How to Keep a Cat off the Counter: 10 Tips that Work
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Cats love to get up on the counter and humans just want to keep their cat off the counter. And have you noticed, telling them to get down or spraying them with a water bottle never seems to work? They just want to get up there more.
It’s a good idea to keep your cat off the counter. That’s where you prepare food and cats may spread harmful bacteria from their litter box to the surface. Not to mention, cats can get sick if they eat human food they shouldn’t.
Let’s first try to understand why cats like to be up on the counter so we can be more effective at correcting the issue.
Why do cats get up on the counter?
There are several reasons a cat may want to get up on the counter. And it’s important to first identify why so you can effectively correct it.
Some of the reasons may be:
For attention – good or bad, your cat loves to have your attention. Since you don’t want them on the counter, your cat gets your attention immediately when they jump up there. They may also be bored and jumping up on the counter gets you to jump off the couch, at which point, there’s a chance of you chasing them around the house; perhaps their idea of fun?
To get closer to you or see what you’re cooking– cats are curious and want to see what you’re doing. They also love to be close to you, so you can’t really blame them for getting up on the counter when you’re cooking, can you? 😉
Escaping a dog or crawling baby – if you have a child or dog that can’t get to the kitchen counter, your cat may be jumping up there to get some quiet time or to be in a safe space.
They like the surface because it’s warm or cool – do you often find them lounging on the counter space right above the dishwasher? They may like the warmth coming from it as it’s running. If you have a stone countertop, it may be a cool surface for your cat to lay on during hot summer months.
They’re after food or water – if the tap drips or there are dishes in the sink with water in them, your cat may be up on the counter to find a fresh(er) water source. And if you commonly leave food or food scraps on the counter, your cat will be attracted to them.
Better view – are they getting up on the counter to look out a window? They may have a better view of the birds in your backyard.
How to keep your cat off the counter
Once you determine why your cat is getting up on the counter, you can try the following tips to encourage them not to.
Remember to be patient. Your cat has likely built a habit of getting up there and probably does it more than you know. It will take time to break that habit.
What’s most important is to always treat your cat with kindness. As frustrating as their behaviour may be, there is a reason for it.
Yelling, hitting, or punishing in some way does NOT work. Giving them attention to try and determine what it is they want and rewarding them for their positive behavior DOES.
#1 – Use Positive reinforcement
One of the best ways to train your cat is with positive reinforcement. Reward them when they’re not on the counter and be consistent with it. This could mean treats, petting them, or playing with them.
When they do get up on the counter, try to correct the behavior by making a loud noise, like clapping your hands or using a can of compressed air. But make sure you only do this when they’re actually on the counter – not when they’re just close to it. You don’t want them jumping up there every time they hear a sound.
Try using a stern voice to tell your cat “no” or to “get down” and use very little interaction when they’re doing something bad (e.g. don’t pick them up and hold them while you tell them no; that’s a reward to them).
If they don’t get down on their own, try a stern “no!”, pick them up and place them on an alternative surface. Once on that surface, try saying “yes” or “good boy/girl” in a loving tone and pet them.
Show them the difference in the attention they get when they’re on the ground instead of on the counter. You don’t want to immediately reward them after getting down, or they may connect getting up on the counter with a reward.
Rather, try to consistently tell them what a good boy/girl they are, in a loving tone, when they’re on the ground in the kitchen, or on a designated spot (we’ll cover in upcoming points). You may even pet them when they’re sitting at your feet in the kitchen and give them a treat. If they jump up on the counter, give them as little attention as possible, aside from a stern “no” or loud noise and placing them on the ground (if they don’t get down on their own).
You may even try clicker training. Clicker training for cats is a form of positive reinforcement. When they do something “good”, you click a device (but you can also make a clicking sound with your mouth or fingers) and give them a treat. You don’t want to reinforce bad behavior, so clicking and giving a treat when they get down from the counter is a bad idea. They may start getting on the counter more just to get a treat.
But you may be able to train them to sit in a certain spot in the kitchen. Try to coax them to that spot and when they go there, click and give a treat. Eventually, they’ll learn a behaviour and associate it with the click, rather than the treat.
The goal is that the click encourages them to go to the “good” spot. It takes time, but clicker training may work for you.
#2 – Remove appealing items
If your cat is jumping up on the counter to get closer to you or see what you’re cooking, try removing anything that may be attracting them. This could mean putting away dishes in the sink, wiping the counter more frequently, storing all food in cupboards, or even moving plants or smaller objects they might want to knock down and play with.
You may even consider closing off certain areas of your kitchen by using baby gates or doors until your cat learns that they’re not allowed on the counter.
