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How to Keep Your Cat off the Kitchen Counter

Use cat trees to keep cats off counters.

It's one of those things about having cats in your home that isn't necessarily ideal: she jumps on your kitchen counters. This can be a problem because you don't want food or wayward litter or litter box contents to end up in your food. You also want to protect your cat from dangerous items such as knives, foods that are toxic (to cats), and hot items that may often take up residence on or near kitchen counters.

Why Do Cats Like to Be on Counters?

There are many reasons that cats probably like to jump on counters, particularly the ones in the kitchen. Some of these are listed here.

Play with your cats on and around your kitty's scratching alternative There are more exciting things to scratch than your leather furniture.
  • Cats like to be high. Height allows cats to feel safe, and they love watching things that go on below them.
  • Countertops may provide window views. Cats love to gaze out of windows, surveying what goes on outside. If your countertops allow your cat to look out the window, that may be a contributing factor for why she likes to be up there.
  • Cats are just plain curious. Your feline companion probably doesn't like to be left out of anything, and she really likes to keep track of everything that goes on in her territory. The countertops are no exception: she'll want to see what's happening up there periodically.
  • There are good smells on kitchen counters. Lovely smells coming from the countertops are sure to entice your cat to jump up and check things out. And if she's found something scrumptious to nibble on up there in the past, she's received positive reinforcement that will nudge her to keep doing it.
  • We spend a lot of time working on the kitchen counters. Cats love to be with their humans, and we spend a lot of time in the kitchen, using the counters. If your cat likes to jump up there and hang out with you while you're chopping and sautéing, it's because she loves you.

While these are all understandable reasons for cats to want to be on our kitchen counters, it's important to their safety and the cleanliness of our food prep area to train them to stay down.

Tips for Training Your Cat to Stay off the Kitchen Counter

The basic approach to use when you are training your cat for anything is to make that which you want her to do as attractive as possible and that which you don't want her to do as unattractive as possible. Simply trying to keep your cat off the counters isn't as likely to work as keeping her off the counter AND giving her a better alternative.

First, you'll need to think about ways to satisfy your cat's desire to be high up, see what's going on outside, and spend time hanging out with you (where she can see what you're doing) while you're working in the kitchen. It's likely that there is quite a lot of "high up" space in your home that you aren't utilizing because, well, you mostly stay on the ground. Here are some ideas for using that space to satisfy your cat's desire for height:

  • Clear off windowsills so she can sit in them. If you have windowsills, try to make sure that at least some of them are empty enough for a cat to sit on. If you don't, consider clearing space on an end table or stable stool sitting next to the window instead.
  • Place a cat bed or play mat on the back of your couch or chairs (especially ones that are near windows). This can show your cat that it's OK to hang out in those spots while sparing your furniture from a bit of hair.
  • Consider a cat tree or two. Large, sturdy cat trees with wide, stable bases and platforms at window level are beloved by cats. They can do triple duty as spots where your cat can scratch, perch, and sleep. The Purrfect View is our favorite. Covered in sisal fabric, which is a preferred cat-scratching substrate, stable, tall, and with platforms that can act as beds or perches, it's well-built and can last for years.
  • Provide enough spots for all of your cats. If you have multiple cats, you'll need more high spots designated for them to hang out. You don't want them fighting over them or some cats not having access to them, resulting in stress-related negative behaviors.

Giving your cat these special, tall hangouts where she can see outside will almost certainly make her happy. However, if she ignores your new kitty spots, try to make them even more appealing. Sprinkle them with catnip or spray them with honeysuckle. Place your cat's favorite toys on them, or position a bird feeder outside of the window in front of one.

Note: if your cat suddenly begins jumping on countertops in search of food and ravenously attacks any that she finds, she may have a medical problem. Consult with your veterinarian immediately.

Also, it's important to give your cat a way to hang out with you while you are working in the kitchen. If you have room, a cat tree set up where your cat can see what you're doing on the counters can really help. If you don't have the space, try a sturdy stool or chair instead, and let her know it's hers by inviting her onto it and giving her treats, love, and praise when she jumps up. Talk to her while you're cooking so she feels included and it will become a bonding time for both of you.

Train your kitty to scratch what you want them to when they are young.

Another thing that can help is to have a play session with your kitty before you begin your meal prep, then give her a few treats or her scheduled meal. She may be content to nap or dine while you're working.

Deterrents to Keep Your Cat off the Kitchen Counters

Once you have provided your cat with sufficient alternatives, you may also need to add deterrents to make hanging out on the countertops unattractive to her. Start with the least forceful methods and work your way up as needed.

  • Keep the counters clean. Make sure you cover, put away, or otherwise secure any food on the countertop routinely. Rinse off any dishes in the sink so there aren't food pieces creating lovely enticing smells.
  • Clap loudly and say "No." If you see your cat jump on the counter, clap loudly and say "No" sternly. Either pick her up and place her somewhere more suitable, giving her praise once she's there or praise her once she jumps down from the counter.
  • Use citrus cleaners. Cats are repelled by citrus odors, so using a citrus-based countertop cleaner routinely may be enough to keep your curious kitty off the kitchen counter.
  • Try double sided tape. Lining the edges of the countertop with double sided tap may irritate your cat when she jumps up and teach her that it isn't fun to be up there.
  • Make a loud booby trap. Put 10 or 15 coins each in several cans and tape them shut. Place the cans in various spots on the kitchen counters where they are teetering on the edge. When your cat jumps on the counter and brushes against these, they will fall off and make a loud noise. This is usually enough to scare a cat and potentially keep her from trying again.
Cats playing with toys and scratching posts is great for their body and mind.

Final Thoughts

When you are training your cat to stay off the kitchen counters, it's important that you be patient, loving, and understanding. Treating your cat roughly or angrily isn't fair because she's only being a cat, and it could cause her stress that may result in other undesirable behaviors.

You may not be able to stop your cat from jumping on the counters in 1 day, but if you are consistent and thoughtful in providing for your cat's needs and wants, the results will surely be a happier kitty and a counter that's free of fur.