Keeping cats off kitchen counters – should we?

If you search Google for “cats on kitchen counters” you bring up a series of pages on how to keep cats off kitchen counters. That’s the default position. There is little discussion about why, on a scientific basis, cats should be kept off kitchen worksurfaces. Of course the reason is about hygiene. However, 35% of veterinarians are okay with cats jumping up on to kitchen counters and about 39% of cat owners are not bothered about it. Therefore, this is not a black-and-white issue. Clearly there is no hard scientific evidence in favour of banning cats from kitchen counters. If there were 100% of cat owners including me would stop it.

Judging by the stats, there are a lot of cat owners who don’t see a problem with it and I’d bet my bottom dollar that these cat owners are no less healthy than others because they let their cats walk on worktops. As far as I am aware, there are no studies on whether cats transmit disease to their owners because they walk on kitchen countertops.

On a practical, and observational level, and over decades of looking after cats, I have never felt there is a problem with my cat jumping up onto my kitchen counter. The only possible hygiene issue could be that a cat has gone to the cat litter, defecated and then walked in his faeces and then jumped up onto the counter, in that sequence. I see it that is the only realistic situation where a cat could possibly transmit something to their owner but even then we are not sure what they can transmit other than toxoplasmosis and this disease is mainly transmitted by handling raw produce. Perhaps it is the fear of toxoplasmosis which results in so many articles about how to stop your cat jumping up onto the kitchen counter but I doubt it.

Cats as we know are fastidious self-cleaner. They often clean themselves after going to the toilet. In addition, the cat’s owner can and probably does clean the countertop before preparing food which prevents disease transmission.

Further, it is probably impractical to guarantee that your cat will not jump up onto the counter at some stage. Unless you have some sort of device on the counter which squirts water at the cat or makes a noise or makes it difficult for the cat to walk on the counter by presenting a physical barrier to it.

I feed my cat on the kitchen counter because it is much easier to clean up after him. Also it is a high point and therefore a cat is more likely to feel comfortable eating on a kitchen countertop.

I’m not sure that there’s any real hard and fast scientific basis for preventing a cat walking on a kitchen countertop. It is more about the emotional state of mind of the cat’s owner which dictates whether they allow it or not.

If you asked a cat owner why they prevented a cat jumping up on the kitchen counter they would probably say because of potential disease transmission and therefore hygiene reasons. But would they be able to tell you what kind of disease they are preventing from being transmitted? There is this general concept that animals should not be on the countertop. It feels wrong to some people. They were probably raised that way and do it without thinking. It is the same reason why people don’t want to see animals in restaurants. But I don’t think it’s entirely rational.

Further, people are just as likely to transmit disease to other people in the kitchen and onto food because, for example, they haven’t washed their hands properly or they mishandle food and there’s cross contamination.

Cats prevented from jumping up onto kitchen countertops no doubt jump up onto other items of furniture which are handled by people. There is little difference. And as mentioned the cat’s owner will usually prepare an area in the kitchen for food preparation by cleaning the countertop first. That, I believe, should be sufficient to deal with any hygiene issues. Is a much simpler solution and as effective. It also avoids having to scold your cat. How many cats are scolded and criticised or shouted at because they jumped onto worksurfaces? That can’t be good for the human/cat relationship.

There is, perhaps, one last point to make and that is about risk-taking. Some people are risk-takers and therefore less likely to prevent their cat jumping up on the work surfaces while others are more cautious, houseproud and particular about health issues. I put myself in the former category. Which category are you in?




2 thoughts on “Keeping cats off kitchen counters – should we?”

  1. I have so many more important things in my life than to try and keep my cats off the counter. They own the breakfast bar and are pretty good about staying on that when we’re preparing food. I’m very careful when someone other than us is going to eat the food but were sanitary with food all the time. My cats like being eye level with me in the kitchen I’m good with it.

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  2. Michael, I think you have heard from me enough to know that my *kids* are allowed anywhere in the house!! LOL!! If I was going to die from it, or contract some disease, I would have done so many, many years ago! My home (apartment) is their home too, and I have always believed that they should be allowed to lie or sleep anywhere — and they do. They usually want to be wherever I happen to be — even if it’s getting a shower! I will not EVER change a thing, and if company doesn’t like it, too bad!! It’s not their home! It belongs to myself, my son and our 13 kitties — and for Tyler and me, the kitties come first!! I clean any surface that I need to use to prepare food so I really don’t see this as an issue. . .great article!! ♥♥♥

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