You may have had the uniquely startling experience of starting down the staircase in your house and putting your foot down on a cat. Both you and your cat immediately freak out and fall over each other to avoid stepping or being stepped upon. You would think that eventually your cat would learn to avoid lounging around on the staircase, but they never do.
So, why does my cat sit at the top of the stairs? The most likely reason is that your cat likes having a cozy, elevated place to hang out and watch the world go by, and the stairs are the perfect place for this. If your cat is meowing at the top of the stairs, it could be looking for your attention or your help getting something it needs or wants.
As you continue to read this article, you will learn more about why your cat enjoys hanging out at the top of the stairs, and what you can do to make sure that you don’t flatten your cat while going up or down your staircase!
Cats and Heights
In addition to their obsession with turning your staircase into an impromptu feline obstacle course, you may have noticed that your cat turns up in elevated places quite often. You may be sitting in your kitchen and look up to find a cat sitting on top of your refrigerator or on top of your cupboards, or even on top of the door.
One question you ask yourself is how they even got up there in the first place— but the other question is why your cat seems to like being high up so much? The answer to this lies primarily in your cat’s instincts.
Since felines have sharp claws and an excellent sense of balance, they are excellent climbers, which enables them to hunt small arboreal— or tree-dwelling— creatures like birds or squirrels. However, for cats climbing is not just for hunting, it’s also something they do for the purpose of safety and observation.
Being high up not only means that they have a better vantage point, it also means that other predators that might want to harm them will have a much harder time sneaking up on them. Therefore, your housecat, even though it is cozy and safe in your home, still likes to be high up in the air to get a good look at its surroundings and to feel extra secure.
Why the Stairs
To you, the stairs may seem like an exceptionally uncomfortable location to hang out. People are constantly moving through, they can be stuffy, and there isn’t enough room to sit. However, for your cat they are absolutely perfect, for a few reasons.
Firstly, sitting at the top of a staircase means your cat is up above the floor below, which appeals to their instinctive desire to have a good view of their surroundings in order to feel safe. Secondly, stairs are a central location that people constantly use to get from one place to another, and so if your cat waits there long enough, they will always find someone to hang out with.
They may be waiting for you to go upstairs or downstairs, so they can say hello and follow you to the other part of the house. Lastly, your staircase is likely carpeted, and the steps are perfectly cat sized.
This makes them ideal for lounging in comfort—plus, since heat rises, the top of your staircase is likely warmer than the rest of the house, making them extra cozy. In short, the top of your stairs are the perfect cat habitat: elevated, warm, cushioned, with just the right amount of social interactions.
Looking for Attention
It may also be that your cat is on the stairs because they are trying to get your attention for some reason. This might be the case if you see your cat repeatedly coming down the stairs to find you and then walking back up the stairs in an attempt to get you to follow them, or sitting at the top of the stairs and meowing at you.
Your cat may need your help retrieving a toy from somewhere, wants a snack, or wants you to play with them, so if you see your cat exhibiting this sort of behavior it might be time to take a break from what your doing and spend some quality time with your pet!
Alternatively, if your cat appears to be in a wild mood and is sprinting up and down the stairs and careening around the house, your cat is just enjoying the challenge of the staircase as an obstacle.
Stairs are actually fantastic exercise for both humans and animals, and your cat using them as a racetrack might seem a bit bizarre, but it’s an indicator that you have a high-energy and healthy cat.
Investing in more toys for them, as well as spending more active play time with them might help reduce the frequency of these ‘crazy cat’ episodes, and help your days be a little more peaceful!
Changing the Behavior
After two or three times of almost stepping on your cat or tripping over them in the dark, you may want your cat to choose to spend their time in a place other than your staircase. This is understandable, as neither yours nor your cat really enjoys these accidental interactions.
However, because the desire to be high up is an instinct and not just a habit, it can be difficult to discourage this behavior. If you can, it may be a good idea to provide alternatives to the stairs for your cat, such as a nice cat tree, or cat tower.
These serve to do more than just provide a comfy place to sleep—they also keep your cat’s climbing and jumping skills sharp, and keep them from tearing up your furniture with their claws when they’re in the mood to scratch.
There are many types of cat trees out there: elaborate ones with tunnels and hammocks as well as ledges and shelves, smaller floor standing ones that just provide a little height for your cat, and even models that are wall-mounted like a bookcase.
Whatever you choose, giving your cat a cat tree as an alternative that is even more interesting and appealing than the stairs may encourage them to choose the tree and not the staircase. However, this is not a guarantee to change the behavior, and your cat might totally ignore the cat tree and stick to the stairs.
Cat trees can be big, bulky, and a little pricey, so they aren’t always an option, especially if you live in a smaller house. As an alternative to them, or if the cat tree you bought doesn’t seem to appeal to your cat, there are other options. You may want to try ‘anti-cat’ sprays first, as this is often the kindest option.
Smells like citrus, pepper, or lavender are cats’ least favorite smells, so if you spritz the carpet on your steps with these smells, it may drive your cat away. However, this is not guaranteed to work, and you may not like these smells yourself, or even be allergic! If this is the case, the next step would be investing in some prickle mats for your stairs.
Prickle mats serve to make the steps uncomfortable for your cat to walk or lie on and will undoubtedly discourage them from hanging out there. However, these mats are also uncomfortable for human feet, so you’ll have to pay attention to how and where you place them, so you can also avoid them.
Strips of tin foil can also be a slightly more comfortable and cost-effective option to discourage your cat, but these can be easily batted away, and can make your stairs slippery to walk on, so it is not always as effective or as safe as a prickle mat.
There are a couple reasons why your cat may be drawn to stairs, but the primary reason lies in their instinctive desire to be high up so that they can safely observe their environment. If you don’t mind the occasional collision with your cat on the steps, then you can let them go about their day however they choose.
However, if you find yourself constantly encountering your cat underfoot and you feel that it’s dangerous for both you and your cat, it may be time to try to encourage your cat to find an alternative hangout.
Investing in a cat tree or some anti-cat sprays or mats for your steps can change your cat’s mind about where they choose to spend their time, though it may be a little uncomfortable for both of you. Regardless of what you choose to do, your cat’s seeming obsession with your staircase is very typical of cats, and as long as it’s not dangerous to either of you, there’s no need to be worried.