Do you have trouble keeping your cats from climbing on everything in your house? You are not alone! Most cat owners know the frustration of trying to train your cat to stay off of unwanted surfaces, such as tables, countertops, and high shelves. Learn about why your cat practices this climbing behavior, what you can do to discourage this behavior in certain areas, and how to redirect its attention so that both you and your cat can be happy and safe.
Cats have developed into incredibly adept hunters, jumpers and climbers over years of evolution. Their sharp claws, strong hind quarters, flexible spines, and back muscles help them to jump horizontally and vertically to astounding distances. Although it varies according to cat size, the average domestic cat can jump 7 to 9 feet, or 5 to 6 times their body length. That is an incredible feat!
While some cat owners may have some cats that prefer to stay lower to the ground, many cats enjoy climbing for several reasons. First, cats like to have a good vantage point of their territory. When they are on top of a kitchen cabinet, they can see everything and everyone easily, helping them to overlook their entire kingdom. Second, cats like to feel safe. If they feel threatened by other pets or family members in the home, staying on a high surface can be a good way to get much needed privacy and protection. Third, cats like to entertain themselves. Climbing can serve as a fun activity to exercise and get attention from their human companions. Fourth, cats may be hungry, and climbing on countertops and tables could be a way for them to sneak in left over morsels or snacks.
One important thing to keep in mind is that climbing is a perfectly normal and healthy behavior for cats. If you do not want your cat to climb in certain areas of the home, yet they continue to do so, you need to understand the root of their motivation. For example, if your cat counter surfs because they are looking for scraps of human food, or the cabinet you store their food in, consider a simple change. Relocate their food to a safe storage alternative and always ensure you put human food away properly and clean your counters after cooking to eliminate enticing aromas. If your cat is bored, make sure you set time aside each day for quality time with your cat. This could include a walk outside, a play session with their favorite toy, or a snuggle session. If your cat feels unsafe or lacks confidence in its environment, consider purchasing cat-friendly furniture that can be used as a climbing surface or hiding spot.
Although discouraging unwanted behavior in your cat is perfectly acceptable, it is important to do so in a way that is safe for your cat, does not erode your bond, and does not serve as a punishment. Cats cannot understand why they are being punished for an action they committed minutes or hours ago, and doing so will make them fearful of you. Scolding, pushing, spritzing, or tool use (i.e.: a broom) could harm your cat and is especially not recommended for skittish cats.
Instead of spraying your cat with a water bottle (or even worse, hitting them) try discouraging their climbing behavior with environmental triggers that will make them less inclined to climb on a particular surface again. For example, placing trays on the edge of a counter so that your cat accidentally causes it to fall on the ground with a crashing sound, will most likely make them think twice about climbing that surface again. There are certain scents cats do not like, such as citrus, so cleaning tables and countertops with citrus-scented cleaners may make them want to keep their distance.
The nice thing about these environmental triggers is that they work whether you are present or not, so their unwanted behavior is consistently discouraged. Additionally, cats associate this discouragement with the trigger and not you, which means your bond with your cat will not suffer.
If your cat needs a safe space off of the ground, or just enjoys climbing for the pure act, there are many products on the market you can buy or build for your home. For example, cat condos are great furniture pieces for cats to climb, scratch, hide and play. There are also a variety of cat shelves, steps, and cubes you can install in your walls to give your cats plenty of climbing surfaces. By incorporating these designs into your home, you can double the surfaces for cats to explore, offering them great enrichment and joy.
In our house we decided that although it is not okay for our cats to sit on the dining table and kitchen counter, it is okay for them to sit on the dining chairs and high top stools. With this compromise, our cats still get a higher vantage point and enjoy being close to us, and we are happy because they aren't soiling cooking and eating surfaces with their paws. Sometimes you just have to compromise to create a happy home for you and your cat. Figure out what is right for you in your home!
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