Essential Oils To Keep Cats Off Counters

Cats jumping onto kitchen counters is a common problem that many cat owners face. While cats may see counters as an exciting playground, there are good reasons for cat owners to want to keep their feline friends off these surfaces. Countersurfing, as it’s called, can pose safety risks for cats and risks of contamination for human food preparation areas. Before turning to harsh training methods or products, many cat owners first try natural deterrents like essential oils to discourage the behavior.

Essential oils have gained popularity as an alternative approach to deter cats from unwanted behaviors or areas. When used properly, certain scents are aversive for cats without being unsafe or cruel like shock mats or loud noise deterrents. This guide will cover why cats counter surf, how to choose and use essential oils safely around cats to keep them off counters, and alternative solutions for stubborn surfers.

Why Cats Jump on Counters

Cats are naturally curious animals who like to explore their surroundings. According to this article, “The cats’ motivation to get on the kitchen counter is usually one of two things: curiosity or food.” There are a few key reasons why cats jump up on counters:


Cats have an innate desire to explore their environment and satisfy their curiosity. Countertops offer a high vantage point for cats to check out a room. Since counters are typically off-limits, this makes them even more appealing for curious cats to investigate.

Attention Seeking

Some cats jump on counters to get their owner’s attention, especially if the owner consistently reacts by picking up the cat and putting them back down. The cat learns that jumping on the counter leads to interaction.

Food Motivation

Cats can smell and see human food being prepared on counters. Their strong sense of smell leads them to investigate any appetizing aromas. Some cats are persistent about trying to eat human food off the counters.

Dangers of Countersurfing for Cats

Cats jumps up onto counters to explore new heights and satisfy their natural curiosity. However, counters can pose some real dangers to cats that owners should be aware of.

One of the biggest risks is falling. Cats can easily lose their balance on slick surfaces like countertops and fall onto the floor below. This kind of fall can lead to injuries like sprains, fractures, and other trauma. An unexpected fall is disorienting and scary for cats. Preventing access to counters protects cats from an unnecessary injury risk.

Countertops may have hot spots from appliances like ovens and coffee makers. A cat walking across the counter could burn their paws by stepping on a hot burner or heated surface. These types of burns are extremely painful and require immediate veterinary treatment.

Eating human food left on the counter can make cats sick. Cats have different nutritional needs than humans, and people food can upset their digestive systems. Cats are also at risk for poisoning from ingesting cleaning products, chemicals, and medications stored on counters. Keeping cats off counters reduces health risks.

Trying Other Deterrents First

Before resorting to essential oils, there are some other common household items that may discourage cats from jumping on counters:

Tin foil – Covering counters with sheets of tin foil when not in use creates an uncomfortable surface for cats to walk on. The crinkly noise it makes can also startle cats when they jump up. However, some especially stubborn cats may get used to the foil over time.1

Double sided tape – Applying strips of double sided tape to edges and surfaces of counters leaves a sticky, undesirable residue on cat paws. This can deter cats from jumping up. It’s best to use wider strips rather than narrow ones. But it will also need to be replaced frequently as it loses stickiness.2

Motion activated devices – There are many electronic devices available that detect cat motion and then emit sounds, puffs of air, or other deterrents. These can surprise cats in the act, but may become less effective as cats learn their patterns and limits.


Choosing the Right Essential Oils

When selecting essential oils to deter cats from counters, there are a few key options that are known to be effective and safe:

Citrus Oils – Citrus essential oils like lemon, orange, grapefruit, lime, and citronella naturally contain chemicals that cats find offensive. According to this source, citrus oils are a great choice to help keep cats off counters.

Lavender – Lavender essential oil has a strong fragrance that cats dislike. Diluted lavender oil can be safely used on areas where cats are unwanted, as mentioned in this resource.

Peppermint – The strong minty aroma of peppermint oil is offensive to cats but safe for them when properly diluted. According to this article, peppermint is one of the most effective essential oils for deterring cats.

When selecting an essential oil, be sure to choose one that is known to be safe for cats. Only use food-grade, 100% pure essential oils and always dilute them adequately in a carrier oil before use around cats.

Using Essential Oils Safely Around Cats

When using essential oils around cats, proper dilution and application is crucial to avoid toxicity. Many essential oils like wintergreen, peppermint, pine, eucalyptus and clove can be dangerous to cats if used undiluted or in high concentrations. According to Hill’s Pet Nutrition, essential oils should always be diluted to 0.5-2% to avoid harming cats.

