Should cats be Allowed on Kitchen Countertops? Opinions of Cat Owners and Veterinarians are Divided

Are your cats kitchen countertop-surfers? Are they magnetically attracted them? Perhaps they are hunting for particles of treasured rare roast beef, hamburger meat or boiled chicken! After all cats do have a spectacular sense of smell!

Cats on Countertop
Cats on Countertop. Photo by Jo Singer.
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In our household, the only time our cats are not permitted on our kitchen countertops is when we are preparing a meal. It seems that my permissiveness and laissez faire attitude concerning our kitties surfing the kitchen countertops isn’t quite in line with the results of a recent survey presented to both veterinary professionals and cat owners.

In a recent article by veterinarian Dr. Karen Becker, Becker reported that over a thousand veterinary professionals and 167 cat owners were asked whether cats should be given free access to kitchen countertops.

Without discussing the reasons cats may be attracted to kitchen countertops, (i.e., whether they were “hunting” for a tasty morsel or checking out their environment), 21% thought it was fine, 13% said they “rarely” allow it and 54.5% were hell-bent against it. Dr. Becker reported an “other” option in which 11.4% of the votes were from veterinary professionals.

The vets had similar opinions; 28% said that countertop surfing was okay with them if their cats countertop-surfed, 11% said, “Rarely” and 48.1% were adamantly against this behavior. The rest of the survey takers put an X in the “other” box.

It seems that understanding feline behavior may play a part in accepting feline countertop-surfing. According to the report, 35% of the veterinarians’ reasons differed somewhat about being okay with feline counter-surfing, reasoning that cats feel safer on higher levels than being on the ground. At least 39% of the owners didn’t mind their cats being on the countertops. Dr. Becker said, “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.”

“Letting the cat out of the bag”, (pardon the expression), Dr. Becker admitted that she along with 22% of veterinarians and 17% of cat owners are okay with cats countertop surfing since it’s a “moot issue.” “Cats are going to do what they want to do anyway, especially when nobody’s around to object.”

A quarter of each group had no problem with their kitty jumping onto the kitchen counter if the cat perceives an impending threat. Coming in second in the survey both the veterinarians and owners try to keep their cats off the kitchen counters while they are preparing a meal, but don’t attempt to dissuade them at other times.

What came as a surprise in the survey was only 5 percent of cat owners and 2 percent of veterinarians claimed to be more assiduous about keeping their cat off the kitchen countertops when they had company. The “other” option revealed that 36 percent of the cat owners and 46 percent of the veterinarians claimed their reactions had to do more with if someone was around to enforce the “no counter” rule, and a few respondents decided that at some point all the options might be successful for them depending on the circumstances.

Hygiene issues may be an important reason for the people who arduously object to their cats counter surfing. Although cat owners know that felines instinctively keep themselves clean they might wonder where their cat’s paws have recently been. After all, if the cat just used their litter box, can their paws really be clean? The fact of the matter according to Dr. Becker is that “cats give themselves a bath on the average of half of their waking hours, and some cats actually bathe too often.”

Cat owners who are highly upset about their cats surfing the kitchen counters can redirect this unwanted behavior by providing their cats with an alternate resource such high perches located in strategic areas. This is a win-win situation for all concerned.

Our cats suspect that our kitchen countertops are goldmines loaded with all kinds of precious delights – and often they are right on the money. The act of feeding cats on the countertops may teach cats “bad” manners. This type of permissiveness is considered by many to be verboten. But when our kitties are being picky, offering them food on top one of their favorite hang-out spots does inspire them to start chowing- down.

As a devoted kitty guardian, when it comes to countertop surfing under which category do you generally find yourself? Share your thoughts in a comment.

68 thoughts on “Should cats be Allowed on Kitchen Countertops? Opinions of Cat Owners and Veterinarians are Divided”

  1. Serbella,

    Since I have been eagerly following your story about Samirah’s adoption for quite a long time now, I feel moved to openly express the appreciation and empathy I feel for your patience and willingness to do everything possible to overcome the traumas that Samirah experienced before you were blessed by having this amazing kitty in your life.

    Your condo sounds that the purrfect high place for her to survey her environment- and who knows- one of these days she may even attempt a countertop perch. She is trusting you and loving you and that is the most important thing. Blessings to you both. I am deeply moved by your story.

