Why Does My Cat Jump on the Table?
Cats need vertical space
An important social need for cats is to have the ability to be in an elevated space. Since they are considered both predator and prey in the animal kingdom, these spots serve as a safe place and a great vantage point.
However, it can be unsanitary to allow your cat to roam across your table and counters in your home and many owners consider these spaces off-limits to the cat.
Cats use vertical spaces as a place to get a rest other pets and children. These spaces allow the cat to get a better view of their environment that they otherwise wouldn’t have being so close to the ground. Not to mention, they are closer to humans and are able to solicit attention easier.
Cats may engage in this behavior more frequently if it is reinforced. Reinforcement is something that increases the behavior, the challenge is that the cat deems what is reinforcing to them.
Sitting in elevated places is something that cats enjoy. They can get a better view of the environment, feel safer, and may even find things to eat!
If your cat jumps up and helps themselves to an open bag of chips, they have just given themselves a treat for going on the counter. The more treats your cat gets while doing this, the more likely they are to continue.
Your cat won’t likely find something to eat every time they are on the counter or table. Unfortunately, this makes this behavior even more reinforcing because they are getting treats only some of the time. This is called intermittent reinforcement, which is like gambling. Most of the time you don’t get anything when you gamble, but sometimes you get a jackpot, and the uncertainty of reward makes you keep trying.
Even verbally punishing the cat for this may increase their behavior. Cats may jump on the table to get your attention. When you scold them for their actions, you are still giving them the attention that they are looking for.
Negative attention is still attention.
What to do
Make it less interesting
The cat may be reinforcing themselves by finding food or items to play with on the table, so you will need to make sure that you remove any object that is enticing and clear the area. If you offer your cats empty paper grocery bags or boxes on the ground, remember that they look the same as the one sitting on the table. Objects like this can make it difficult for the cat to resist, even if it is on the prohibited space. Making the area as boring as possible will help to prevent them from jumping up there.
Since one of the main reasons cats go onto the table is to find a higher spot to look out from, it is beneficial to offer them a cat tree or other object of comparable height, such as a shelf. This will give your cat the ability to be elevated in a location that is appropriate for them to be on.
If you see your cat making a good choice by going onto an appropriate elevated space, reinforce this with verbal praise or treats! You want to make this space more rewarding than the off-limits space.
Verbally or physically punishing your cat will do more harm than good. Your cat will likely continue to jump on the table because they find your scolding reinforcing, especially if they are doing this behavior for attention. Remember, negative attention is still attention.
The other consequence of punishment is that your cat becomes fearful of you. The damage to the bond with your cat will make handling and stressful situations much more difficult if your cat doesn’t trust you. Once the bond is damaged, it can be difficult to regain trust.
If you have any questions or would like help with this issue, contact us!