Cat tree vs. cat gym, is there really a difference between them?

We use the terms almost interchangeably here in our cat furniture review posts, but are they really the same thing?

That’s what we’ll discuss today, along with some other commonly used terms for cat furniture.

We’ll also look at some of my favorite examples for each one.

Check: Best Cat Trees Reviews

Cat Tree vs. Cat Gym: Is there a difference?

Short answer?

No…and absolutely!

Totally confused?

Don’t worry, I’m going to explain.

FYI, this post contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we earn a small commission at no extra charge to you. 

Is there a difference in the pet industry?

Do me a favor real quick. Head over to Amazon and type in “cat tree.” Take note of the first row of results. Now, do the same for “cat gym.”

While the actual products may be slightly different, you’ll notice one very obvious thing. They all look pretty much the same.

For the most part, cat furniture manufacturers don’t really differentiate between a cat tree and a gym. Well, CatsPlayFurniture does, but they’re relatively unique.

Most just use whichever word they think will make them stand out in search results. Sometimes they even include both in their title.

That’s not a slam against them and they’re not doing it to confuse you. We live in a keyword-driven world and have the attention span of gnats these days.

If you want people to buy your product, you need to get it on the first page of search results. That means using every keyword that you think people may use to search for it.

So, no, as far ecommerce goes, there’s really no difference between cat tree vs cat gym.

Is there a difference to cat owners?

While I can’t speak for every cat owner in the world, to me there IS a difference.

A cat tree is basically a structure that encourages your kitty to climb. A gym encourages both climbing and play.

Sometimes, you can find both in one structure. So, the companies that call their tree a gym and vice-versa aren’t lying. However, sometimes, a tree is just a tree.

If you’re still confused, don’t worry. We’re going to look at some examples of both, along with a few other commonly used cat furniture terms.

Use the table below for a quick peek at each item, then keep reading for more details.

Go Pet Club Huge 87" Tall Cat Tree House Climber Furniture with Swing
Customer Rating
Type of Furniture
Cat Gym
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Editor's Choice
Amazon Basics Cat Scratching Post, Medium, 16 x 16 x 32 Inches, Gray
Customer Rating
Type of Furniture
Scratching Post
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Kitty Cot Original World's Best Cat Perch (Large) Black Color
Customer Rating
Type of Furniture
Window Shelf
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What’s What in Cat Furniture?

Cat tree vs. cat gym, is there really a difference between them? Surprisingly, the answer is both "nope" and "you betcha!" Read on to learn why!

Let’s start with the two that we’re discussing, then we’ll get into some other types of cat furniture.

For each one, we’ll go over the generally accepted definition by cat owners and take a look at an example of one that I love. Sound good?

Cat Trees

Vesper Cat Tree

Cat trees are basically vertical structures that encourage climbing.

Typically, they have perches, hammocks, and even little condos for your kitty to relax in.

However, as we saw in the cat climbing tower, sometimes they’re little more than a post with steps jutting out.

The Vesper, pictured above, is a good example of a fairly straight-forward cat tree.

Sure, it has a little dangly toy, but overall it encourages kitty to climb up and relax. Sounds simple, but it does the job well (and looks great to boot).

Vesper Cat Tree, High Base, Walnut, 52045
  • Elegant yet practical line of cat furniture that satisfies the daily activity needs of fussy felines
  • Cat tower has a cube with multiple exits for your cat to relax (or play) in
  • Soft memory foam cat bed cushions
  • Has cat scratching posts for your kitty to scratch
  • Base: 22.1 x 22.1 inches; Height 47.9 inches

Related: Best Minimalist Modern Cat Trees

Cat Gyms

Go Pet Club Cat Gym

Cat gyms have the same basic features as a tree, but they’re larger and have a lot more going on.

These structures offer kitty plenty of opportunities to climb, leap from level to level, play, sharpen their claws and relax.

The Go Pet Club option above is an excellent example, with it’s huge levels, ladders, tunnels and more.

Go Pet Club Huge 87" Tall Cat Tree House Climber Furniture with Swing
  • Item may ship in more than one box and may arrive separately
  • Color : Brown / Beige
  • Overall Size : 42"L x 23.5"W x 87.5"H * 3 Big Condo Houses Size: 19.25"W x 14"L x 11.75"H * 2 Condo Houses Size: 12"W x 12"L x 10H * Size of 2 Top Perches : 13.25"Dia x 3"H * Size of 2 Tunnels : 10"Dia x 12"L * Number of Ladder : 1
  • Posts covered by natural sisal rope * Covering Material : Faux Fur * Board Material : Pressed Wood

Cat Condos

Cat Condo

Cat Condos can either be a part of trees and gyms or they can be stand-alone structures. The look like little privacy cubes or caves.

