Teach Table Manners

How to keep your cat from jumping up on forbidden surfaces.

Everything is all set for your dinner party. Youve put out the best dishes. Youre using your special serving platter for the first time. There are fresh, fragrant flowers and crisp, freshly washed linens. And a peacefully napping cat. Wait…theres your cat on the table again. And if shes not on the table, she will be on the kitchen counter. Keeping your cat off the counter – or dinner table – can be a real challenge. In order to meet it, both you and your cat have to learn some new rules and behaviors. But you can both do it.


Why Cats Love Counters
Cats love to jump onto high places and survey the world around them. Cats are intelligent, curious creatures, says Stefanie Schwartz, DVM, MSc, the director of behavior services at VCA South Shore Animal Hospital in Weymouth, Massachusetts. Cats were made for jumping up to explore; high places are a part of their territory, says Dr. Schwartz, who is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.

If you leave food on the counter – meals ready to serve or leftovers or dirty dishes – you may as well consider it cat-bait. Food is number one on a cats list of interests.

Cats have a very keen sense of smell, says Dr. Schwartz. Their noses will inevitably lead them to the dinner table or kitchen counter when food is there. All it takes is a one-time discovery of a delicious morsel to teach a cat to try for more tidbits, dozens of times.

What Works; What Doesnt
First, if you live with a cat, you have to realize that cats will occasionally jump up on things, including the counter. Even if you keep your cat off the counter when youre home, she may just wait until you leave to go exploring.

The first rule: Dont make the counter so alluring. Never leave food unattended on the table, the counter or anywhere else you dont want your cat to snatch it. You just cant expect your cat to sense something delectable and not go after it. 

This includes feeding your cat scraps from the table. If you do it once, you will have a permanent beggar on your hands. (And perhaps a permanent resident on your table.)

The key to discouraging your cat from coming around the table or counter is consistency. Every member of your household must agree to enforce the same rules of keeping the cat off the table and counter. If some members do and others dont, you can bet your cat will learn who is the pushover in the house.

Some people report that using a water pistol can help change unwanted behavior. But you need to consider that certain punishments – yelling, chasing and squirting water -not only feel pretty nasty to your cat, but may not work as you would like. Some cats become distrustful with aggressive punishment, resulting in shyness, sneakiness and skittishness. After all, according to your cat, you are punishing him for something that comes naturally to him.

You can try a sharp reprimand, such as No! or Off! when your cat jumps on the table or the counter. But follow it with a fond pat on the head and an enthusiastic Good kitty! when your cat gets down. A food treat – in your cats bowl – wont hurt, either.

In fact, giving praise or some other reward when your cat does listen may do the most to change her behavior.

You can also provide an alternative to the countertop for your cat to jump onto – and encourage your feline to use it. Try installing a cat tree or cat-gym – with horizontal shelves – in a corner away from the countertop. Your cat will get to hop up somewhere, look down, hang out and observe everything going on, and even take a nap. With carpeting on the shelves, your cat may enjoy this perch enough to stay away from the counter.


Some people swear by booby-trapping the countertop with things their cats dont like as a means to prevent them from jumping aboard. The good part about this is that it wont cause your cat to associate any unpleasantness with you, as he might if you yelled or doused him with a squirt gun.

Aversive Techniques That Help
How do you booby-trap a counter? One way is to make the counter very noisy. Fill some empty cans with a few pennies and then tape their tops closed. Place the cans around the edge of the counter. When your cat jumps up, she is bound to knock some of them off and make a terrible racket – which will scare her off the counter.

Another aversive technique is to run strips of double-sided tape over the top of your counter. Your cat will dislike walking on the sticky stuff. You can also try covering the counter with plastic or aluminum foil, which will feel pretty uncomfortable to your felines sensitive paws.

Whatever method you choose, you will probably need to apply it for several days until your cat learns that the counter is not a fun place.

We all know whos the boss of your home (heres a hint: not you). But there are times when you need to keep your cat from places where she doesnt belong, such as the kitchen counter or dinner table. By keeping unattended food off them and using some scare tactics when your cat tries to jump up, it is possible to maintain some control over where your cat spends his time.