How to Make DIY Cat Shelves

Published by Christine O'Brien
min read

As a pet parent, you already know that cats rule the household, so why not give them a high perch from which to survey their land? DIY cat shelves are an excellent way to customize your kitty's kingdom, and there are so many cat wall ideas that you can use to create their dream domain.

Why Cats Love High Places

Jumping onto the dining table isn't just your fur baby's way of goofing around and causing trouble. Despite their status as creatures of comfort, cats retain hunting and survival instincts from their ancient ancestors who roamed jungles and savannas in search of food and shelter — just like their big cat cousins do today.

Having been both predator and prey, cats feel secure in high places that mimic trees; but there are some places you don't want them hanging out, like the counter where you prepare food. Redirect your cat to other locales by setting up a comfy DIY cat perch in front of a window or patio door. If you want to give them a prime bird's-eye view of the room, DIY cat shelves are the way to go.

Potential Health Benefits of Cat Shelves

Installing cat shelves provides indoor enrichment for cats, which can keep them from getting bored (and into mischief) and in tip-top physical and mental health.

Fluffy cat lays on top of a gray shelf with brick wall in background.

Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM and specialist in animal behavior at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, explains that indoor cats benefit from "regular physical, emotional and intellectual stimulation to help keep them fit and in good spirits."

Aside from introducing trees and cardboard boxes, she suggests that installing cat wall shelves can offer pets the security of a space all their own. This DIY cat project takes around 30 minutes per shelf, but you should allow additional time for design and safety testing.

Materials For Creating a Cat Shelf

The most important element in designing high-mounted DIY cat shelves is ensuring they're safe and secure. Installing a lofty ledge for your kitty requires boards and brackets that sustain your cat's weight and don't impede their movement. You'll need:

  • A wooden board at least 1/2 inch thick, 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide
  • Sturdy "L" brackets. The side lengths should measure at least one-half of the depth of the board you're using.
  • Heavy-duty wall anchors, but getting screws anchored into studs in the all is best
  • Wood screws suitable in length to attach the board to brackets
  • A yardstick or measuring tape
  • A level
  • A screwdriver
  • A drill
  • Fabric to cover the boards (optional)
  • Spray adhesive (for fabric, also optional)

Selecting Boards, Brackets and Fabric

Constructing cat shelves is a great way to reuse/recycle leftover boards. If you don't have any, ask your friends or neighbors — you'd be surprised at how many people have them lying around. Choose a board that conforms to your cat's length and weight.

"Perches need to be large enough to accommodate the size of the cat without the poor kitty having half of his backside hanging off the edge," emphasizes Pam Johnson-Bennett, author and cat behaviorist, in an article for Cat Behavior Associates. If a cat doesn't have enough room on their shelf, she says they may feel vulnerable and uneasy — especially in multi-cat households.

Although cats are very agile, there's always the chance they may fall, so allow plenty of room for them to navigate the space. They should be able to turn their body around while on the shelf and to crouch down for liftoff.

Screws, wood, and shelf brackets laid out for DIY cat shelves.

Your local home improvement store can guide you on which board materials and brackets are strong enough to hold your cat. Many stores will also cut boards to your preferred size and shape at no additional cost. You can also request rounded corners for your board or purchase child safety foam edge protectors, which can reduce the chances of your kitty getting scratched when they're vaulting on and off the shelves.

To create a safe environment for cats, boards should be at least 12 inches long to provide a stable landing. You can make them longer if you want, such as the entire length of your room, as long as they're sturdy. Note: Longer boards require support brackets at appropriate intervals — and not just on each end of the board. A good rule of thumb is to place a support bracket under the board every 16 inches (this also tends to be the intervals at which most wall studs are placed in home constructions, depending on the year and location it was built).

Let your creativity flow by painting the brackets whatever color works well with your space. Using leftover paint from other projects is another good way to reuse/reduce materials. And since wood surfaces can be slippery, International Cat Care recommends covering boards with a non-skid fabric or material to ensure your cat's safety. You can repurpose sturdy or nubby non-slip textiles like chair or couch coverings, an old blanket or throw rug, or even an old suitcase exterior. You'll also want to make sure to sand down any boards that you use to avoid your cat getting a splinter.

How to Make DIY Cat Shelves

Now that you've got your materials, it's time to pick a spot for your cat shelf. Choose a location with enough empty space for your cat to jump on and off the perch safely, and with a level floor surface free from sharp-edged things such as a table or breakable items.

Once you've selected a room, here's a step-by-step guide for making a cat shelf:

  1. Attach fabric to the board with spray adhesive using the directions on the product. If you're using a thin fabric like cotton, first sand down the board edges for a soft, smooth finish.
  2. Paint "L" brackets (optional) and let them dry.
  3. If installing more than one board, place the boards at intervals to allow cats to travel safely from one perch to another. If you have kittens or older cats, place the shelving lower to the ground and closer together than you would for a spunky young adult cat.
  4. Mark your drill holes on the wall, making sure they're at the same height for each bracket — use the level to confirm this.
  5. Drill pilot holes through wall studs, or drill holes for wall anchors, and insert anchors. Attach "L" brackets to the wall with screws.
  6. Place boards on the brackets, then attach boards to the brackets with wood screws.

Once you've secured the shelving, give your cat time to sniff around and check out their new play place. Placing a little catnip on the shelves will let them know it's okay to climb up there. Most likely, your curious cat was watching you construct the shelving anyway and won't need prodding.

Creative Cat Wall Ideas

Making DIY cat shelves gives you creative control over the entire process. Think about whether you'd like just one or a whole series of wall shelves. As long as the boards are sturdy and secure, different sizes can be arranged on a wall to create interesting patterns that are fun for cats to navigate and aesthetically pleasing, too. In fact, you even may be inspired to apply the same architectural treatment to your non-cat shelving!

Two hands putting up a shelf on the wall.

If you have space, you can design a pet-centric corner by installing cat shelves and then painting a mural on the walls around it — removable decals work well, too. You also can go all out with the cat kingdom theme and mock up a palace fit for your feline friend.

Pro tip: Check out the baby and children sections of stores and online retailers for decals, wall borders and other decorative items. You'll find plenty of design choices, from whimsical to minimalist and everything in between.

With an elevated shelf structure, your feline friend shouldn't need to vault on top of the refrigerator or kitchen cabinets anymore. Imagine the enjoyment they'll have hanging out in their own space and all the entertainment you'll get while watching them.

Contributor Bio

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien

Christine O'Brien is a writer, mom, and long-time cat parent whose two Russian Blues rule the house. Her work also appears in Care.com, What to Expect, and Fit Pregnancy, where she writes about pets, pregnancy, and family life. Find and follow her on Instagram and Twitter @brovelliobrien.

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