I am amazed at how many clients do NOT mind when their cats do this. I think about where their 4 little feet have been and think – ick! Not near my food, thank you very much. But, for those of you who think like me, and would like to try to restrict your cat’s jumping and climbing areas to spots separate from the kitchen, here are some suggestions.
Prevention is usually a better plan than changing an established problem behavior. This means deciding ground rules before you adopt a kitten or cat, and making sure everyone is on the same page. If you already have the problem, or just decided it is a problem- try thinking like a cat. It is important to understand why your cat is on the counter in the first place. Getting into the food probably isn’t the most compelling reason, although food certainly can add to the appeal. By nature, cats like high places, which give them a commanding view of heir world and offer protection from natural enemies. If you’re going to ask your cat to give up your counters, you need to offer an alternative.
The ideal in your cat’s mind would likely be something elaborate, like you see in the aisle at Petsmart, or cat magazines. Multi-layered, carpeted, climbing post “villages” are certainly fabulous, and ceiling-level catwalks with holes cut through the walls would be a feline paradise. But reality, square footage, and cost are all factors, and frankly you can make a big difference in your cat’s life, and allow for exercise and fun with much simpler, and cheaper options for environmental enrichment. High cat trees with platforms or cubbies are great. Room on shelving might be just fine with your cat, knowing they can go there when desired. Consider hinting where you would prefer for them to hang out by rubbing, say, some catnip onto the areas, or giving snacks or petting your cats while there to positively reinforce the area.
Once you’ve covered your cat’s needs, you can work to deter him from counters. Make sure you keep food put away and dishes cleaned promptly to remove food temptations. Since some cats are attracted to running water, make sure your tap doesn’t drip and can’t be pawed on by a clever cat. Offer your cat a feline fountain if he loves fresh running water, elsewhere in the house.
Now, the deterrents. Some people swear by spray bottles, but unless you are the stealthiest person on earth, your cat will quickly figure out that you are doing the spraying. That’s not great for your relationship, and tends to teach your cat to behave only when you’re home. Instead, cover the counters with textures cats hate – aluminum foil being one. Another is cardboard covered with double-faced masking tape or shelf liner.
And, NO, you will not need to cover your counters forever, but you will need to keep them covered while your cat learns to use the new perch areas. For the more determined cat, you can look at harmless automatic devices that discourage counter cruising by making sounds cats dislike when they trigger a pressure pad or electronic eye by jumping up. I mentioned them in a blog a few weeks ago. The Scat Mat is one. Check it out if you think this will work for you.
Basically, the trick is to make the counter experience unpleasant for your cat without it appearing that you have anything to do with it. Above all, resist the urge to swat or yell at your cat. It won’t teach him anything except possibly to view you as someone to avoid.
As always, if you find yourself not getting anywhere, ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist. The sooner you get on the track back to a happier relationship with your cat the better. Good luck.