How To Keep Cats Off Counters And Tables

If you have been reading a bit about feline behavior, then you should know by now that cats and discipline don't mix. In other words, you should never punish your cat. Cats are not dogs, and you simply can't take your cat to obedience class. Sometimes you need to lay down some rules in the house and get an educational point across to your cat.

Punishment, in the human ethical and moral sense of the word, does not work with cats. In this article, we're going to explain the negative reinforcement principles that work for one common behavioral issue: cats jumping on counters.

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A cute black and white cat lying on the kitchen countertop, How To Keep Cats Off Counters And Tables

Why Do Cats Jump on Tables and Kitchen Counters?

Before you even begin teaching your cat to stay away from certain places, let's look at the causes for this type of behavior. Cats require a sufficient amount of living space, including enough vertical space. So before restricting your cat from accessing some areas, make sure that Kitty has plenty of roaming and climbing space within your home. Invest in cat trees, cat gyms and designated cat shelves. This stage is crucial! Giving your cat very little climbing space will result in a stressed and frustrated Kitty and even more behavioral issues down the road.

Not sure how to make more vertical space? We have some ideas. Here's how to make your home BIGGER (at least for your cats).

Using Negative Reinforcement with Cats

Once you've made sure that your cat has enough space (vertical space included), it's time to learn how to teach your cat right from wrong and "explain" to them which surfaces are off-limits. Since we are trying to prevent a certain type of behavior, rather than encourage one, we'll have to use Negative Reinforcement.

Remember, we are not talking about punishing the cat! We are simply trying to create a certain connection in the cat's mind by associating undesirable behavior with a negative outcome.

Before we review the various methods for achieving this, here are the three principles to keep in mind when attempting any kind of Negative Reinforcement with cats:

  1. Keep the human out of the loop - We want to make sure that the cat associates the negative result directly with the action we want to prevent – never with you, the cat owner.
  2. Keep the reinforcement consistent - This is true of any behavioral learning process and is crucial when it comes to negative reinforcement. It means the cat has to receive a negative reaction every single time it attempts the behavior we wish to discourage.
  3. Keep stress levels down - Remember that cats are individuals and may have different reactions to sudden sounds, or any other type of sensory stimulation you may opt to use. Aim at making the unwanted behavior result in something unpleasant, but make sure it's not too frightening and doesn't cause your cat unnecessary stress.

Methods to be Avoided

The following are three popular methods of negative reinforcement. Being popular, though, doesn't mean that they are effective and not problematic.

1. Water Squirting

This is probably one of the best-known techniques. The idea here is for the cat owner to always be on guard, ready with a squirt bottle.

Based on the principles outlined above, however, water squirting is not a good method for negative reinforcement.

First, it could possibly associate you with the punishment. Ideally, anyone using this method should try to attract as little attention to her or himself as possible. In reality, this is extremely difficult to achieve, as hiding and squirting are really problematic and also most owners project their own nervousness and agitation into the process.

Secondly, in terms of consistency, this method is far from perfect. It's difficult to be on the alert at all times, or even around at all times, and you end up having a non-consistent pattern.

Thirdly, and probably most importantly, the water spray is too stressful for most cats. Fourthly, it could very well make them frightened of water.

There's actually more! Here are 5 Reasons To Never Spray Water On Your Cat.

2. Can Shaking/Compressed Air Can

Another well-known technique, it involves an empty soda can with some coins in it, or even a compressed air can. It relies on making a loud and disturbing noise to disrupt the cat’s activity.

It has most of the problems associated with water squirting: You, the can shaker, can be seen as the source of the negative reinforcement. It creates a big problem with continuity, and of course, it can bring about a strong stress response in many cats.

In both of these instances, you could end up with a stressed cat and a multitude of behavioral problems.

