Keeping cats off counters–a strategy that works

Ildar Sagdejev cat oncounter 300x200 Keeping cats off counters  a strategy that works

Photo by Ildar Sagdejev

Many people want to keep their cats off counters and tables.

But the more you try to discipline a cat, the more you set yourself up for failure and a lousy relationship with your cat. (Honestly, this is partly what endears cats to me, but that’s another story.)

The good news is you can break your cats of their obsession with counters and tables without using discipline. I’ve checked advice written by a couple of successful cat behaviorists (Jackson Galaxy and Amy Shojai) against my own experience and prior reading, so I’m confident about the strategy I’m sharing with you here.

The most important thing about convincing a cat

What I’ve learned is “first, do no harm,” because with a cat the most important thing is trust. If your cat sees you as a punisher, his trust in you erodes quickly, which means any behavior you might think you’ve “corrected” can surface as another issue in a different costume.

Cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy wrote that if a cat loses trust in you–even from you repeatedly pointing a squirt bottle at them—“…it can cause more behavior problems, fears and phobias that you hadn’t considered. Depending on your cat’s background, this may be a bigger Pandora’s box than with other cats.”

The other important point: they’re smart

Any good cat behaviorist will tell you that cats are smart enough to avoid something you disapprove of when you’re around, and then do it you’re not around. But you already knew that.

So the trick is:

1. Convince the cat that the counter is an unpleasant place to be whether or not you are around. Not that hard to do because once a cat deems something unpleasant they lose interest in it for good. Here’s how:

  • For a few days keep typical landing areas on the counter covered with Sticky Paws double-sided tape. Cats hate the way it feels. It’s worked like a charm on sofa edges for us too. Leave it on for a few weeks, then remove it—it shouldn’t be needed anymore. They avoid the area then. It seems to remove easily without damaging anything.
  • Alternatives:  Try covering the countertop with aluminum foil. Or, if desperate, try a motion detecting nontoxic sprayer called Ssscat that you can get on Amazon.com.

2. Provide your cat with alternative high points in the house that they can jump on.

Cats are climbers and “anti-gravity” by nature. They don’t jump on counters simply to torture us.

An indoor cat tree or couple of permissible dressers or tables would work well.

As Jackson Galaxy wrote, this “will give your cats a place to climb…where you can praise them for doing what is, after all, natural to them.”

Of course, with any cat behavior that is challenging, there may be more going on than meets the eye. If the above doesn’t actually do the trick at your house, you may want to consider a consultation with a behaviorist like Galaxy or Shojai.

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16 Responses to Keeping cats off counters–a strategy that works

  1. morgan February 22, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    ok lets me start with a little backround info i have had a cat all my life (really i was 23 when my last cat died she was almost 19 years old!) my boyfriend and i adopted an all black male cat this past weekend hes about 9-12 months old (the humane society says 9months but i think hes older we go to the vet monday hopefully she can tell me).hes adjusted great! hes not scared of people at all love his new house and is a total cuddle monster! my only problem is he LOVES the counrters,sink and table. i have so far tried the spray bottle( i dident want to but making dinner was not going well) he loves it thinks its the best toy ever,so then i made a lemon water spray with lemon rinds itorked for like an hour then he started licking up the lemon water(i have the strangest cat) we are looking into a cat tree but after the adoption fees and what im going to spend at the vet its going to have to wait a little bit but i have tried to make some spots that can be his to climb on but hes still obsessed with the sink i cant even do dishes make dinner or even eat with out him jumping up,beging for food (he eats his food very well too) but he wants ours as well.i love the little guy but i have never had a cat do this and im at my witts end! any suggestions on what to do next,the pennys in a can thing wont work loud noises dont bother him much. HELP me please!!!!!!

    • Joy June 3, 2014 at 8:27 am #

      I have four 3 month old kittens which were born to a feral cat. At 3 weeks I took them from their mother and bottle fed them from there. I actually thought the mother cat would just walk in the door when she heard the kittens meow which would allow me to catch her to have her spayed. That didn’t happen, however, we did trap her later and she had the surgery. Recently the 3 month old male cat is constantly trying to jump on the cabinet, and also playing with any dried flowers around the house. The spray bottle doesn’t work on him like it does on the female kittens.

      If you like the smell of peppermint, I think I just discovered a solution to both problems. I had read that cats don’t like the smell of peppermint and other mints. I happened to have peppermint oil, so i put several drops in a small spray bottle of water. After spraying the edge of the countertop and the dried plants, the kittens wouldn’t go near them.

      I need to stress that you shouldn’t spray the cat with this mixture or put the undiluted oil on the flowers. NEVER use it undiluted. I know this because I first tried putting a fews drops from the bottle on a dried arrangement. A kitten immediately took a bite of the flower before I could stop her and she instantly starting frothing at the mouth! It really scared me, as I thought I had poisoned her. However, I knew the peppermint oil was for human consumption. I tried to get her to drink to no avail, and even tried water in one of the bottle I had used to feed them when they were small. The whole episode only lasted about 3 minutes, but I was panicked. She was just fine about 5 minutes later.

      It’s been about an hour since I sprayed the diluted mixture, and the cats are being very well behaved. . . fingers crossed!

