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Are Pergolas Dangerous To Cats?

If you have a curious cat then your pergola represents an exciting climbing frame for it to scale. However, is it safe for your cat to try this – and should you be worried?

Cats are expert climbers and can easily climb safely up and down your pergola without injuring themselves. Even if your cat does fall from the top of your pergola, they will land on their feet and be completely unscathed. 

Let’s dive down into this subject in more detail. We’ll find out why it’s safe for your cat to climb your pergola, what happens if they fall – and also discover if they can actually damage your pergola and fabric drapes with their claws. Finally, we’ll consider if any of the plants growing on your pergola can harm your cat too.

Is it Unsafe For Your Cat To Climb Up Your Pergola?

No. Cats are excellent climbers. In fact, your cat will love you for building a giant cat tower – just for them! Not that they will thank you…

Climbing a tree searching for prey is instinctual, but for cats it’s more than that. Cats enjoy hanging out in high places. They have no fear of heights. They climb for safety, hunting and for the sheer joy of it.

Fun Cat Fact: you’ve probably noticed that your cat’s claws curve down. Did you know that this means they can easily climb up but must back down?

Cats love to hang out on top of bookshelves, refrigerators and to watch out of windows. In fact, cat owners in apartment buildings should be aware that opening high windows in the summer is a risk for their cats. There’s even a name for it – High-Rise Syndrome.

High-Rise Syndrome is a veterinarian term for cases of cats falling out of windows several floors high. Experts say that cats have excellent survival instincts and don’t deliberately jump from five story windows. More likely, they lose their balance accidentally. When they try to recover, their claws have no grip on the building’s cement or brick surfaces.

So, is there a High-Rise Syndrome for pergolas?

First, let’s consider a pergola’s building materials. Most pergolas are built from wood – pressure treated or cedar – or vinyl. For cat’s claws, wood is an ideal climbing material. Their claws dig deep, and they won’t slip. Vinyl is a harder substance, but most cats can climb vinyl.

Next, let’s consider height. Most pergolas are designed for you (and your tall friends) to walk under comfortably. Pergola ceilings are, on average, seven feet tall. The top of the slatted roof is taller, but on average maybe 8 feet tall.

We’ve all read stories about cats falling 32 stories and surviving. But the thought is just horrifying. Who wants to witness that?? We love our cats!

Don’t worry. Most healthy cats in their prime can jump eight feet, up or down. If your pergola is a couple of feet taller, then that’s even better. Here’s a reference.

What Happens if Your Cat Falls From The Top of Your Pergola?

Cats land on their feet; it’s instinctual. If your cat falls from the top of your pergola, it will land on its feet and be fine. Pergolas are not high enough to worry about.

However, if you are still worried about your cat falling off or if you have a kitten, overweight or senior cat, consider two options: installing cat-proof devices on the pergola legs or helping your cat up (and down) safely.

Life with cats is all about compromise and most pergolas are easy to customize. If you don’t want your cat climbing your pergola legs, consider installing cat-proof devices. Most cats will not jump directly onto the pergola roof. They will climb up the uprights. Take inspiration from bird feeders and DIY baffles on the uprights.

Or, make climbing the upright less fun with rain chains. If you are still at the pergola design stage, consider upright materials that cats can’t climb; wrought iron or aluminum.

If you like the idea of your kitty surveying their realm atop the pergola, consider helping them up and giving them a safe perch. How about a DIY cat ladder like this one?

If all else fails and you are worried about your cat falling from your pergola, consider pet insurance. If your cat falls from a height and doesn’t land on its feet in a natural way, a vet visit is in order.

Will My Cat Damage The Pergola By Climbing it?

By just climbing it? Not so much. But, for cats, a pergola presents a grand combination of scratching posts and fabric climbing fun.

Fun Cat Fact: did you know cats have scent glands on their paws? Cats mark their territory like their ancestor, the tiger. Tigers and house cats mark their territory with urine, scratch marks and scents from the glands on their paws.

Cats scratch. They scratch to clean up their claws, to stretch their bodies, and to announce their territory. They scratch because they are excited and happy when you get home. Cats scratch for the joy of it.

Cats like to scratch up wood – it’s natural for them. Vinyl is harder on their claws. And aluminum, not so much.

If your cat has started scratching your gorgeous cedar uprights, act fast. Redirect your cat’s scratching attention. Haul out the inside carpet-covered scratching post and position it in a good spot. If your cat prefers the wood instead, DIY a cedar scratching post. To entice your cat, try sprinkling some catnip on the DIY post.

Double-sided sticky tape seems to be a go-to cat repellent. Try some double-sided sticky tape on the lower reaches of your pergola uprights.

Does your moggy love to climb inside curtains? Veterinarians say that whether you have a low or high-energy breed, whether your cat is fixed or is old – all cats love to climb. The curtains work very well, thank you.

If you have hanging fabrics on your pergola, they are a natural – irresistible – climbing aid. There are many advice columns on teaching cats not to climb curtains. They include cat-repellent sprays and booby-trapping. But a redirect might work better.

For cats climbing up pergola fabric panels, your cat could be redirected with another climbing method. Give them a fun way to get up; without damage to your expensive pergola.

Consider DIYing a solution. How about a cat ladder? The carpet works well wrapped around a vinyl or wooden upright. Wrap the carpet all the way up to a Lord of the Realm cat platform under the eaves.

You may be wondering whether your pergola is turning into a catio. Relax! Your pergola is still your space (NOT).

Pergola with wisteria which can harm cats

Are Some Pergola Climbing Plants Toxic For Cats? (With List)

To readers: please note that this is a list of climbing vines only. For a full list of plants that are toxic to cats, including ones planted in flower boxes or pots, inside and outside, please check out this ASPCA website.

American Bittersweet (Celastrus scandens)

A climbing vine is native to North America. Lives in warm climates. The toxic part is a fruit. Poisoning symptoms include convulsions, diarrhea, vomiting, and weakness.

Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus spp.)

Boston Ivy is not only invasive in some areas but is toxic to both animals and people. Poisoning symptoms include difficulty swallowing, respiratory problems, and swelling of the mouth.

Clematis (Clematis spp.)

There are over 50 different Clematis species. They are beautiful, but if your pet eats any of them, they will suffer diarrhea, vomiting and will salivate a lot.

Morning Glory (Ipomoea)

Morning glories are usually annuals. They have toxic seeds that will cause agitation, anorexia, diarrhea, dizziness, hallucinations, and tremors.

Wisteria (Wisteria spp.)

All parts of Wisteria are poisonous, not just for cats but small children as well. Experts say that two Wisteria seeds can cause illness in small children. Considered invasive in southern North America. Poisoning symptoms include depression, diarrhea, and (sometimes bloody) vomiting.

Final Thoughts:

When it comes to felines scaling your pergola – it seems that in this case curiosity definitely won’t kill the cat (or even hurt it). Cats are naturally great climbers and can easily get up and down your pergola without falling, and even if they did fall they’d twist in mid-air and land on their feet. It seems that the nine lives thing is true – especially when it comes to climbing pergolas.

The only things you do need to look out for, however, are your cats’ claws damaging your wooden pergola or fabric drapes when they use them as a scratching post. You also need to bear in mind that some climbing plants that grow up your pergola could actually be poisonous for your cat – but your feline should instinctively know to stay away from these anyway. 🙂

Mark H.

Homeowner and property investor Mark H. aspires to bring you the very best outdoor living content, based on his years of experience managing outside spaces. Read more >