Preventing Cats from Jumping on Counters and Tables

Cats are built to climb and jump. In the wild, cats climb trees and leap long distances to move through their territory, avoid danger, and find food. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that many domesticated cats try to engage these instincts even when they live indoors.

That can mean cats jump onto things in your house you’d like them to avoid. You’ll need to come up with strategies to keep your pet off countertops and tables and other places.

Why Cats Like to Climb

Before you can take steps to keep your cat off the counters, you should understand why they like to climb. Think of it this way: cats love to hunt birds, and most birds are found in trees. Meanwhile, small rodents and ground-based prey are easier to catch from above. Climbing also helps cats keep away from potential predators.

In your home, your cat will often seek out high spaces to act on these instincts. Tall bookshelves will give them the best vantage point in the room. If other pets or small humans spend a lot of time on the floor, your cat may seek out your counters to avoid interaction with them.

They may also find out that food scraps and crumbs are often left on your table and counter, leading to “counter-surfing” behavior. 

Almost every cat will want to climb, so this is a matter of redirection, not stopping them completely. 

Alternatives to Climbing on Countertops and Tables

The simplest way to keep your cat off your counters is to give them another outlet for their normal climbing or jumping behavior. Both you and your cat will be happier when they have several approved places to jump and climb. 

Cat “trees,” or furniture made for indoor cats to scratch, climb, and explore, are excellent ways to keep your cat entertained. These “trees” often include platforms for your cat to rest on, along with interesting poles and columns to climb. They offer a human-approved way for your cat to get in high places.

Kitty condos are similar to cat trees, but with a greater emphasis on resting and hiding places. Placing either near a window gives your cat a sunny spot to watch the world pass by. 

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If your cat jumps on your counters because they’re looking for food, then give them another way to get special “treats.” Free-feeding cats who are a healthy weight can help cut down on this behavior, while overweight cats may be fed several smaller meals throughout the day.

You can also use “hunting” toys that contain small amounts of kibble to encourage your cat to use natural behaviors to find more food. You’ll also need to keep your counters clean and free of tempting food to avoid reinforcing their counter-surfing behavior. 

How to Discourage Cats from Jumping on Countertops and Tables

Alternatives may not entirely prevent your cat from winding up on your counters and tables. In some cases, you may need to add deterrents to off-limits areas to make them scary and unwelcoming for your pet.

Environmental deterrents are things that your cat doesn’t like, but won’t hurt them. Things like unpleasant smells or textures are a great way to keep your cat away without punishing them. They’re also less stressful than spray bottles or yelling. You can try methods like:

  • Balancing cookie sheets on your counter so they make a scary noise when your cat jumps on them
  • Placing tape sticky-side up on the edge of the counter or table
  • Placing plastic carpet running “nubs-up” to make the counter surface unpleasant
  • Hanging towels off the edge of your counters so your cat slides off if they try to jump up

These deterrents all have one important thing in common: they don’t involve you actively scaring your cat. If you only remove your cat from your counters by hand, then they will simply jump up when you’re not around. If you actively scare them away, then your cat might decide that you’re scary, not the counters. Environmental deterrents help them learn that it’s the counters specifically that are off limits and scary. 

What to Avoid

  • Cats don’t respond to punishment well. Instead of connecting the punishment to an action, they connect it to the punishing person. Do not yell at your cat or hit them for going on the counter. They’ll become scared of you, not the counter.
  • Don’t push your cat off countertops and tables. They may hurt themselves.
  • Don’t use any deterrent that could hurt your cat.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Amy Flowers, DVM on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Animal Humane Society: “Keeping your cat off the counter.”

Humane Society of Huron Valley: “KEEPING CATS OFF OF COUNTERTOPS.”

Killeen Veterinary Clinic: “Why cats like to relax and sleep up high.”

VCA Hospitals: “Preventing and Punishing Undesirable Behavior in Cats.”

© 2021 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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