Porky & Buddy’s Pet Health: Cats Gotta Climb

Dear Porky & Buddy,

I just adopted a new cat, Cleo, from the Humane Society. When I went to pick her up at her foster home, she was lounging on the kitchen counter, and I thought, “Uh oh!” But she was so cute and friendly, I decided I would try to train her not to get on the counter after I got her home with me. And sure enough, she is perched on my kitchen table right now. I just really don’t like cats on my counters and tables. Why do they do that and what should I do?


Dear Karen,

Fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly. Cats gotta get somewhere nice and high. No really, we’re not kidding. Cats really really want to climb for a number of reasons. First of all, they just can. They also seek out high vantage points to survey their territory. They leap to escape from something that scares them, (or annoys them). The top of the refrigerator makes a warm, sunny place to snooze. They search counters for tasty bits of food. They are graceful and rarely break things or pose a danger to themselves, so it’s not anything to really worry about from Cleo’s point of view.

But if it really grosses you out, here is what not to do: Don’t try to punish her for this perfectly normal behavior. Don’t scold her, spank her or hit her for getting on counters and tables. Don’t threaten her with a spray bottle. It won’t teach her anything except to be frightened of you. Don’t push her off. She could fall and injure herself. Don’t use any device to scare her away from forbidden areas if there’s a chance she could be harmed by the device. For example, do not use a real mousetrap on the counter. You don’t want her flailing around your kitchen with a mousetrap on her paw and have to explain that to your vet.

Here is what does work. Create an environment on your counter or table, wherever you don’t want her to go, that will make it unpleasant for her to be there. Think of these tricks and devices as “environmental punishers.” They work without you being present. Instead, the environment “punishes” her directly. For instance, if your cat likes to jump from the floor onto the kitchen counter, balance some lightweight cookie sheets on the edge of the counter. When your cat jumps up, she’ll land on the sheets. They’ll move and possibly topple over, startling her and making an unpleasant noise when she leaps back onto the floor. She won’t be harmed by this experience, but she’ll be less likely to risk jumping on the counter again.

There are a number of commercially available devices that work on the same principle. They produce loud noises and unexpected movements, or deliver a blast of compressed air, or create a small static charge. They are harmless to your cat, but she will think there is something that is just horrible about that table or that counter and will avoid it, even when you are not home. You can find them in most pet stores.

In the meantime, you have to be reasonable about Cleo’s normal jumping and climbing behavior. She will be much happier if you provide her with acceptable places for climbing, jumping, escaping, resting and inspecting the environment. (And if you don’t, she will likely persist in leaping up onto forbidden surfaces. She’s just gotta.) Indoor cat “tree” furniture with comfortable platforms is perfect. Your house won’t look like House Beautiful, but Cleo truly won’t care. Give her plenty of comfortable beds in warm sunny areas. Give her a window perch that attaches to your window sills. Give her several, so she can follow the sun around for her twenty hours of napping every day.

In short, treat her like the royalty she knows she is for all the places you want her to go–and persuade her that the places you don’t want her to go are not up to her royal standards. And thanks for adopting.

The Oswego County Humane Society provides spay/neuter services and assistance, fostering and adoption of animals in urgent need, humane education programs, and information and referrals to animal lovers throughout Oswego County. Our office is located at 265 West First Street, Oswego, New York. Phone (315) 207-1070 . Email: [email protected] Website: www.oswegohumane.org