3. Booby-Trapping

Another popular negative reinforcement technique is booby-trapping the area you wish your cat to avoid by preparing a few empty soda cans, filling them with some coins or beans, and tying them one to the other. Then, you place them on the edges of any high surface that you wish to keep your cats from jumping on, such as the kitchen counter. Should your cat jump, the cans all tumble down creating a loud racket.

The mousetrap version of the same idea entails setting up several wooden non-baited mousetraps, and placing them upside down on the surface you wish your cat to stay away from, and then cover them with a sheet of newspaper or even a towel. Should the cat jump on the counter, the triggered trap snaps with a loud noise, scaring Kitty away.

Booby trapping surfaces like this gets you, the owner, out of the loop. The loving owner is never associated with the loud noise produced by the mousetrap or line of cans. It is also more consistent, as you can set up your booby trap and leave the room. Your cat will still create negative reinforcement if he or she jumps on the counter. If you are away, however, there is a consistency problem as it will only work once before you reset it.

The downside of booby-trapping surfaces like this is that the surprising noise can be too startling for some cats, and again, you could end with a stressed feline instead of a trained one.

So what is the answer?

A good option to keep cats off counters and tables may be easier than you think. As an added benefit, there is no startling factor here, no loud noise or sudden movement.

Surface Covering

The idea is to make the surface that you wish to keep your cat away from uncomfortable to walk on. This can be done by using plastic carpet runners with points up or using some double-sided adhesive tape. You don't have to stick any of the tapes directly on your counters. What worked best for many of my clients was taking a thick plastic sheet and covering it with double-sided tape, creating their own homemade sticky mat. Then, whenever they were not using the counters, they would cover them with that sheet of plastic.

When taping directly on surfaces, we would usually use regular adhesive tape, creating small loops of tape, with the adhesive on the outside of the ring, and then placing/sticking them across the surface. This would create a similar effect of a sticky surface, but easier to lift off the surface than double-sided tape.

The end result is the same: The surface becomes uncomfortable for cats to walk on. They may jump once or twice, decide they don't like it, then jump off. Usually, within a few days to a couple of weeks, the cats would stop jumping on the treated surfaces altogether, at which point you can take off the adhesive tape/sticky mat.

With this method, you get very consistent negative reinforcement, as your cat will get a negative reaction generated every time she jumps on that surface, whether you're around or not. In fact, you, the cat owner, are completely disassociated from any discomfort caused.

This is the right way of teaching cats to stay off countertops. It does take some effort, but you will end up with a trained cat without creating new behavioral problems.

The Solution that Works for You and Your Cat

Negative reinforcement can be very effective as a way to teach your cat what not to do. Hopefully, this article has provided a better understanding of how negative reinforcement works and why some methods, such as can shaking, water squirting and booby-trapping, should not be used.

Remember that you must always provide your cat with plenty of space, including appropriate vertical space for climbing and jumping. Only then can you implement the sticky surface method. Be consistent and give it time. Some cats can take up to three weeks to stop trying.

It can be a fairly long journey, but we're here for you!

Why not start a thread in our cat behavior forums and let us know about your progress?

Comments? Leave them using the comment section below. Questions? Please use the cat forums for those!

