The Hervey Foundation for Cats

Is Your Cat a Bush Dweller or a Tree Dweller?

Something that may not be common knowledge to all cat owners is the dweller philosophy. Cats are animals with strong instincts, and many of these instincts may seem confusing to us. These instincts are what make them such successful predators in the wild, but as the species moved indoors, some of them faded away and others remained. The tree dweller and bush dweller instincts are still very prevalent in housecats and when owners don’t accommodate them, it can cause friction.

How does it work?

Cats largely fall into two categories; bush dwellers (those who prefer to have all four feet on the ground and will often find places to hide behind or beneath) and tree dwellers (those who like to be up high and use vertical space).

As a species, cats assess rooms vertically in addition to horizontally. While humans often scan a room to see what is in front and around them, cats will scan in front, around, and above – looking for places to sit, hide, and have safe advantageous positions to others in the room.

Bush Dwellers

Bush cats will assess the space and favor spots on the ground that have a low ceiling (think: under a bed or couch), are hard to reach (think: below stairs or behind a bookshelf), and provide shelter or obscure them from the rest of the room.

The common denominator in all the traits of an ideal space for a bush dweller is safety. Many bush dwellers are some of the more shy, insecure, or skittish cats. While this is not always the case, the bush dweller trait often lines up with cats who behave this way. It could be what propels them to hide vs sitting up high in the open.

A large number of bush dwellers also have a strong hunting instinct. Being able to hide themselves from others satisfies their instinct to hunt from an advantageous position. While they may not be aggressive when interacting with humans, these cats will often leap to life once a laser pointer or a piece of string rushes past them – especially if they are hiding in a ‘bush’.

Tree Dwellers

Tree dwellers are cats who live for vertical space. These cats can often be found hanging out in cat trees, on the tops of couches, sitting on bookshelves, refrigerators, and any other tall point in a home. These cats show little to no fear of being up high and frequently scare their owners with some of the places they climb up to.

Tree cats like to have a good point of view on everything going on around them. Sitting up on top of a 6-foot bookshelf is like heaven on earth for a tree dweller. They can see who is coming and going from the room, feel safe from other animals who may be stuck on the ground, and they can mark new territory only reachable by them and any other similar cats in the house.

Tree cats often have lots of personality and if you spend any time on YouTube, you can see plenty of videos where these cats will climb their owners and sit on their shoulders.

(Note from the author: In my hometown there is a man who walks around in one of our trendy/artsy neighborhoods with his cat comfortably and happily sitting on his shoulders).

Creating Harmony in the Home

Regardless of the type of cat you have, if you are ignoring their preference of tree or bush dwellings, it can frustrate them and make them more defensive. These instincts are what help build mental stability in a cat and by giving them some places they can feel safe in, you help them develop their trust for you.

Cats are a lot like people, and they really don’t get enough credit for it. They assess situations and locations for potential danger and are quite cautious. If you lived with giant humanoids whose language you didn’t understand, having a safe place to rest would be top priority. The same goes for your cat. They don’t want to be stuck on the living room floor if they prefer to be up high, just as those who prefer quiet alone time want a safe and secluded spot.

For a tree dweller, it’s as simple as setting up a cat tree or two or building cat shelves on the walls so they can jump up and hang out.

For a bush dweller, things like a raised bed or couch can provide a safe place underneath, though sometimes they will dig into the bottom and can ruin the furniture. A great alternative is to get a hot glue gun and some old cardboard boxes so you can build a cat castle. Cat castles are perfect as they provide a space with a small entrance, possibly a few windows for some sunlight, and are otherwise sealed off so they can relax.

– Regardless of whether your cat is a bush dweller or a tree dweller, they all want the same thing: somewhere safe to lay their heads down (while they sleep for 16 to 20 hours a day).