They’re usually (although not always) covered in carpet, so they double as scratching posts (cats love clawing up carpet material, which is why so many trees are covered in it).

We have something similar to the Petmaker condo pictured here. The cat even looks exactly like my Alex!

20.5-Inch Cat Condo – 2 Story Cat House with Sisal Scratch Pad, Barrel Shaped Pet House Covered in Soft Fabric by PETMAKER (Gray)
  • 2-STORY CAT TREE - The tiered design of this small cat tree offers 3 levels of interactive fun and the perfect place to nap or snuggle. The pet house arrives already assembled and ready for use by kittens 10 weeks and older.
  • A CAT NAPPER’S DREAM - Your feline friends can rest easy in either of the 2 spacious cat houses for indoor cats or on the top platform of the cat condo. This 20.5-inch pet house is tall enough to make a great cat window box too.
  • SISAL SCRATCHING AREA - The back side of the barrel shaped cat stand has a jumbo-sized sisal scratching surface that can help deter your adult cats or kittens from using your furniture to sharpen and trim their nails.
  • PLUSH AND STURDY - The cat condo cube is constructed of sturdy particle board and covered in a plush gray polyester fabric. The 14-inch diameter base is sturdy enough to withstand vigorous play and stable for use by large adult cats or kittens.
  • PRODUCT DETAILS - Materials: Polyester Fabric, Particle Board, and Sisal Fabric. Dimensions: (L) 14” x (W) 14” x (H) 20.5”. Care Instructions: Light Vacuum or Spot Clean the Pet Cubes for Cats as needed. Color: Gray.

Scratching Posts

Scratching Posts

Scratching posts are probably the most straight-forward “it’s exactly what it sounds like” pieces of cat furniture of all.

They are, quite literally, posts that encourage your cats to scratch. Some, like the one above, include little dangle toys.

Others combine two posts onto one base and plop a hammock on top. However, their main purpose is to give your cat something to claw other than your sofa.

Amazon Basics Cat Scratching Post, Medium, 16 x 16 x 32 Inches, Gray
  • Scratching post provides a place for cats to sharpen their claws and keep nails healthy
  • Includes a single pillar scratching post with a replaceable dangle toy
  • Natural jute fiber offers an optimal scratching surface
  • Sturdy base helps prevent the post from tipping
  • Ideal for redirecting cats away from scratching household carpet or furniture
  • Product dimensions: 16 x 16 x 32 inches (LxWxH)

Window Shelves for Cats

Window Shelves for Cats

Window shelves are also pretty straightforward. They are shelves that you can attach to your window so your kitty can sunbathe or enjoy taunting birds.

Sadly, I can’t use them in my home. I have ancient windows that open all weird and I’m terrified the shelf won’t stay put.

If I could, though, I’d go with the Kitty Cot. It’s a bit pricier than other models (you can find some for under $20), but the reviews speak for themselves.

Kitty Cot Original World's Best Cat Perch (Large) Black Color
  • Mounts to Windows using Giant PATENTED USA Suction Cups
  • Humane Society Approved and Easy to Clean with Soap and Water
  • Made with Super Tough 3/4" PVC Plastic Pipe and Fittings
  • We use only the BEST Outdoor and Rugged Fabric
  • Our Support Cables are 1/8" Steel to last Forever

Wall-mounted shelves

Wall-mounted shelves

We’re heading back into slightly confusing territory here as we discuss wall-mounted cat shelves.

See, some are pretty much exactly what you think they are- wall-mounted versions of the aforementioned window shelf.

Others, though, are more like entire cat gyms. CatastrophiCreations makes an entire system that combines everything from shelves and hammocks to scratching posts to bridges.

The huge sets are pricey, but they do offer smaller sets, so you can build your own configuration.

I hope this helped clear up the difference between cat tree vs cat gym vs shelf vs condo vs etc and so on!

One last tip, if you’re looking for a cat gym and find yourself frustrated by all the cat tree results, try typing in “extra large cat tree” instead. Trust me, it helps!

Cat tree vs. cat gym, is there really a difference between them? Surprisingly, the answer is both "nope" and "you betcha!" Read on to learn why!

Do you have any thoughts on the cat tree vs cat gym debate? Share below!

Nicole Etolen
Nicole Etolen

Nicole is one of the writers here on CatVills. She’s been a cat lover most of her life and-at one point- counted five felines as part of her family. Today, she’s proud cat mom to two indoor kitties and caregiver for a slew of ferals.

Find her on Linkedin. Read her latest articles.

Learn more about Nicole Here

Last update on 2022-11-24 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API