34 comments on “How To Keep Cats Off Counters And Tables

Paige July 13, 2022
I have had carpet spikes covering my counters for 2 years. Whenever I attempt to remove them, within minutes of me leaving the room, both cats are on the counter/stove, in the sink.. eating a plant they shouldn’t be. Double sided sticky tape doesn’t work. “Booby traps” don’t work. Aluminum foil doesn’t work. Daisy just ate the foil. Spray bottles don’t work. They just sit there and get sprayed. Citrus sprays don’t work. Scccat! Doesn’t work. Giving them alternative high perches around the counters/home doesn’t work. There is never food on the counter. I’ve stopped putting plants on the counter. There’s never anything left in the sink. And if the counter is covered in spikes, they get on my entry table and knock everything off so they can sit and look at the 6 foot tall cat tree I bought them. I’m starting to think all of these recommendations out here are lies. You may think your cats don’t get on the counters- but I guarantee if you set up a camera with motion detection, you’ll see they do whatever they please when you’re gone or asleep.. because I’ve tried everything.
Mr B December 7, 2021
That’s alot of work & double sided tape, plus covering the entire kitchen, bonus room, & living room furniture with plastic. Simpler to move the cat & his litterbox outside where he can hunt & play to his heart’s content. Sure saves on vacuuming!
Robert November 21, 2020
I have two cats. My oldest is nearly two years old, youngest is almost a year and she learns by watching my oldest! They are both very smart and talented! The water bottle worked for my oldest cat, but I never have had to use it on my youngest! As far as the oldest goes, if he starts to do something wrong, all I have to do is say "no" and most times he will stop, but if he doesn't, just reaching for the bottle is enough to make him stop! Believe it or not, raising cats is ALMOST the same as raising human children, and they react about the same! (notice I've upper cased the word "almost" in the last sentence. Haha!) My father used to break off a switch from a tree and remove all the leaves from it and place it above his bedroom door for me to be able to see. And, if I did something wrong, he'd take that switch above the door and spank me with it! Most of the time all he'd have to do is look toward it and I'd stop doing what he didn't want me doing. I'd say a water bottle is somewhat tamer than a tree switch, and it works without really having to use more than half the time!
Judith Cushman August 30, 2020
We have a former feral cat from the Human Society 1and 1/2 years ago and she is afraid of loud noises, voices, fireworks and also will not let us pick her up. Is there any way we can teach her to let us pick her up when it is necessary to take her to the vet, etc. She is 4 years old and very attached to us and especially my husband. We are in our late 70's and really enjoy her but we also live in Florida where it is necessary to keep inside due to dangers of Bob cats and other things that are dangerous outside to her. She is getting quite heavy from not getting any excercise and she's bored. Is there any way I can do things for her, with her to entertain her so she can shed some weight? I know this is long but, anyway you can give me information or ideas to keep looking forward to getting some movement would be greatly appreciated. Thank you Judith R. Cushman, [email protected]
    MarkMDP September 2, 2020
    Hello Judith! No online advice beats professional diagnosis. Please go to your vet immediately. If you insist on seeking for online advice, you might want to start a thread in the Cat Health forums here:
    meme April 14, 2021
    Get one of those little pointy laser lights and see if she will chase it around the house. My cats love it and get tons of exercise chasing it around!
Furballsmom June 9, 2019
maggie101 said:
When I am preparing food for my 3 cats, my car Peaches jumps up right where the bowl is,grabs a bite,then jumps back down. It happens too fast to stop her. Should I put her in my bedroom while making the food ? I can't put tape where I'm preparing food
Hi maggie101! I noticed you're posting on the site, and I'm hoping you were able to get your question answered in this forum Cat Behavior
Furballsmom June 9, 2019
myrnafaye said:
My kitten - 7 months old - does not go on counters, he jumps up on the dining room table when we are eating He is interested in what we are EATING. I can't put double sided sticky tape on my table. Any other thoughts?
Hi Myrnafaye! I see you're currently posting on the site, and hopefully you had your question answered in this forum Cat Behavior
maggie101 January 31, 2019
When I am preparing food for my 3 cats, my car Peaches jumps up right where the bowl is,grabs a bite,then jumps back down. It happens too fast to stop her. Should I put her in my bedroom while making the food ? I can't put tape where I'm preparing food
