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Our 2 cats like to jump on our kitchen counters, which we would like to prevent. We currently have:

  • a ScatMat Indoor Pet Training Mat, which gives a mild electric shock when stood on; however, this takes up counter space, and it would be expensive to get enough to cover all of our counters.

  • SSSCAT Spray Pet Deterrent, which sprays compressed air when it detects movement; however, we get sprayed as often as the cats, and the bottles need replacing.

We would like a deterrent that distinguishes between people and cats. While we at first thought of an AI-based solution, a friend suggested having multiple sensors, so negative feedback was triggered if, for example, a movement was detected above/on the counter but not below (because permitted human beings would have legs on the floor below).

We don't know exactly how to convert that idea into reality, nor if it is the best approach. We are comfortable with Arduino-like technology.

Here are additional constraints:

  • Our cats do not wear collars (although they are micro-chipped), and we are not willing to wear collars or tags.

  • Human members of our household range from 5 to 6 feet in height.

  • Our cats are fully grown and weigh between 10 and 12 pounds. (One is orange, and the other is black. I'm not sure if that helps, since we wear clothing of all different colors.)

  • We would like the solution to work at nighttime as well as daytime. We are willing to leave on lights in the kitchen.

  • We do not want to permanently deface the kitchen, which was recently remodeled.

Here is a photograph of a typical counter in our kitchen:

kitchen counter with cabinets above and below

The answers to keeping cats out of open loft and other cat-related questions are not relevant, since this is specifically about detecting cats on a counter, not cat-proofing a space or what negative reinforcement to provide.

  • One place to begin is to stop leaving food waste on the counters - see left hand side. – Weather Vane Nov 5 at 8:47
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    Ellen, just to clarify (before answers go in all different directions): is your question about how to keep the cats off the counter (which may encourage all kinds of hacks), or what tech solution could detect cats (which is probably not a good fit for this site and should/could be migrated to one of our sister sites). For the former: Did you know that there’s also Pets SE? I bet you are not the first nor last cat owner with the problem and checking there may also be interesting for you. – Stephie Nov 7 at 6:48
  • @WeatherVane There is not food waste on the counter. – Ellen Spertus Nov 8 at 4:33
  • @Stephie Thanks, it probably should be migrated to another site, such as Arduino. – Ellen Spertus Nov 8 at 19:05
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    You need more than something which can only indicate/detect presence or absence, without preventing specific behaviour. Your pets have already learned how to avoid the deterrent you've purchased (with their own integral pressure detectors for weight). No matter what the detection is, you'll still need to find a compatible deterrent. – Stan Nov 11 at 14:01
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There are a few ways to keep cats off counters:

First is deterrents.

You can buy commercial products or use home made versions. Cats hate the feel of aluminium foil, and placing that on the counter tops can stop them from going up there. You might need to sticky tape it in place for a few days/weeks, depending upon how stubborn the cat is. You can also use smells as a deterrent. For example, many cats will avoid products that smell of citrus (note in high doses citrus can be poisonous to cats). So if you dilute some citrus (lemon or orange) in water and wipe your table tops, they may avoid it. Bonus is your house can smell nicer.

The Cause of the Problem

Try and see when they go up there. Is it at night? Or is it during the day when you might be using the kitchen?

If at night, they could be bored and looking for entertainment. Giving self-interactive toys can help. Also combine with deterrents in first step.

If it's when you are in the kitchen, they might be interested in what you are doing. Cats are social creatures, despite the common myth. They like to consider us humans as parents, and will try and copy what we do as if learning from us. Just think of them like toddlers. Cats also love being up high, where its safe. The countertops give excellent safety (compared to floor), with bonus ability to watch you as well.

Can you place a shelf/cat tree/area where the cats are allowed to sit up high and watch you? I have a small cardboard box that my cat is allowed to sit in. I can move it easily from different rooms, and she knows that she's only allowed to sit in that box and not walk around on countertops/tables. Since teaching her the box is allowed, the worst she does is jump up onto a counter to run straight across to the box (she obviously can't see where it is from the ground, but regular spots can be helpful).

Training

This is the hard part as you aren't always around. Yelling at cats is counter-productive. Never spray or hit them either! Training is about building trust and teaching them whats allowed. If you catch them doing something they aren't allowed to (scratching, being on a counter, etc), gently pick them up and move them to where you want them to be. Mother cats use this technique to teach babies where and how to scratch (so you can teach them not to scratch a couch but the scratching post). You may need to show them what to do, for example "if you want to be up on the counter you need to sit in your box". Reward them with pats and treats when they do something correctly, especially if they do it without your guidance. This is a long term solution, but by far the most effective.