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  2. My cat Gemma is charged with making sure I wash dishes correctly, and that requires watching me while sitting on the counter. There is no way that we could possibly keep Gemma, and her sister Bella, off the counter, except when we prepare food. However, we use a cutting board and don’t put food directly on the counter. They have carte blanche in our home. If I did want them off the counter, I would get the motion activated canned air, which does keep them from climbing my TV and doesn’t hurt them.

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    • that requires watching me while sitting on the counter

      That makes me smile and is so typical of cats and you know it is a great way to stimulate and entertain your cat while doing housework. It does two things at the same time all because Gemma is allowed on the countertop.

      Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Yes, the cats should always be allowed everywhere, especially if there are dogs or children about. Cats do not really come to their own and show their true personality if they are “trained” not go to here or there or not do this or that. A cat crouching meekly on the floor is a sad sight.

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  4. Hey, Jo!

    I wish my girl Samirah would leap up on the countertops. I’m not fussy about that. Years ago my Angel was bored so she climbed up on the sink and merrily pushed the pots and pans off onto the floor. She was so loud my neighbor called me at work because she thought someone had broken into the apartment.

    All my other cats regularly explored the counters and the sink. Not this girl. When Samirah came to me a year ago she never showed any interest, even tho I know she realizes that’s where the food comes from. She was more interested in the toilet seat and jumped up there without hesitation to take a drink. That’s closed off to her now. Her Majesty has her very own water bowl in the tub and an electric fountain in the living room.

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    • Hi Serbella, thanks for sharing your experiences. Did you adopt Samirah as an adult and if so I wonder if she was trained to avoid countertops? I doubt it but just might be why. It is natural for cats to climb and jump vertical spaces.

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      • Michael, I think she was trained, but not in a good way. Samirah is 14 years old. Her first owner had her for 12 years. After the lady went into a nursing home Samirah stayed in the shelter for a year before I adopted her. I’ve had her for a year. The first time I pulled out a broom Samirah ran and hid. Then she came out and looked at me; she was puzzled because I didn’t chase her. She had the same reaction the first time I shook out a trash bag to open it. Now I can’t be sure about abuse, but I have my suspicions. I don’t make a big deal out of this. Most days she’s way more relaxed now and sits and watches me sweep. The trash bags don’t bother her much anymore.

        She has a split level kitty condo I made for her out of 7 large, heavy duty computer boxes. I’ve noticed she has absolutely no problem leaping from the floor to the second level. She’s pretty spry for an old girl. She’ll walk around the kitchen but makes no attempt to investigate the countertops.

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        • It does sound as if she has been through some stressful situations in her past before being with you and it seems quite possible she was possibly punished for jumping on a countertop. Well done for making her feel content.

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          • She probably was punished. I’m glad I made that condo for her. She climbs and leaps and jumps all over it. Her old owner’s family had the chance to take her and they didn’t. I’m glad they didn’t. They missed out on a real sweetie.

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  5. My cats eat on the kitchen counter because otherwise the dogs would help themselves to kitty cuisine. Frankly, I couldn’t care less if the cats are on the counter or not….and like many of you said, cats will do what they want anyway. I just make sure that I clean the countertop before I prepare our human meals. I would prefer the cats not to countersurf when company is here, but hey, it’s their house not the company’s, right? 🙂

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  6. Its interesting the differences in what is most common in the USA or UK. Over here (UK) its more common to have cats allowed out to terrorise the neighbourhood;) But I understand that in the US any sensible cat guardian has to consider the local wildlife, as its far more likely there will be things that could be serious predators of a domestic cat.
    For me – with cats that get to roam round the local area and come and go as they please – it seems they have enough to amuse them that they aren’t that fussed about the places I “encourage” them to avoid. I suspect if they were confined to the house they would be far more inclined to want to investigate every nook in the house!

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    • Hannah I think you make a valid point about the differences in lifestyle having an influence.

      None of my indoor-outdoor cats were remotely interested in getting on kitchen worktops even when food was around. When I lived in a flat it was a different matter and they were always on the worktops or on top of the kitchen cupboards. I assume purely because those were the highest points in the room and had to act as substitute walls or tree branches 😉

      Reply

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