When diluting an essential oil, use a carrier oil as the base. Good carrier oils include fractionated coconut oil, sweet almond oil, jojoba oil, olive oil, or hempseed oil. Mix 1-2 drops of essential oil per ounce of carrier oil for safe dilution. It’s also best to do a skin patch test on your cat before wide application to check for irritation or allergic reaction.

Proper application for essential oils around cats means avoiding diffusion and topical use. The safest method is to apply diluted oils on objects like scratching posts, cat beds, or cardboard scratch pads. This allows the scent to deter cats from unwanted areas without direct contact. According to Happy Tail Vet, always monitor your cat closely when first using essential oils and discontinue if any irritation occurs.

Application Methods

There are a few different ways to apply essential oils safely around cats to deter them from counters:

Spray Bottles

Mix 5-10 drops of cat-safe essential oils like lemongrass, lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus with water in a spray bottle. Lightly mist areas you want to deter cats from, like countertops, tables, and any other surfaces. Be sure not to spray directly on your cat. The smell will deter them from jumping up without harming them.1


Place a few drops of essential oils onto a cotton ball or pad and put inside a small sachet or bag. Tuck these sachets near areas you want to keep cats away from. The smell will permeate the area but keeps the oils safely enclosed. Reapply oils every few days as the smell starts fading.2


Use an essential oil diffuser to disperse cat-deterring scents throughout rooms cats are jumping on counters. Follow directions to add oils like lemongrass, citrus, lavender, peppermint, or eucalyptus. Diffusers allow the scent to cover large areas and also humidifies the air.2

Preventing Habituation

Cats can become accustomed to certain scents over time, so it’s important to prevent habituation when using essential oils as deterrents. One effective strategy is rotating between different essential oils. For example, you could use lemon oil for a few days, then switch to lavender, then peppermint. The variation will help prevent your cat from getting too used to any one scent.

You can also combine essential oils with other deterrent methods to maximize effectiveness. Spray bottles with essential oil mixes can be coupled with things like sticky tape, aluminum foil, or plastic carpet runners placed on the counter. Using multiple approaches makes it more difficult for a cat to overcome the deterrents. Just be sure not to combine anything that could be toxic for cats.

Pay attention to your cat’s response over time. If they seem less bothered by an oil, switch it up. Preventing habituation takes some vigilance, but rotating oils and combining methods can help keep cats off counters in a safe, humane way.


Considering Individual Cat’s Needs

When using essential oils around cats, it’s important to consider factors like the cat’s age and any pre-existing health conditions. Kittens and older cats may be more sensitive to essential oils than adult cats. Kittens have immature immune and metabolic systems, so they cannot process toxins as effectively. Older cats often have liver or kidney problems that make it difficult to metabolize oils as well. Before using oils around any cat, consult a veterinarian, especially if the cat is very young or old.

Cats with respiratory conditions like asthma should not be exposed to essential oil vapors, as this can exacerbate breathing issues. Oils should also be avoided for cats with liver disease, kidney disease, gastrointestinal issues, or cancer. The liver processes most toxins in the body, so cats with compromised livers are at higher risk for toxicity from oils. Kidney disease also impairs a cat’s ability to eliminate oils from their system. For any cat with an underlying health condition, it’s best to avoid essential oils altogether.

Every cat is unique, so carefully observe how each individual responds to an essential oil before diffusing it regularly in their environment. If any symptoms of a reaction occur, such as coughing, drooling, lethargy, or agitation, discontinue use immediately. Start with very small amounts of diluted oils and supervise the cat closely. What is safe for one cat may not be safe for another. Get guidance from a vet before exposing cats with health issues to essential oils.

When to Call the Vet

If you suspect your cat may have ingested essential oils, it’s crucial to call your vet or an animal poison control center like the ASPCA Poison Control Hotline at (888) 426-4435 immediately ( Signs of essential oil toxicity in cats can include (

  • Excessive drooling or vomiting
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Tremors or uncoordinated movements
  • Depression or lethargy

Cats can be especially sensitive to essential oils due to their smaller size, so it’s better to err on the side of caution. Even if you don’t observe any immediate symptoms, ingestion of certain oils can cause long-term liver damage (

You should also contact your vet if the essential oil deterrents don’t seem to be working and your cat continues counter surfing. There may be an underlying medical reason for the behavior, such as cognitive decline, that needs to be addressed.

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