How to keep cats off the counter
A poster in one of my cat Facebook groups recently asked how to keep cats off the counter. The helpful (and not-so-helpful) responses ran the gamut:
“First of all…why are your cats allowed on the counter?”
“My cats are allowed everywhere in my house.”
“Allowed. What a strange word for a cat.”
And so on. People certainly have strong feelings about whether cats should or should not be allowed on counters, about whether it’s possible to train cats to stay off counters, or whether it’s even advisable to train your cat to stay off counters.
Let’s discuss all of it.
Should you allow your cat to jump onto your kitchen counters?
I’m not just being diplomatic when I say that the decision to allow or disallow your cats on your counters is a personal one. There are very good reasons to discourage your cats from jumping up on the counters, and also some good ones for permitting the behavior. Let’s go over both sides of this argument:
Why you should keep your cats off the kitchen counters
For your cat’s safety
Not everything that could find its way to your kitchen counters is safe for cats. Foods that are healthy and safe for humans might be toxic to cats, and it’s possible to leave a crumb or two of something dangerous behind after a meal. If you let dirty dishes pile up in the sink, and your cat is already on the counter, your cat might not be above licking them.
(Read about foods that are toxic to cats here).
A cat who is used to climbing on counters might think nothing of stepping onto a hot stove and burning a paw. If you leave sharp knives on the counter or in the sink, your cat could inadvertently cut himself.
For your safety
You know where those kitty paws have been as well as I. It turns out that cat poop is even more dangerous than we thought.
Some cats (especially cats that go outdoors) carry a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause a disease in humans called toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasmosis has long been known to cause flu-like symptoms in humans who have contracted it. You may also know that the parasite can cause severe damage to fetuses carried by infected pregnant women.
But newer studies have also shown a link between the disease and serious mental illness and even brain cancer. Schizophrenia, depression, suicidal behavior, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have all been correlated with Toxoplasma gondii infections.
Why it might be OK to allow your cats on the counters
Here are some pretty good reasons to allow your cats to pop onto the counters at will:
You like being face-to-face with your cat
Some people just enjoy having an eye-level “conversation” with their cats and the counter is a great place to do it.
You keep your cat’s food dish there
Maybe you have a dog who will eat the cat’s food if it’s on the ground, or who will harass a cat who is just trying to eat in peace.
Multi-cat families may find that they need to feed one cat separately, and it’s especially handy if one cat is able to leap to the counters and the other can’t.
You like giving the cat the run of the house
Some people just don’t like limiting where the cat can go in “her” house. They want their cats to feel free to explore and enjoy their own home.
You understand your cat’s need to be above it all
I’ll explain why in a minute, but a cat’s need to be high up is more than just a personal preference. The kitchen counter is a great “perch” from which to view the world.
You’ve given up trying to keep your cats off the counters
Keeping cats off the counters can feel like a full-time job that you’re really bad at.
Cats are very, very persistent, as you well know, and it’s next to impossible to keep them off the counters when you’re at home and watching them.
But all bets are off when at work or out of the house for some other reason. The veterinary website, VetStreet, polled readers and veterinarians who are also cat guardians and asked them about their rules around counters. 22% of vets and 17% of readers said that their cats were allowed on counters because they couldn’t keep them off.
Why do cats want to be on the counters?
What is so darn appealing about countertops? Let’s look at this question from the point of view of your cat. If you’re looking to solve the counter problem with your cat, understanding your cat’s motivation for being there can help.
Cats are born athletes looking for a playing field
Cats are jumpers, climbers, hoppers, and leapers. They are natural athletes, built for springiness, with shock-absorbing spines, powerful back ends, and bodies that stretch and twist.
Read more about cats’ unusual spines in this post, “Why do cats arch their backs?”
Jumping is in their DNA, and if there is a limb, a boulder, or a countertop, they are likely to attempt to summit it.
Cats are trying to avoid getting eaten
Cats, while predators, are also prey animals. One of the ways they keep themselves out of danger is by being observant.
Now, your cats are smart enough to know you aren’t keeping any wolves in your apartment, but they’re hardwired to want to be up off the ground.
It's easy to keep watch when you've got a birds-eye view. Cats do love perches of all kinds, and will gladly watch the world go by from a branch, from atop a fence, or, if they are indoor cats, from the kitchen counters.
35% of the vets who allowed their cats on the counters said that they did so because they wanted their cats to feel safe.
You’ve got food up there
Maybe your cat is a foodie, maybe he’s not. But if he is, even a crumb can be very enticing.
You’ve got water up there
Contrary to popular belief, a lot of cats love water. And the kitchen counter is home to the kitchen sink.
There are some breeds that like to swim, such as the Turkish Van cat, and there are many breeds, including the Bengal, Siamese, Selkirk Rex, Savannah, Turkish Angora, Japanese and American Bobtails, Abyssinian, Manx, Norwegian Forest cat, and Maine Coon cat, that seem to have a particular affinity for water.
And finally, cats are just weird about drinking water. Many are really not happy with where you’ve put their water dish, and the kitchen sink might have a reliable drip (moving water is even better!) or little puddles at the bottom from the last time you turned on the faucet.
Read about cats and drinking water in this post.
What NOT to do to keep your cats off the counters
Bad advice on this topic on the Internet abounds, so I wanted to address what you shouldn’t do to get your cats of the counters first.
Let me say this: it can be VERY frustrating trying to keep cats off the counters if you don’t want them on the counters.