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    Hi Kathleen, Welcome to Lifehacks. It's true. I've noticed that cats, when given a choice, will prefer being in a cardboard box over most any other place. You're suggesting using a c/b box to give your cat a "special" personal space to be rather than trying to discourage all other places. Positive attitude rather than negative attitude. A choice—I like it. Nice start. Good point +1. – Stan Nov 18 at 14:59
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Consider experimenting with a botanical solution as a possible deterrent to feline trespass.

I have it from an experienced cat owner (who also has kitchen counters) that cats will not go near marigolds (the flower).

Maybe a floral arrangement will be the kitchen accessory you require as your Lifehack

Good luck.

Update: After negative response in voting and comments, I consulted with three different well-established "mixed-care" veterinarians who assured me after some research that pot marigolds were not toxic to house cats. In the same breath, one did mention that generally, yes, cats do like to munch on flowers as per a comment.

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    Many common houseplants, including some marigold varieties, are toxic to cats, and cats in general are prone to chewing on them, regardless of your friend's experience: pets.thenest.com/marigolds-toxic-cats-10178.html – Allison C Nov 8 at 15:27
  • @AllisonC You waaaaay overstated your comment. According to multiple sites: Yes and no. Pot Marigolds are known to be “harmless” to dogs and cats, though the tagetes form is known to cause more problems with cats. Again, this toxicity is commonly very, very mild, though it should be taken seriously if symptoms last for more than an hour. – Stan Nov 11 at 22:33
  • read it again. Your broad answer still covers potentially toxic houseplants and is anecdotally based on one case of secondhand information. It's not a good answer, regardless of how many "a"s you stick in the word "way." – Allison C Nov 12 at 13:41
  • @AllisonC Semantics. Your "toxic" is defined as an "irritant" by others. And that's exactly what the situation calls for. You want to deter cats on the counter by providing something that is unpleasant. Anyway, I'll not argue with you because each person will come to their own conclusions. As indicated by my past comment upvote that I agree with your first comment, however, that the issue has two sides and that care must be exercised. Thanks for the added caution which is helpful. – Stan Nov 12 at 14:53
  • and my "toxic" is defined as "toxic" by multiple sources as well. The situation doesn't call for poisoning the cat, only deterring it, and toxic plants (whatever the degree of toxicity) are not a deterrent and may even be an attractant. (Feel free to tell my cats that oxalis is supposed to be unappealing to them, they'll disagree to the ends of the earth, which is why I removed my oxalis from the house.) – Allison C Nov 12 at 15:01
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As you appear to have an organized and logical mind leaning toward a technological solution, I will not go into much detail about what I feel is the most effective one:

Get a dog.

Now, the lesser desirable alternative:

Technological.

You must add "logic" to the set-up to realize your project. With sufficient gates (and, or, nand, nor), you can distinguish between any of the constraints.

The sources and detectors can be photonic (infrared) which is stable off-the-shelf hardware. Ultrasonic may not be discriminating enough to separate you from your pets. If you choose to use matched emitter/receiver beams with a retro-reflector, you can set boundaries. With optics, a fan-shaped beam to flood an area can be read by an array of detectors simultaneously so that relative position (even size) can be established.

After you have established the areas and conditions with the help of a floor plan for layout, you would establish an "If-Then" "look-up table" to rig the gates (logic) to trigger the response of the deterrent of choice.

Now, the hardest part of a successful conclusion to the problem

How you propose to establish discipline is the delicate question as you must take appropriate action to discourage your pets' behaviour. Light? Sound? Motion? Whichever you choose must be activated by the robotics to have the desired effect.

Detecting the cats is the easy part of the problem. Shoo-ing them away from the "off limits" locations when you're not around to do it will be the hard part.

Interesting (not unusual) problem. Let us know how it goes/went.

Good luck.

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    > Get a dog. We got the cats to deal with the mice. If we get dogs to take care of the cats, what sort of beat will we need to control the dogs? – Ellen Spertus Nov 5 at 0:51
  • Is there a certain technology you recommend? – Ellen Spertus Nov 5 at 0:52
  • @EllenSpertus You'll only need one dog (and a bag of treats.) : ^ )… My field is optics so you'll have to figure out the software according to your favourite language. Arduino or Raspberry Pi development kits should be good for this. The optics (if you go that route) will be expensive, however, due to the area to be covered and the configuration combinations. Cost will vary with how clever you are in setting up the coverage. It will be a memorable project worthy of a paper in some professional societies. – Stan Nov 5 at 15:38
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    “Get a dog” may backfire. This wouldn’t be the first case of cats pushing treats off the counter to “bribe” the dog or share the spoils. – Stephie Nov 7 at 5:14
  • I've generally found that it's of no concern to the dog whether the cat is on the counter or not. The cat's location doesn't affect the dog, so the dog won't care. Even if the dog barks at the cat, either the cat will quickly learn that the dog can't reach it while on the counter (encouraging it), or the dog can reach the counter and the problem is now compounded. – Allison C Nov 11 at 18:19

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