  2. morgan February 22, 2013 at 10:26 am #

    ok lets me start with a little backround info i have had a cat all my life (really i was 23 when my last cat died she was almost 19 years old!) my boyfriend and i adopted an all black male cat this past weekend hes about 9-12 months old (the humane society says 9months but i think hes older we go to the vet monday hopefully she can tell me).hes adjusted great! hes not scared of people at all love his new house and is a total cuddle monster! my only problem is he LOVES the counrters,sink and table. i have so far tried the spray bottle( i dident want to but making dinner was not going well) he loves it thinks its the best toy ever,so then i made a lemon water spray with lemon rinds itorked for like an hour then he started licking up the lemon water(i have the strangest cat) we are looking into a cat tree but after the adoption fees and what im going to spend at the vet its going to have to wait a little bit but i have tried to make some spots that can be his to climb on but hes still obsessed with the sink i cant even do dishes make dinner or even eat with out him jumping up,beging for food (he eats his food very well too) but he wants ours as well.i love the little guy but i have never had a cat do this and im at my witts end! any suggestions on what to do next,the pennys in a can thing wont work loud noises dont bother him much. HELP me please!!!!!!

  3. kato January 3, 2013 at 5:52 pm #

    Make the very act of jumping on the counter unpleasant and a failure.

    I use those cheap plastic food storage containers about 2″ high 6″ wide by 8″ long
    (buy enough to cover all edges of counter)

    place containers lengthwise on counter edges with half the width hanging over edge of
    counter place a handful of pennies on the counter side to hold containers on counter.

    jump will be a failure and pennies add a shock factor to the whole act of jumping on
    off limit counter

    water instead of pennies will amp up the shock factor but give the pennies two weeks
    to work before trying this.

    I have yet to have a cat try more than 3 jumps before no longer trying at all

  4. Diane June 4, 2012 at 9:56 am #

    My daughter is living with my mom and my mom hates cats on her counters and table. I have told my mom that it is natural for cats to get in higer places as that is what they like to do. My daughter used the two sided tape at home to keep them off the counters. It did work, but my mom refuses her to put anything on her counters. I tried the lemon pledge trick and did not work. It says cats do not like the smell of lemons.

    I just spoke to my mom this morning and she is angry as the cats refuse to stay off the table and counter tops. So now I am searching for another way to keep them down as she intends on telling my daughter she has to get rid of her cats. I just wish my mom was not so onery when it comes to pets. She claims to be a pet person, but she is not and never has been.

    She always locked her cats in the bathroom or kept her dogs outside. Not fair to any animal. Does anyone have any ideas as I love my mom, yet I despise her stance on pets. Not fair to my daughter nor her cats. God bless and have a great day.

    P>S> I would take her cats, but I am not allowed to have pets of any kind where I live.

    • Liz-cat June 11, 2012 at 11:37 am #

      Diane, I totally understand where you are coming from with your frustrations about how your Mom doesn’t seem to understand cats and treat them with an understanding respect.
      Vinegar on the counters also works for some people.

      The thing about double-sided tape or aluminum – or any deterrent is that with cats you only have to leave it on for about a week….that is, once the experience the unpleasant thing 1-2 times, they usually stop jumping up there. They learn quickly to avoid what they hate!
      Another option is the Ssscat. (Look it up) Also a temporary thing. Important to understand this! Makes it easier.

      Finally, having a cat tree the cats can climb on helps too.

  5. chis December 7, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    How about just letting your cat be on the counter when they want? Life is too short to make a kitty unhappy. Don’t you clean the surface of your counter before each time you use it, anyway? I clean my counter down with a vinegar spay ever time I use my counter. Nobody is unhappy at my house!

    • Liz-cat December 7, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

      Chis, I totally get that. Quite honestly I only try to keep cats away from certain areas (eg stove) for safety reasons. I am convinced they are more clean & hygienic than humans! But most people would disagree with me on that.

    • Joelle August 6, 2012 at 6:01 am #

      Seriously? “Life is too short to make a kitty unhappy”? Life is too short to have hair in your food, no matter where it comes from. I know some people think their pets are human equilavent but they’re not. They’re animals. Animals who lick their entire bodies and then lick your counter, your fruit, etc, etc. I don’t clean BEFORE i use my counters, I clean them when I’m done and like them clean for the next time I use them. I truly love my cat but I don’t understand letting her have free range over my entire house. I don’t live in a zoo.

      • C December 22, 2012 at 11:04 am #

        I completely agree. I don’t climb on my counters. My husband and daughter don’t climb on our counters. And they don’t stand in litter boxes to go to the bathroom either. It’s not sanitary to let them climb up there and do whatever they want. Why in the world would I let the cat? We feed her, we take care of her. She has a huge cat tree. There is just no reason for her to be up there.

        • Caitlin February 8, 2014 at 9:12 am #

          Um, yeah, my cats have been in the litter box, which probably means she is getting fecal matter on my counters. Sorry, but that’s not cool.

  6. Angie May 23, 2011 at 1:44 pm #

    Great tips! We just adopted a 3 year old cat and he’s all over the kitchen and bathroom counters. Not to mention the desks, filing cabinets, printer, etc. ha ha

    We have a cat tree ordered and on the way! Phew!

    • Liz-cat May 24, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

      Angie, sounds like your 3 year old cat has the energy of a kitten! That’s cool. He’s gonna love having a nice big cat tree. : ) Thanks for stopping by and commenting!

      • Angie May 24, 2011 at 4:22 pm #

        Definitely has the energy of a kitten. Glad I found your blog.

  7. donnzpg February 2, 2011 at 5:56 pm #

    Carpet runner, the kind made for shag carpeting, is also good for placing (spike side up) on surfaces one wants to deter cats from.

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