Cats want what they want. (But don’t we all?) They have all day to work on getting what they want. You might have other responsibilities and can’t be guarding the kitchen counters all day long.
So, I get it. But that doesn’t mean you should resort to any of these measures:
Don’t spray your cat with water, yell at your cat, or punish your cat.
The only thing a cat learns from punishment or harshness of any kind is that you are unpredictable and scary.
You may chase your cat off the counter this time, but your cat’s takeaway from the experience is that you are not to be trusted. And, she’ll probably jump on the counter again.
Your relationship with your cat should be rewarding and enjoyable for both of you. Don’t damage this precious thing you’ve got going over kitchen counters.
Don’t use peppermint oil
Don’t use anything smelly in an attempt to keep your cat off the counters. Essential oils can be dangerous, even lethal, when used around cats. (Read all about it in this post about essential oils and cats.)
Just inhaling essential oils can dangerous, but anything you spray or rub onto your countertops could be transferred to a paw and later licked off.
Don’t make the counter even more appealing
Some of the suggestions offered on the World Wide Web are counterproductive and might encourage your cat to spend more, not less time on the counter.
One suggestion involved putting empty soda cans on the counter which clatter when disturbed. I know cats who would love nothing more than to knock all those soda cans off the counter, one by one, and then ask you to set them all up again for him!
Read this post on why cats love knocking things over.
Don’t put cucumbers on the counter
I read this ridiculous suggestion on a very reputable website. It’s not going to work, because cats are not afraid of cucumbers. More importantly, you should not be in the business of scaring your cat in his own home.
There are humane ways of dealing with cat problems. Let’s focus on those next.
How to discourage your cat from jumping on the counter
(*Note: as an Amazon Associate, I may earn from qualifying purchases.)
We’ll address whether training a cat to stay off the counters is possible, but first, there are steps you can take to encourage your cat to spend less time on the counter.
Your job is to make the counter less appealing and less easy to access, and make the rest of your home very appealing:
Give your cat alternative perches
Provide perches all around your home: cat trees, and window hammocks, and cat shelves on the wall. Give your cat lots of opportunities to climb and leap and jump, and lots of angles from which to view his world.
If possible, make the counter less appealing as a perch. If your cat is using the counter to watch birds through a window, close the shades and give him a window seat in another room.
Move the kitchen furniture
If your cat is a regular Spider-Man, leaping from the floor to the counter in a single bound, ignore this advice. But if your cat is using a barstool as a stepping stone to the counter, move the barstool.
Give him his own “faucet”
First, fix the drip in your faucet, if that’s what’s attracting your cat to the counter. Second, give him a water fountain of his own to drink from and play in. Water fountains also help cats get much-needed hydration, so you’ll be getting two important uses out of it. I like this PetLibro model.
Don’t leave food scraps or crumbs on the counter. Don’t leave dirty dishes in the sink. If your cat is food-motivated, don’t give her a reason to go treasure hunting on the counter.
Don’t make it interesting
Don’t go bananas every time your cat leaps to the counter. Don’t yell or go stomping over to the counter, berating the cat the whole time. We’ve already discussed why it’s important to keep your interactions with your cat kind and positive. But there’s another reason not to make a hullabaloo every time your cat jumps to the counter.
If your cat is seeking attention, you’re giving it, even if it’s negative attention. For a cat who wants “more” of you, you are unintentionally reinforcing counter-jumping.
If you see your cat on the counter, walk over softly. Do not look your cat in the eye. Do not talk to your cat. Pick him up gently, remove him from the counter, walk away, and ignore him for a few minutes. Rinse and repeat as often as necessary.
Then, play with your cat when she is not on the counter. Make being on the floor or cat tower more fun than being on the counter.
Discourage counter-jumping when you’re not home
Unfortunately, when you’re not home, your cat can jump on the counter to her heart’s content. She is self-reinforcing the counter-jumping behavior every single time she does it.
There are all kinds of suggestions for things to put on the counter to discourage your cat from landing there. I don’t like products that frighten cats, nor do I like products that can ruin a perfectly good counter (like sticky tape). I find most of the other suggestions extremely annoying, like laying Saran Wrap over the counter. Some of us have to use our counters!
I think the best option is carpet runner, flipped over so that the nubby side is up. You can cut it to fit your counter and around your toaster and coffee maker, and remove the whole thing quickly when you want to cook or eat.
This is the kind of thing I’m talking about: Resilia Floor Protector.
Can you train your cat to stay off of counters?
You may already be laughing at the idea of training a cat to do anything. And, if your cat wakes you up with a paw on the face at 5 AM every day for breakfast, you’ve probably been on the receiving end of cat training yourself!
If you don’t believe cats can be trained, let Kaiser convince you otherwise:
You can train your cat to stay off the counter. But it takes commitment and diligence. If you’re interested in training your cat, consider contacting a Certified Animal Behaviorist for guidance.
I like this article written by a cat guardian who trained her own cats to stay off counters using clicker training. If you already have some experience in animal training, you might find the author’s method helpful.
Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 Terbush, Jon. “Your Cat's Poop Is Even More Dangerous than You Thought.” The Week, The Week, 8 Jan. 2015, https://theweek.com/articles/462366/cats-poop-even-more-dangerous-than-thought.
 Kristen Seymour | Mon Mar 24 07:58:00 EDT 2014. “Do You Keep Your Cats off the Counter? We Polled Vets and Pet Owners.” Vetstreet, http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/do-you-keep-your-cats-off-the-counter-we-polled-vets-and-pet-owners.