How to deter cats – a review of most popular cat deterrents and methods to keep cats away

cat stealing a fish from the tableKeeping cats off counters, away from trash bins and plant pots, or out of certain areas may appear complicated at first, but not after you include a cat deterrent in the process.

However, there are too many cat deterrent methods described on the internet and in other sources, so how do you know which works best? Which does not harm your cat or your relationship with the cat?

In this article we review most common cat deterrents and cat deterring methods. You will learn about the advantages and disadvantages of using particular cat deterrents in different situations.

  • Motion-activated cat deterrents use motion sensor technology to detect movement and perform an action that is disliked by cats. They work without a cat owner’s involvement and provide consistent training, which is a key to successful behavior modification. Not all types are the same:
    • motion activated cat deterrent spray - ssscat.

      Motion-activated air sprayers. We like these the best because: 1. They do not damage the cat or its psyche. 2. There are virtually no cats that are resistant to air spraying hiss. Two popular models are sssCat and StayAway, which both work similarly, but StayAway air is accompanied with a beep, which means that even when the air canister is empty, the cat will still run away because it will know what’s coming next. UPDATE: Unfortunately StayAway has been discontinued. You can buy sssCat here. The drawbacks of air sprayer deterrents are that they cost money, use compressed air canisters that last for only a few hundred sprays (refills are available), and you need to turn them off when you are in the area.
      Check our review of sssCat and StayAway here.

