Cat on the dining

How to Keep Cats Off Counters

Just like a toddler, it seems a cat will never do what you want them to do and always does what you don’t want them to do. And speaking of the “don’t want them to-dos,” let’s talk about the kitchen counter. While shelves are everywhere in the house, it’s the kitchen counter that draws Fluffy’s interest.

As much as I admire the grace by which a cat floats from the floor to a shelf – or countertop – there’s a time and place to show off to us humans. Cats indeed love high places like we love the internet, so it follows that cats want to surf the countertop like we surf the web.

All kidding aside, there are certainly legitimate reasons to keep your cat off the countertop. Cats certainly can get themselves seriously hurt by jumping onto a hot stove burner or a sharp knife. There are toxic hazards too, in that some human foods are entirely poisonous for your cat.

Most countertops have a dangerously smooth surface regardless of its construct. We know of tragic stories where a cat slipped off the counter, causing irreparable limb damage and internal injuries.

Finally, there’s a health risk to humans in countertop antics. We cannot disregard the fact that cats use their paws in the litter box – and usually, forget to wash with soap and water after covering.

What’s the Obsession With the Kitchen Counter, Anyway?

Two cute cats on the counters

It might surprise you that the prospect of finding a free snack on the countertop isn’t the main reason that your kitty is jumping on the counter.

It is helpful in this dilemma to understand the reasons for your cat’s counter surfing behavior. And it may be simpler than you think. The obvious is he is looking for food, but there are other reasons.

Cats Are Near-Sighted but Prefer Seeing Their World from High Vantage Points

It is inherent in a cat’s DNA to like high vantage spots. A cat’s vision is incredible, and they enjoy observing their world from afar. Although the feline has tremendous vision that includes impressive night vision, our cats are nearsighted creatures.

A caveat is that although your cat is near-sighted, he is not close-sighted. He cannot change the shape of the eye lens like humans. This means that a cat cannot see objects clearly at close range and need some distance to focus.

Ultimately, the countertop gives a great vantage point to observe the world with clarity. There is an interesting article from Popular Science that gives a good image of cat vision compared to human vision.

Cats Are Predators by Nature

Gray cat standing on a tree branch

Anyone that knows a cat will attest to their excellent hunting skills. They were designed with an ability to scale a tree and then balance the tightrope footing of a fence edge, tree branch, and roofline.

By utilizing the countertop, which is typically backed against the wall, your cat can assure that his vantage point is optimal to every hunting direction around him – right, left, high, and low. Most prey that scurries along the ground fail to look up for predators, so the cat has the advantage of overhead surprise.

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Cats Are Prey to Larger Predators

All animals have an instinctual drive for self-protection. Cats being keen hunters does not preclude the fact that her mother taught her she was also part of the food chain.

A cat’s demure size in the wild makes a cat prey to other ground predators, such as coyotes, snakes, and raccoons. And don’t rule out other ground irritants like human feet and the vacuum.

So, one reason your cat likes to elevate off the ground is to seek protection from their natural enemies. While protecting them from ground-dwelling predators, the wall of the countertop provides added protection from the rear, so all vantage points for protection are covered.

Cats Love Running Water

Don’t forget that cats love running water, whether it be a flowing stream or leaky faucet. The sink faucet, if dripping, could be an enticement for your cat to pop up to refresh from the flowing fountain.

It’s Great Physical Exercise & Mind-Bending Stimulation

Cats are innately curious creatures. They sleep vast amounts of the day for the purpose of preparing for the hunt. Hunting provides a combination of exercise, food, and mental stimulation. Therefore, when they live indoors, they will continue to seek mental stimulus and quality exercise.

Jumping and climbing on the countertop is both great exercise and mental stimulation.

Cats Are Desert Creatures & Heat Rises

And since we’re trying to include all reasons for countertop perching, there is the fact that the cat genus is deemed a desert animal. The temperature could be a factor to move upwards since, in your home, heat rises. Your cat could be seeking an area off the ground to be more comfortable when temperatures in the home dip.

Cats Are Territorial Creatures

How to Keep Cats Off Counters

Cats show their hierarchy in their social unit by their position on the vertical scale.

New research is revealing that even feral cats have a loosely managed social hierarchy. Cats bring that social structure into your home, as well.

You may observe your cats challenging for couch position or taking a wide berth around a more senior or dominant cat in the household. What you’re seeing is that social dynamic of respecting territory and space.

Cats that live together use their glands (in their cheeks, foreheads, and paws) to mark territory. They use heights to show their ranking status in their fluid hierarchy. And, they show their current status by where they station themselves in relation to other cats.

In the cat world, vertical height matters. So, jumping on the counter might be your cat telling others, I’m top rank right now.

Territory is expanded on the vertical plane. The top cat gets the top spot!

We Can’t Forget – Just Because They Can

Cats have bodies that are agile and perfect for jumping on counters from any height. Not only can they sometimes scale 5 to 6 times their actual body length in one bound, but their flexible spines also make it look like they are floating.

