By Dr. Becker
More than a thousand veterinary professionals and 167 cat owners were asked if cats should be allowed to freely roam the kitchen counters. Without discussing what the kitty might be up to, whether to troll for food or survey the landscape, 21 percent viewed it favorably, 13 percent said they "rarely" allow it and 54.5 percent responded with a resounding "no." There was also an "other" option, which claimed 11.4 percent of the votes from veterinary professionals.
Cat owners seemed somewhat more permissive than the veterinarians; 28 percent said their cats' counter surfing was okay with them, 11 percent said "rarely," and 48.1 gave it a definite negative. The remainder of the survey takers put an X in the "other" box.
Why Would Cats Get a Counter Pass?
In comparison with cat owners in general, 35 percent of the veterinarian group had slightly different reasons for being okay with cats on the kitchen counter, figuring that kitties feel safer when they're higher than ground level. The owners, at least 39 percent of them, were simply not bothered by the issue. The upshot is that while vet professionals might not allow cats on the counter as a rule, they're more likely than your run-of-the-mill cat owner to turn a blind eye for this reason.
Of course, a lot of the vets (me included) and cat owners (22 percent and 17 percent, respectively) decided it's a moot issue whether or not they're okay with cats jumping up on the kitchen counters, because cats are going to do what they want to do anyway, especially when nobody's around to object. Why bother trying to make them listen to reason? And who knows what your cat does when he's home alone? Write-ins on the poll confirmed that at the end of the day, that's the basic rationale for both groups; in essence, "What're you gonna do?"
Dr. Becker's cat Squishy, after jumping from the counter to the top of the refrigerator
Is There Ever a Reason for Cats to Be on the Counter?
The general consensus for just over a quarter of each group was that it's acceptable if kitties jump up on the kitchen counter if they're using it as a spontaneous getaway from a perceived threat. Coming in a close second on the survey was that both owners and veterinarians make an effort at keeping counters off limits to their frisky felines during meal preparation, but otherwise relax the boundaries.
Surprisingly, only 2 percent of the vet professionals and 5 percent of the kitty owners said they tried to be more diligent about keeping their pets off the counter in the presence of guests. The "other" option gleaned the most significant response: 46 percent of the veterinary professionals and 36 percent of cat owners said it had more to do with whether or not somebody was around to enforce the "no counter" rule, and several decided all the options might work for them at some point, depending on the circumstances.
Why Discourage Counter Hopping?
It's no surprise, perhaps, that the overwhelming reason both groups disapprove of cats roaming kitchen counters has to do with hygiene issues.
Another thing cat owners will tell you is that felines keep themselves cleaner than canines, a fact that most dog owners won't argue with. Perhaps the real issue here is that dogs and cats are different. Dogs seldom feel the need to jump up on the kitchen counter. But if you see your cat there, you have to ask yourself where your cat's paws have been. Some people reason that after using the litter box a kitty's paws can't be sanitary, but cats give themselves a bath on the average of half their waking hours.1 Some cats actually bathe too often.
Another problem with cats' counter surfing is claw marks on the cupboard doors and drawers. The answer to that is: never declaw your cat, but find new places in your house for her to jump to elevate her perspective.
Paws and Reflect: Kitchen Counter Alternatives
If you have other pets in your home, it's possible the cat might need an alternate perch or two that is high enough to keep her from scrambling onto the kitchen counter whenever the pups amble her way. A small table near a window she likes, a special basket with her own blanket in a favorite area of the house, or a jungle gym for cats complete with tunnels, scratching surfaces and catnip toys – these will all go a long way toward encouraging her to opt for these as go-to places when she needs to feel safe, rather than heading for the kitchen counter.
I've been able to reduce the amount of cat naps occurring on my kitchen counters by doing two things: moving a higher cat tree with lots of napping spots close to the counters, and using the pure essential oils of lemon and tangerine (diluted with vinegar water), misted on my countertops several times a day. Unlike me, cats hate the smell of citrus.
Finally, while a few might argue this point, some cats can be trained. They're able to learn how to take walks wearing a harness attached to a leash – they can even be trained to use a toilet – so they can certainly learn to stay off the kitchen counter. If Fluffy gets a little testy or bossy, you can use gentle persuasion to get her to see things your way; food as an incentive is one. Gentleness and an ability to read her mood are important. If you feel you need help with a cat who won't take no for an answer, your veterinarian can be called on for advice.