Why do cats like to jump on counters?
- Height is important to cats. Even a moderately high-up surface such as a counter gives cats some feeling of safety and lets them survey their territory.
- In many cases, counter-tops provide cats with access to windows.
- Cats are curious. “What’s on the counter?” “What’s up there?”
Why do cats like to jump on kitchen counters specifically?
- There are often interesting smells emanating from there.
- Cats want to be close to their human companions when the humans are in the kitchen.
These are the most common reasons; some less common ones are discussed further down.
Reasons You Might Not Want Kitty on the Counter
- You don’t want fur (or worse) in your food (at least, not more than you may get already).
- There may be dangerous things on or adjacent to the counter, such as poisonous foods, knives, and the stove.
Seek a Win-Win Solution
Think of your strategy this way:
- Make the counter less attractive to your cat.
- Make alternative places more appealing—if not irresistible—to your cat.
To borrow cat expert and author Pam Johnson-Bennett’s terms, combine deterrence with positive redirection. Don’t just say “no” to kitty; also give her an option to which she’ll gladly say “yes.”
With this approach, both of you will be satisfied.
Positive Alternatives to the Counter
Let’s focus on the positive part of the strategy first—making sure that kitty has options besides the kitchen counter that meet her need to be on elevated surfaces and her desire to spend time with her human family members when they’re in the kitchen.
- If you’re about to welcome a cat into your home, you want to be proactive and set up an environment that respects both your new cat’s needs and your house rules.
- Cats will appreciate these steps even if there are no problems; they’re preventive as well as part of a fix
Cats Live in Three Dimensions
Unlike cats, humans aren't always jumping and climbing; usually our feet are on or near the ground. Appropriate some of the under-used vertical space in your shared abode—the area from about from three feet high to the ceiling—for kitty’s need to be elevated (physically, that is; she’s already worshipped).
You can create makeshift perches and ledges on the cheap:
- Put a throw (some are made especially for pets) on the back of a couch near a window.
- Clear some space on window sills.
- Clear some space on tables that are located near windows or in corners from which kitty can keep tabs on household activity.
Keep in mind that kitty is going to lobby—perhaps persistently—to use this “prime real estate” anyway. Cats are strongly motivated to reach higher-than-ground-level spots, especially ones with a view, and they get frustrated—and usually act out their frustrations—if that core need is not met.
Specially Designed Cat Furniture May Have Many Benefits and be a Long-Term Bargain.
A multi-level cat tree is custom-made to satisfy kitty's need to reach higher ground and hang out there. A well-built one, with a wide sturdy base, lasts many years, and typically provides scratching, playing, snoozing, and perching opportunities. Buy a cat tree with perching shelves that are big enough to allow kitty to sprawl and take a snooze. Many cats like a low-sided wall around their perching platforms for a feeling of extra snugness and confidence that they won't fall off.
A cat tree is kitty’s own space, and often becomes one of her favorite place in which to spend time.
Mutually Acceptable Ways that Kitty Can Keep You Company When You’re in the Kitchen
OK, you’ve got cat trees and other elevated platforms throughout the house, and all have perfect views for cats – and your cat uses them. But being sociable and curious, she wants to be with you when you’re in the kitchen. For these occasions, provide kitty with spots other than the counter in which she feels close to you.
- Designate a sturdy footstool or chair in the kitchen for kitty. This way, she’s right there, but not sampling the dinner you’re preparing.
- Depending on the layout of your home, you may be able to position a cat tree or favorite feline sitting spot outside the kitchen but close by, where you and kitty can maintain eye contact.
- If you play with your cat and feed her just prior to preparing meals, she may settle in for a nap while you’re busy in the kitchen. If she has a comfy snoozing area not far from the kitchen, your chance of success with this positive redirection increases.
In addition to supplying kitty with appealing alternatives to the counter, make the counter a distinctly un-fun place to be from her viewpoint.
Another Pam Johnson-Bennett concept is the "Least Invasive, Minimal Aversive" or LIMA approach. In short, when it comes to deterrents, use the gentlest solution that works. With that in mind, here are deterrent measures listed in approximate order of increasing invasiveness.