The strength of a cat’s hindquarters allows them to scrunch up and extend. Their spine is flexible, allowing him to go from crouch into a full extension for greater heights offering additional shock-absorbing discs. The tail provides excellent balance during the landing and counterbalance for unexpected objects. The front nails can be fully extended to latch on to the intended counter surface.

And they are so incredibly quiet when they go from floor to countertop right in front of you that it’s as if they are thumbing their nose at your human clumsiness. “Watch me, mere human!”

What to Do About Fluffy’s Countertop Surfing?

Black and white cat on the table

There are many reasons that your cat loves the high spot of the countertop. So, if you intend to ask Fluffy to give up the countertop, be prepared to offer options that draw her away from seeking that as her sofa.

Show You Object to the Behavior

If you can nip the behavior before it becomes a preferred habit, then do so: shoo her off the counter; intercept her before she leaps; or remove her entirely from the area.

Consistency will be the key here. If curing the behavior does not subside with consistent intervention, then alternative options should be initiated.

Remove the Temptation

When your cat hops on to the counter, observe whether he is sniffing around and licking up crumbs. He is smart enough to observe that you use that countertop to prepare food and (sometimes) leave unattended items advantageously within his access range.

Remove the temptation of food that entices his love of the food hunt. Remove the obvious temptations and clean the counters immediately. This will go far in dissuading him from choosing the counter as his first stop for food.

Offer a New Enticement for Food

Offer your kitty fun alternatives to hunt for food. For example, food puzzles are a fun element. A food puzzle will divert valuable minutes of hunting instinct into a safe and rewarding way to gain the ultimate prize – food.

Make the Countertop Unwelcome

Some cat owners have made the countertop an unwelcome surface for the cat. Cats are very protective of their paws and pads. So, covering the area with things such as tacky paper, aluminum foil, or double-sided tape is an option if you don’t mind the inconvenience.

In the extreme, there are even products available that blast air, noise, and water when the threshold is breached. These products are designed to create an avoidance behavior and are generally quite effective. They can, however, be pricey.

Challenge Your Cat with Interactive Play

There are so many interactive play toys that they can’t be listed: from a laser pointer and furry mice to feathered fish line and simple shoestrings. These toys all encourage enriched hunting skills, healthy exercise, self-confidence, energy expulsion, and cat-to-human bonding.

Take advantage of interactive play every day. The expectation is to get the cat focusing, stalking, chasing, reaching, and jumping. This, in turn, creates a healthy and satisfied cat.

Offer Cats a Fountain to Drink

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If your cat is seeking running water, consider a commercial fountain bowl. The oxygen aerated fountain has many benefits: it meets the intrinsic cue to drink freshwater; it encourages drinking water to impede kidney disease, and it keeps your cat from hopping the counter to get to the dripping water faucet.

Enrich the Feline Environment – Provide Vertical Spaces

Give your cat lots of alternative options and perches to the countertop she can go to that will be enriching. This means to enrich your cat’s daily environment. If you’ve observed your cat gazing intently out the window, then you should realize that the world is her television. Let her watch feline television by drawing her attention outside, with bird feeders and squirrel feeders.

Introduce a Cat Tree

Place a multi-level cat tree in front of secured windows and fish tanks to provide hours of entertainment.

Install Shelves for Perimeter Transportation

Increase vertical cat territory by installing shelving that goes the perimeter of the room. Vary the heights and placements. Ultimately, it is ideal that your cat can access the entire perimeter of the room without ever touching the floor.

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Whether you construct shelves or walking ledges, make the area deep enough that your cat has space to lounge or play, while observing the world below. Further, utilize the furniture, cubby holes, and other vertical access.

Vertical shelves allow less confident or more territorial felines to stay out of each other’s cat’s space.

Install Window Perches

How to Keep Cats Off Counters

Window perches attach easily to windowsills and allow cats access to lounge at or near a safe window site. This is a wonderful place to give your cat his personal space.

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Cat Behaviorists May Shed Some Light

If after all this, you are still in a dilemma with counter surfing, then seek a qualified cat behaviorist. A professional may be able to spot something you are missing and offer up other options to curb the behavior.

The Final Takeaway

Thank goodness cats sleep 75% of their day. But when they’re awake, hunting, climbing, jumping, and investigating their world are intrinsic to who they are and how they’ve adapted to survive. The countertop is just the evidence of their need for high places and vertical territory they can call their own.

Positive reinforcement is always great for counter training. Praise good behavior. Your cat will understand the pleasure in your voice and good energy in your caress, making the association between her alternative repose spot and your pleasurable response. And your kitty won’t mind if you offer a small reward in the form of a little snack when she does a good job.

The final takeaway is that the cat is wired to be a natural explorer and curious about all things in her world. One of his favorite vantage spots is in the vertical world. This provides excellent views, good hunting, good protection, and good socialization.

Remember the motivation is to offer life-enriching options to your cat. Choices that keep her off dangerous countertops and maintain her in a safe and enriching environment provide an intrinsic bond between your feline companion and the human she adores.

Just remember you’ve got her, and she’s got you. Countertops? Together you’ve got this!

Product data was last updated on 2020-06-03.

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Random Cat Quote:

“In ancient times cats were worshipped as gods; they have not forgotten this.” ...
-- Terry Pratchett

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