myrnafaye December 19, 2018
My kitten - 7 months old - does not go on counters, he jumps up on the dining room table when we are eating He is interested in what we are EATING. I can't put double sided sticky tape on my table. Any other thoughts?
Merlin77 December 11, 2017
:sigh: Nothing works for us. The cats know they aren't allowed up on the counters, but they will jump up while we cook and prepare food. They have stolen noodles and chocolate-covered croissants (which is really bad). They steal bread and rip apart paper towels. We can get them to go down by giving them a quick spray of water, just from the sink/hands, or we carry them off. Oh well. At least they stay outside the majority of the time, hunting or napping in their shed.
Dana the cat lady June 28, 2017
I am having a great deal of difficulty stopping my cat from jumping on EVERYTHING from the kitchen counters to the table to the 6-foot bookcases! He is deaf, so anything that makes noise doesn't deter him at all. I have tried everything from the water bottle (unsuccessful - he laughs at it and thinks it's a game) to aluminum foil (he plays with it). I can't put sticky tape on the counters when in use. It's frustrating!
dallasstorm May 11, 2017
ettina said:
I wonder if putting a toy piano there would work? My cats hate jumping on the keys of my piano, because they don't like when their footsteps make noise.
They say to praise your cat. So my suggestion is when you are cooking to remove him from the counter and tell him NO firmly and put him where he should be and tell him good kitty and pet him. That is what I was told to do. It may take some time, but as with a kid you have to do it each time and they will learn.
Anne May 4, 2014
Just a reminder to everyone: if you need advice about a specific situation, please post about it in the forums rather than here. The comments section is for comments, but questions are more likely to get replies in the forums themselves:
nasty cat May 4, 2014
Nothing works for my cat. He's on every horizontal surface in my house. He has his own multiple level tree. His latest is to pull the rubber ring AND metal cap off the disposal and play with them on the floor. I've tried everything suggested but nothing works. I say NO, firmly, he bites me and draws blood. I'm 83, love him like a child but I'm at my wits end. He's nine months and eleven pounds. I do not like cats on my counters. I'm a clean freak. HELP!!!
simbamowgli January 25, 2014
I slapped some wax paper onto the counters. Mowgli loves to jump up, he's a slender guy, but we simply can't have him jumping onto the counters! Now, the wax paper really helps. Every time he jumps, a loud crinkly sound occurs and he gets frightnened and jumps off. Try it! :)
neko0takusan November 24, 2013
Our Tuxedo just started jumping up on the counter recently.  Then she purposely knocks something off on the floor with her paw.  All to get my attention.  She is clever and gets bored attention hoar...I say no and she gets her attention....I've given in. hehe
kansasguest November 15, 2013
Well, how do you get the cat to stop getting on counters when you ARE cooking without using a spray bottle?  The sticky tape method isn't appropriate when when we're using the counters for meal prep, etc.  Our 8-month old cat can now jump straight from the floor to our kitchen counter tops.  He's become a powerful jumper because we have a 2 story house & he uses the stairs for exercise.  He also LIKES clutter.  It's like hunting for him, to see what is under everything.  I use the sticky tape for our upholstered furniture, and it works great.  But, the directions say clearly that it will damage wood, leather & hard surfaces (like kitchen counters).  The little stinker is smart & persistent.  He figured out that we use the sink to wash dishes with food on them.  So, we've even caught him sticking his nose down the garbage disposal after everything is cleaned up to try & score a few pieces of food.  It's not like he's starving.  He's well-fed.  We put the sink stopper on, wipe everything down & he still counter surfs.  Grrr...
ettina October 23, 2013
I wonder if putting a toy piano there would work? My cats hate jumping on the keys of my piano, because they don't like when their footsteps make noise.
    pegalena May 16, 2022
    I just had to reply to this. I had a cat that liked to play the piano. He would get on the keys and go down to the end turn around and go back to the other end. He especially liked it when I sat down to play. We often played a duet. I miss him.
kaos8 October 10, 2013
Honestly, the "(Name) and NO" in my "satan Mommy Voice" works for all other issues..
kaos8 October 10, 2013
