if cats got into a wresting match on the stairs, for example, it could happen. So keep your cat’s needs in mind if you are looking at such a living space, and decide whether those stairs are an issue or not. It might require some creativity to wall off an open side of stairs.

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Cat hides by Shutterstock.com

5. Treads make stairs safer

Our basement stairs have old treads built in (basically, carpet pieces that have been secured to the steps). This ends up being a great thing for the cats. They have more traction as they go up and down steps, and are less likely to slip and fall. If you have a cat with some arthritis in the spine (as I do), the added stability of treads (or carpeted steps, if you have this) is a good idea.

Of course, if you have older cats or cats with mobility issues in which climbing could hurt them, you may want to make sure they can get at what they need on the main floor, if you want to encourage them not to use steps. You could make sure that their litter, food, and water, is all on one floor. When Rama was recovering from recent abdominal surgery, I did this. When he got the “all clear” from the surgeon to return to full movement, he did start using the stairs again, but he didn’t run up and down them at full speed.

6. Check for odd things built into stairs that could injure your cat

Are there staples in the old carpet treads on steps, for example? Cats love to scratch on these small carpeted areas, and could get a claw badly hooked in such a staple. Also, check on, in, and around steps for any exposed nails or other dangers where cats could inadvertently hurt themselves.

Can you think of other pros and cons or considerations for cats and steps in living spaces? Tell us in the comments!

More by Catherine Holm:

About Catherine Holm: Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr, the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.