#3 – Give them a running water source
If your cat prefers running water, each time you turn your kitchen faucet on, it may attract them to the countertop. If you have a tap that slowly drips, it may be constantly calling your cat’s name.
Some cats prefer to drink from a running stream instead of a stagnant bowl of water.
Try getting a water fountain to see if that keeps their attention on the ground.
You can also place their water bowl away from the kitchen, so they don’t associate the room with where they go to get water. Always make sure they have fresh water and that you clean their water bowl every couple of days.
Cats prefer fresh, clean water. In the wild, they’d find it on their own, but in your home, they rely on you to keep their water fresh and clean.
#4 – Give them a perch by the counter
If your cat is jumping up on the counter to be closer to you, try providing them with an alternative spot where they can watch what’s going on. This could mean getting them a cat tree or ledge that puts them at eye level with the counter.
If your cat likes to look out a kitchen window from the counter, be sure to get a perch that’s high enough they can watch birds or other animals outside.
Some cats like to be up high so they feel safer and in control of their environment – give them that opportunity!
Altering their environment may help keep them from jumping up on the counter.
I purchased this modern cat tree (in black) since it was going to be in a main living space. The kittens love it.
But there are many styles of cat trees to choose from.
Try lining the edges of your counters with tin foil. The noisy surface won’t be appealing to them and they may avoid jumping up there. You can also use this method if you have a cat that likes to scratch surfaces – just cover any areas where they like to scratch with tin foil.
This method helped me train my kittens to stay off of the coffee table. But once they were a bit bigger, they learned how to move the foil and give them enough space to hop up.
The other downside is that a tinfoil-covered house doesn’t look very nice. However, it’s temporary. Once your cat is trained to stay off of something, they’ll rarely get on the surface, even when the tinfoil is gone.
It was a bit of a hassle to cover the countertop with tinfoil since we needed to move it each time we prepared food. But if your cat tends to only jump up on one area, tin foil may work for you.
I found sticky placements worked better for the counter.
#6 – Sticky Placemats
Cats do not like sticky surfaces. Instead of putting sticky tape right on the counter, put it on placemats. Then you can move the mats when you need the space.
Try making your own and placing them on the counter. They’ll want to avoid the sticky surface.
You can also use this as a way to train them to stay off of other surfaces in your house, like your sofa or bed.
#7 – Cat repellant
There are many different types of cat repellants on the market, but not all of them work well (or at all). If you decide to go this route, make sure you do some research first and read the reviews before purchasing anything.
The most popular cat repellant is Ssscat motion detected spray.
This method works great if you’re trying to keep your cat off the counter at night when you’re asleep. Or when you’re out of the house.
There are certain scents that cats do not like. Please be careful with this method as there are many scents, essential oils, and foods that are toxic to cats. If you have a cat that tends to eat everything or is very persistent, you may want to skip this method.
But if your cat is a little more timid and goes running out of the room when they get a smell of your toothpaste as you’re brushing your teeth, an offensive smell may work to keep them off the counter.
Cinnamon, rosemary, thyme, and pine may be good choices that are generally safe for cats. But anything in large doses can be dangerous.
Citrus, lavender, and mints are other smells cats don’t tend to like, but they can be toxic to cats.
#9 – Give them more playtime
One of the reasons cats like to jump up on counters is because they’re bored. They may be looking for something to play with up there, or just love that getting up on the counter gets you up off the couch.
Provide them with enough stimulation and exercise. They’ll be less likely to look for ways to entertain themselves – like jumping up on the counter.
Try playing with them using a fishing pole toy or laser pointer (use a laser pointer in moderation and never point it near a cat’s eyes. Allow your cat to actually catch something at the end of a laser pointer session so they feel like they get a reward for chasing their “prey”).
Make sure they have plenty of toys to play with, scratch, and chew on too (and replace them regularly), as well as higher surfaces they can jump up on or objects they can climb.
If you work long hours, consider getting a cat sitter to give your kitty some attention while you’re away.
Cats need lots of stimulation and playtime – make sure they get it!
#10 – Give them a safe space
Your cat may be trying to get away from a crawling baby or a dog and the counter is a safe space for them. Try giving them an alternative safe space that allows them to be a level or two above their “predator”.
You can place a cat tree or perch near the kitchen counters. It will allow them to be up high and away from potential threats.
If you have more than one cat, make sure they each have their own safe space.
Giving your cat plenty of playtime, providing them with a safe space, and altering their environment are all great ways to keep them from jumping up on the counter. But if nothing seems to work, don’t feel bad about using a cat repellant spray or deterrents like tinfoil.
Keep trying different methods until you find one that works for both of you. And always remember to praise them when they do behave! Cats love attention and positive reinforcement.
And always consult with your veterinarian before using any new products or treatments. Thanks for reading!