- Start with the basics. Cover leftover food and clean food off plates in the sink. Occasionally this solves the problem.
- As soon as you see kitty jump on the counter, clap your hands to get her attention, and say “No!” in your moderately loud, stern but loving “bad kitty” voice. Then, if at all practical, pick up your out-of-bounds cat and move her to a more suitable spot. Be consistent with this response. One obvious downside to this deterrent is that you have to be present when kitty commits the misdemeanor.
- The X-Mat is covered with raised bumps that kitty will find very irritating. Place one or more these on the counter surface and most likely your cat will be dissuaded from jumping on the counter.
- Paws Off is basically double-sided tape. Place this at strategic locations on the counter surface. Kitty will avoid the area because she doesn’t like her paws sticking to the tape.
- Ssscat is an innovative product that uses a motion detector and blasts a short, harmless, painless spray onto a cat (or anything else) that sets off the motion detection system. Choose a location and spray angle of the Ssscat product so that it only sprays “offenders.”
- The “pennies in a can” technique is tried-and-true. Put about 15 coins each in a few empty soda cans. Put tape over the cans so the coins can’t fall out. Place the cans so that they’re precariously teetering over the edge of the counter. When your cat jumps onto the counter, the cans will fall off, making a loud noise, and probably causing your cat to hurriedly jump off the counter and scurry off.
Tips on Using Deterrents
- Don’t rely solely on deterrence to correct problem behaviors in your cat. Deterrent measures should work in conjunction with environmental enhancements and other positive redirection approaches. It’s essential that your cat have ample outlets for her core behavioral needs.
- Deterrents work on most cats. Although, some cats will find ways around them, or learn to live with them. You may have to try multiple deterrents and/or change the way they’re applied.
- Usually, once your cat has altered her behavior as per your desire, you can remove “in place” deterrents such as Sticky Paws or coin-filled cans. But you may need to re-apply the techniques if the problem re-occurs.
- If you’re trying to change the habits of one cat in a multi-pet household (or in a household with toddlers), some deterrents may not be advisable—you don’t want to startle innocent bystanders. In particular, the coins-in-cans technique is probably not a good idea in these circumstances.
- Some deterrent measures are ill-advised for cats who have had traumatic experiences or who are profoundly skittish. You don’t want to overly frighten anyone.
- Discuss deterrents with your veterinarian first if your cat is geriatric or has any health problems.
- Never employ any deterrent that could physically harm your cat or leave her with emotional scars. The goal with deterrents to keep her off the counter is simply to make her think "This is no fun being here. I'd much rather be over there on the cat tree.”
- Don't expect instant results if the behavior pattern has become ingrained into your cat’s daily lifestyle. Habits often take time to break. Be patient and understanding, trying to see things from your cat's point of view.
- Make sure your positive redirection efforts—specifically in this case providing alternate jumping-up destinations—are acceptable to your cat. If she ignores the spot you've set up, think about how you can improve its "cat appeal." Perhaps change the location, put a bird feeder outside the window (filled with bird food, of course, and far enough from the window so the birds can dine in peace), or upgrade the wobbly old cat tree you bought when you knew less about cats and cat furniture.
Scenario: Your cat is using the counter as a safe getaway. If kitty is being chased by a dog or a child, she may seek the counter as place to escape the harassment.
Solution: Provide adequate vertical escape routes (as well as horizontal ones, such as an interior cat door that leads to a safe room) for your cat, and don’t leave your cat with a child or dog who chases her in the same room without responsible human supervision.
Scenario: Your cat goes up on the counter because there aren’t enough (desirable) elevated spaces in a multi-cat household.
Solution: Provide more than enough prime perching (and scratching!) spots, at multiple levels, throughout your home, to support the various preferences of the cats.
Scenario: Your cat only jumps onto the counter when there's food on it, and goes right to the food as if she's ravenous. This could be a sign of hyperthyroidism or other health problems.
Solution: Consult with your veterinarian about any suspicious or markedly changed behavior in your cat.
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