Oh, and I forgot to mention- I actually purchased these plastic things with the little spikes on them (kind of pricey) and I also used upside down floor runners...And my cats loved them- apparently, it felt good on their feet and to rub and sleep on.  Maybe I just have CRAZY Cats!
kaos8 October 10, 2013
I have only 2 cats of my "herd" that insist on being on the kitchen counters.  One does it, because he thinks he is going to get treats- when I am making my medicine concoctions for my one dog.  The other, who incidentally is his sister, Celine- sneaks up there and pees on my glass top stove, the counters- but never when we are watching...She is very sneaky. I have to tell you I have tried all the things mentioned in this article.  The Tin Foil - it is cheap and I tried this first.  My cats love to play with it- so, obviously this did not work.  Have used the Double sided tape (my own and the stuff you can buy- worked- but unfortunately was really heavy duty and could not use the counter or stove with it there) The stuff I sticky tape bought was one time use stuff and kind of expensive when purchased (was only 3 of the XL Sheets for like $20).  The next thing I tried was the SSSCat- this is awsome.  Is an air can that goes off by movement....  Only problem is that my cats seem to gang up on it, and hit if from every angle to see where it won't get them...So, then she pee'd just outside the can spray area- just off to the side of it...  This works great in a door way- if you need them out of a room, but if you have a larger area- this is a very costly way to fix the problem.  So for my counters the only solution that worked was CLUTTER...Looks horrible and I have to do major cleaning before anyone comes to the house, but really embarrassing to explain that I have to do it- or one kitty pees there!  So CLUTTER it is...and SSSCAT for my one doorway to a room they need to be out of. (incidentally- have a 6ft tall wrought iron gate in this doorway- that only one cat can jump/clear- totally put up to keep cats out and SSSCAT is the only thing that works)...
jasei santiz October 7, 2013
great ima try this with cheetos he's an avid jumper lol
pawpurrints August 29, 2013
Awesome....I'm already at that stage where my cute ones keep hopping on the table during dinner. I'll start hunting for a carpet runner!
sadie66 August 25, 2013
Hi, first i wouldn't spray them, my granddaughters cat tigger use to do that, so everytime i saw him i firmly told him no, then i put things in the way for a while so he would get the hint, and also if you wipe the area with vinegar water daily it works he finally got the hint and then i could remove the items in the counter but still to reinforce the training when in kitchen glances at counters i say no tigger, and of course always keep counter clean of food that may be the problem they want what smells good
newkittyowner August 15, 2013
I tired this today after reading this article and it worked for our garbage can lid. The garbage happens to be right next to our kitchen counter and it's a great step for them to jump up on and then to the counter. The jump onto in now, feel the sticky tap and then jump back down. We have a lot of surface area in our kitchen so it's hard to do this on all the surfaces. What concerns me is when they jump onto the stove! Luckily the times they have we have been there to stop them from getting burned! I might have to get some of those carpet runners for the counter tops.
nullentropy August 14, 2013
I tried the sticky tape, and it did nothing except ruin my counters! I'm kind of at a loss. They eat tinfoil and aren't bothered by sticky tape.
dianec August 11, 2013
As i've always had cats they seem to follow the behaviour of whoever was there first - The first cat i had to teach was simply with a rolled up newspaper - i banged it on the counter near to him everytime he got up there only needed to do it once or twice and he stopped even trying. Cat do seem to copy each other.
Anne July 30, 2013
I'm glad this is helpful! Please do start a thread in the behavior forum when you start the training process!
chloeg July 29, 2013
thanx for a great article.Im having this problem ,but just waiting to get more vertical space before implementing your tips.
mservant July 28, 2013
This sounds great, makes total sense. Might try on one or two high shelves I've got that Mouse is trying to get on to but not made yet. I think I've missed the boat on everything else with him but if I have to have a next time - result :)
Anne July 24, 2013
Thank you for sharing your experience with us!
taxido February 10, 2013
Double sided sticky tape works a treat. I have a large aquarium, always very tempting to cats. It is always covered with double sided sticky tape. Once a cat sticks to it, they never try the same thing again. A simple, cheap deterrent.

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