    • Ultrasound emitters, such as CatScram, release a high-frequency noise when a motion is detected. We don’t know how bad it is because humans can’t hear ultrasound. This makes CatScram irreplaceable in situations where audible noises are not welcome such as keeping a cat away from a baby’s crib or if you need to walk by it often. According to our observations, there are a few cats that don’t care about the noise, but in most cases they work perfectly. There are devices intended for both indoor and outdoor use. And, speaking of outdoor use…
    • Motion-activated water sprinklers, such as PetSafe’s ScareCrow, are the best solution for the outdoors, e.g., keeping cats out of the garden. The mechanism is self-explanatory: it’s a water sprinkler that is activated by motion and makes any cat run away when caught. Drawbacks include: it requires a water hose connection, and it must be turned off when you are in the garden (unless it’s a hot summer day).
    • Other solutions. Motion sensor technology provides many possibilities, and we might be surprised by new, both humane and torturing, ways to deter cats in the future. You can also buy a motion-activated electricity socket, which could turn on a loud radio, for example.
  • water spray bottlesWater guns and sprayers are likely the most commonly suggested cat deterring and behavior correction method, based on the belief that their use does not hurt the cat or the cat–human relationship. The first belief is true, but the second, however, is not. Water sprayers can be used to interrupt an unwanted behavior, but they are slightly useless in training. Why? Because it requires human presence; therefore, a cat learns that stealing food is not bad when done in solitude. Second, it will harm your relationship with the cat because your cat is not stupid, and it knows exactly who makes it “rain”. However, it’s still a safe way to interrupt a bad behavior.
  • Double-sided sticky tape works well on two occasions: to prevent a cat from scratching certain objects and to keep cats away from surfaces. It won’t glue the cat down, but it is displeasing to step on or paw at a sticky spot. The sad news is that it must be frequently removed and reapplied if you use the surface, and some tapes can leave sticky residue after removed. If a hardware store-bought tape leaves stains, try a product branded as Sticky Paws. It doesn’t stick that hard and, according to the manufacturer, contains non-toxic glue. The latter, though, is over-marketing, because we have never had a cat at our clinic that was suspected to be poisoned by sticky tape.
  • Aluminium foil works well to keep cats off surfaces. It’s easy to apply, cats do not like to step on crunchy materials, and you can easily cover large areas with it. Aluminum foil is not that good in case you need to create a barrier, e.g., to keep a cat out of a room, because a cat may easily jump over it, even if you cover a very large area. In addition, some cats may not be bothered by it, and we’ve seen several who actually enjoyed playing with the foil sheets.
    Aluminium foil sheet
  • Touch-activated mats. If a cat steps on one of these, something that the cat does not like happens. These can be used to keep cats off surfaces or away from an object (such as a plant pot or trash bin). Unlike with dogs, mats are useless as barriers because most cats can learn to jump over them.
    • Sound alarm mats, such as “Sofa Scram”, work well to keep cats away from certain areas, as they create a loud alarm each time someone steps on them. Different sizes are available, ensuring you can use them on countertops, chairs, and even sofas. Prices are also very affordable. The alarm, though, is very disturbing to the human ear. It’s loud, and the high-pitched tone is unbearable (that is why it works so well at keeping pets away).
    • Electric mats are battery- or cord-powered units that emit, as the manufacturers say, “static-like electric signals” whenever your cat steps on them. They are slightly stronger than static shocks, but some models provide an ability to adjust the strength. However, it hurts. In no way are we saying that it will injure your cat, but it hurts. Besides, from what we’ve seen, it makes the cat extremely angry, confused, and defensively aggressive – much more aggressive than with most other electronic cat deterrents.
  • Orange cat with orangesCitrus peels are often mentioned as a cat deterrent. Simply throw some orange or lemon peels on the site from which you want to keep your cat away. Our tests show that it works; however, peels dry out within a few hours and therefore become ineffective quickly. Also, their effectiveness depends on what you want to keep your cat away from – if you place a lemon peel next to a fragrant ham on a counter, you are likely to fail.
  • Mousetraps are a no-no but are often suggested as cat and dog deterrents in different sources. Not only can incorrect setup injure a cat, there is also no point in setting one up because after it “fires”, there is nothing keeping a cat from coming back.
  • Throwing light or rattling objects at the cat. Without arguing about moral issues related to throwing things at cats, the fact is that it does not work well in teaching your cat a lesson. First, because it requires your involvement, it simply will teach your cat to behave in your presence only. Second, it may damage the relationship between the two of you. It may he helpful in stopping a horrible event while it is occurring, but with only two conditions: you do not aim directly at the cat (aim next to it) and you do not chase your cat afterwards. Once your cat is out of trouble, act casually – pretend you had nothing to do with what just happened and like you did not even see it.
  • Bitter spray, such as Bitter Apple, is effective at preventing cats from chewing on things. However, it is not good at keeping cats away from certain areas. However, it is okay if you use it as intended. Just spray it on electric cords or other items. The main drawback is that it must be reapplied frequently, according to the manufacturer’s guidelines and your observations.
  • cat next to an empty tin canRattling tin cans does not work well. This strategy is often mentioned in different sources as a tool to keep cats away from counters or beds, but it does not work. The idea is to put something that rattles (e.g., dried beans) inside an empty tin can and hope that a cat will accidentally knock it over and run away in fear. The drawbacks to this technique include: 1. You can’t guarantee that the cat will knock it over. 2. You can’t guarantee that your cat will give a damn about it. 3. You can’t guarantee that your cat won’t come again in a few minutes.
  • Mats with rubber spikes and bumps are disliked by many cats but are also ignored by the same amount of other cats. They may keep cats away from counters and other surfaces and keep them from approaching specific items. Unfortunately, there are too many available, so we can’t speak for everything, and not all cats react the same to different ones. The good news is that many sizes are available: from small strips that can be placed on a fence to large sheets from which you can cut out any shape you need. Some are sold as runner mats, and some are sold as pet deterrents.

So, which cat deterrent works the best? It may depend from situation to situation, but the most important property of a cat deterrent is its ability to work independently. Any training achieves the most success if you repeat it consistently, and, in the case of keeping cats away from certain locations, motion- or touch-activated devices work the most consistently of all.

Remember that besides deterring a cat, some additional training may be necessary. Learn here about keeping cats off counters and out of rooms or preventing cats from scratching things, and make the bad behavior go away forever without ruining your relationship with your cat.