How to Keep Your Cats Out of the Kitchen

Had enough of cats underfoot? Don't like fur in your food? Try making your kitchen a forbidden zone. It'll give you piece of mind, and be better for your cats in the long run.

I remember the exact night my cats were banished from the kitchen. My husband was due home from work soon and we were going to have a romantic evening. I had lemon chicken simmering on the stove. I had a bath running in the oversized tub. Life was good.

I was checking the bath water when I heard what sounded like a cougar growling in my kitchen, followed by such a racket that I raced out of the bathroom still clutching a towel to see what wild animal had broken in.

There, in my kitchen, I saw that the wild animal was actually my six month old kitten, Opie. And his accomplice was his older sister, a black tuxedo cat, named Psycho. Psycho truly lived up to her name that day-it seems that she had taken a fascination with the chicken simmering on the stove. She'd braved the flame of the gas range top, stole a boiling hot piece of chicken from the pan, and dragged it across the kitchen counter top, before dropping it, presumably on the way back to her lair.

I knew she was guilty, because she still had lemon drippings all over her whiskers.

But somehow, her plan was interrupted by the kitten, who was now poised over the chicken, growling like a rabid woodland creature. The two of them had fought over the chicken, so chunks of black and orange fur were floating down in the illumination of my kitchen light, no doubt falling into the food. Smears and spatters of the much-fought-over lemon chicken were all over the floor and counter. And here was this little fur ball protecting his ill-gotten gains like he had killed the chicken himself.

Worse, when I reached down to pick it up, the kitten growled at me, and tried to slash me.

Now, I'm well aware of all those pet manuals that tell you cats don't understand negative reinforcement, that they will never learn if you treat them like dogs, and that only rewards work. But at that moment, I didn't care.

I grabbed both cats by the scruff and calmly walked to the bathroom where I unceremoniously dropped them both into my warm bath. Traumatized, they both scrambled out of the water, wet little rats in sodden fur, and for the next week, neither cat wanted to be caught by me in the kitchen again.

That's when I realized the unexpected benefits of keeping your cats out of the kitchen. I was suddenly able to cook without worrying about paws underfoot. Keeping fur out of the food was easy! The cats didn't indulge in foods that weren't good for them, and they were also kept safe from dangerous areas, like the range top.

By the time the cats were ready to brave the kitchen again, I'd decided that it should be a cat free area. I tried to reward them when they stayed out of the kitchen, but they were very confused by this. For all they knew, I could have been rewarding them for sitting still and looking pretty. We tried to put foil down on the kitchen entrance to discourage them, but neither cat was deterred.

It was my husband's super-soaker that made the difference.

Whenever a cat would go in the kitchen, we would politely tell the cat to leave. If the cat didn't obey, a jet stream of water would drench them, no doubt reminding the cat of that unhappy bath experience. Soon, the cats reached a level of understanding that the kitchen was forbidden.

This is not to say that the cats never venture in. If company has spent the night, the cats will pretend that they are allowed in the kitchen-just to see if the guests will actually object. And both cats like to think that if we aren't actually in the kitchen, then no one will be the wiser. Just touching their little toes to the linoleum floor, they really think they're getting away with something, so they didn't even bother with the countertops.

Every now and then, the husband and I will make a show of chasing them out of the kitchen, just to keep the taboo strong. But really, making the kitchen a zone of the house that the cats stay out of 90% of the time is a true success. And we've never had another "lemon chicken" incident again.