Is Your Kitty a Countertop Hopper? How to Keep Cats Off Counters

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My cat Richie is an extraordinary grasshopper. I bet it spends as much time on the kitchen counter or table as it does on the many scratching posts and scratching posts in my house. Over the years I’ve tried all sorts of things to keep my cat off counters and other surfaces. Aluminum foil, air cushions, new and unusual cat furniture: if an expert recommends it, we’ll try it.

In this article, we review some of the most popular ways to keep cats off countertops. But first, we’ll see why cats jump on the counter in the first place. Read on to solve the mystery of the cat jumping against the current!

Why do cats jump on the counter?

Climbing is a natural expression of your cat’s instincts. According to VCA Animal Hospitals, cats can climb to seek higher ground when stressed: “Elevated vantage points allow your cat to observe the world from a safe place and escape when necessary. She feels the need.” If your cat seems nervous about jumping on the counter, it may be time to figure out what’s stressing her.

On the other hand, some cats jump onto the counter just because they can, and it feels good! Cats are physically built for climbing, with springy hips and claws designed for climbing trees, hills, and other surfaces in nature. In an interview with WebMD, vet Dr. Aimee Simpson: “Cats have large muscles in their hind legs that allow them to stretch and reach, and a flexible spine with shock-absorbing intervertebral discs for a graceful landing. Stretch, stretch and jump.” on the counter can express your cat’s athleticism.

But all this does not explain why Some cats prefer countertops to scratching posts and other surfaces. Your cat may jump onto the counter out of sheer curiosity. My cat, Richie, has always been obsessed with human food, and I can often find him at the counter cleaning a dirty plate or nibbling on ripe fruit on the windowsill. He’s not trying to be “evil,” he’s just his quirky, curious self.

Main coon cat lies on the kitchen counter

iStock/Natalya Vilman

How do I stop my cat from jumping on my desk (or countertop or kitchen table…)?

One of the first steps in keeping your cat away from counters is to make counters less attractive to him. According to experts from the Anti-Cruelty Society, “As responsible pet owners, we want to give our pets the best possible opportunity to behave well.” It means setting them up for success by discouraging the temptation to jump in the first place.

For some cats, that means cleaning up leftover food before they can smell it, installing childproof fasteners to keep them out of cupboards, and (ugh!) washing dishes on time. Puzzle feeders and lick mats are helpful tools to redirect your cat’s foraging behavior.

If your cat is motivated by curiosity rather than hunger, it’s a good idea to offer alternative elevated areas to explore. Cat trees, window bars, and wall shelves are great options. In fact, for the particularly inquisitive cat, you might want to provide all three!

Check out these articles for cat furniture tips to keep your climber happy:

1. The best cat furniture for apartment dwellers

2. 19 modern scratching posts to buy immediately

3. Your cat will curl up in these comfy cat hammocks

Does aluminum foil keep cats off countertops?

The author’s cat, Richie, on the kitchen counter.

One of the most common “home remedies” for counter slamming is to lay aluminum foil on the counters. In general, cats dislike the feel of aluminum foil under their feet and will avoid surfaces. In reality, your experiences may vary. My cats have mastered the art of knocking over sheets of foil, but some people have had great success with the foil trick!

Covering the counter with an unsightly material is sometimes referred to as “trapping” your cat. As explained in this VCA Animal Hospitals article, “trapping” can discourage cats from engaging in undesirable behaviors. The idea is to make the surface uncomfortable for them to walk on, which will hopefully get them exploring alternative locations (like that nice scratching post you got them). Foil is only one option; I’ve also used plastic mats (knot side up), plastic wrap, and double sided tape to keep my kitties off the counter. You can also try setting up stacks of cans or other light objects that make noise on impact, although some cats enjoy this type of obstacle course!

What scent keeps cats away?

If surface modification isn’t working for your cat, you might be wondering if there’s an odor that keeps them off the counter. There are products that use pheromones to calm and deter kittens like Sentry Stop That! Spray, the idea is that the scent of the pheromone will deter cats from a surface.

Cat-safe pheromone sprays won’t hurt, but they need to be used properly to teach them to redirect their curiosity. Think of them as tools not a punishment. As the Anti-Cruelty Society explains, “Corporal punishment will NOT help train your feline friend, it will put him off you… avoid yelling at, hitting, or splashing water on your cat.” To prevent that If your cat makes spooky associations with you, you can try a motion-activated air blower. Products like Ssscat produce an odorless puff of air that is harmless to cats when kittens approach them. These can be a useful deterrent for “cheats”, although Richie quickly learned to overlook them when trying to get to the counter.

My favorite scent-based deterrent is the Feliway Pheromone Diffuser, which releases a calming scent (almost imperceptible to humans) that can calm cats coming out of their fear.

Be persistent and offer alternatives

Cats love to jump and explore. It’s just in his nature to get high! In general, the best way to keep your cat away from the counter is to make sure it has access to other surfaces. If your cat prefers the counter to the scratching post, it may take time to teach her to move to a different surface. Be patient and remember that your cat is just a cat. In the meantime, make sure you have a good, non-toxic cleaner on hand to get rid of those marks!

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