Some people don’t mind that their cats spend time on the kitchen counter, but others prefer it to be a cat-free zone, so how do you keep cats off kitchen counters in your house? As much as I love my cat, I don’t want her on surfaces where food is prepared, for the sake of cleanliness and for her own safety. I would hate for her to have access to food that could cause her sickness or harm.

Why Does Your Cat Want to be on the Counter?

To correct the behavior, it’s necessary to understand the attraction to the counter so you can provide an appropriate alternative. There are multiple possibilities of why your cat enjoys counter cruising. What probably comes to mind first is that’s where food can be found. Your cat has an incredible sense of smell, so he knows there’s something potentially very tasty up there. If your cat is on a restricted diet or weight loss program, those enticing smells can be hard to resist.

Your cat may prefer counter cruising because that’s where the best view can be found. Perhaps your kitchen window looks out on a bird feeder or a part of the yard with interesting outdoor activity.

Another reason your cat spends time on the counter could be because he feels safest there. If you have a multi-pet environment or there are small children in the home, your cat may feel the counter allows him to be out of reach. Being elevated allows him to also have more visual warning time to see if someone is approaching.

Counter cruising can also be an attention-getting behavior. If you’re working at the kitchen counter and your cat wants you to pay attention to him, he knows he’ll be closer to your eye level if he jumps on the counter.

cat kitchen counter

Re-Training Your Cat

Once you uncover the motivation for the behavior, you can provide a better alternative. If the counter-cruising is due to the enticing food, then make sure no food is left uncovered when you aren’t there to supervise. If your cat is relentless in trying to steal food, put out puzzle feeders to keep him occupied while you cook. Puzzle feeders are simply toys that dispense food when correctly manipulated by the cat. You can buy or make puzzle feeders for dry or wet food. Do a search online and you’ll find several companies that make puzzle feeders as well as instructions for making your own.

For the cat who counter cruises for the elevated window access, provide a better alternative in the form of a cat tree or window perch. If your kitchen is large enough you can place a cat tree in there, otherwise, locate one near an interesting window. Periodically place a treat on one of the perches to entice your cat to go there.

If the need for security is the reason your cat hangs out on the counter, then you have two jobs to do here. The first is to provide more vertical locations in other parts of the house so he doesn’t feel his only option is the kitchen counter. The second part is to address the cause of the cat’s fear. Is the cat being targeted by another cat in the home? Is the dog pursuing the cat relentlessly in order to play? Is a young child being bothersome to the cat when he’s trying to sleep or use the litter box? In addition to addressing the need for more vertical space, you also need to work on improving the cat’s relationship to whoever is causing him stress.

Now we come to attention-getting behavior. You may not realize it, but you might be contributing to this unwanted behavior. If your cat jumps on the counter and you talk to him, pet him, or give him a cuddle as you place him back down on the floor then you’re rewarding the very behavior you don’t want to be displayed. Instead, gently remove him from the counter without making eye contact, talking or giving attention. In order to prevent the behavior from repeating itself, make sure the cat is getting enough of your attention at other times. Engage in interactive play sessions at least twice a day. Set out puzzle feeders to keep your cat occupied during the day as well. If your cat likes to watch birds or other wildlife, turn on a YouTube video designed for cats.

how to keep cat off kitchen counter

Make the Counter an Unappealing Location

When you aren’t working in the kitchen you can set up the counter to be less appealing. Purchase a plastic carpet runner that has little pointy feet on one side. Cut the plastic runner into smaller, more manageable sizes and place them on the counter with the pointy feet facing up. This will make the counter an uncomfortable location for lounging and cruising.

No Punishment

Don’t ever yell, hit, push your cat off the counter or squirt with water. All that will do is create fear and he’ll simply learn to wait until you aren’t around in order to get on the counter. Train with love and tenderness, get to the bottom of why he feels the need to be on the counter, provide a better option, and make sure everyone in the family is consistent with the training procedure. Counter cruisers can be re-trained.

These tips will on how to keep cats off kitchen counters should do the trick!

Pam Johnson-Bennett
Certified Cat Behavior Consultant & Best-Selling Author

Cat Behaviorist

Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behavior consultant and best-selling author of 8 books on cat behavior. She starred in the Animal Planet series Psycho Kitty, seen in Canada and the UK. She was a vice president of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and founded their cat division. She has served on an advisory board for the American Humane Association as well as other animal welfare organizations.

Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting, having started her career in 1982. Some of her books have been used as textbooks for behavior courses and she has influenced many practicing in the field today. Her book, Think Like a Cat, has been referred to as the cat bible.

Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, located in Tennessee. She lives with her husband, two children, a rescued cat, and a rescued dog.