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Does Aluminum Foil Work to Keep Cats Off the Counter and other Surfaces?

3 min read

Does Aluminum Foil  Work to Keep Cats Off the Counter and other Surfaces?

In a recent internet trend, cat owners shared videos of their cats’ panicked reactions to aluminum foil. Video after video shows cats startled by foil-lined tables and countertops, comically leaping away as soon as their paws touch the foil. But does aluminum foil really work to keep cats off tables and countertops? What are they so frightened by?

Aluminum Foil is Weird to Cats

First and foremost, aluminum foil is just plain weird to cats. Especially if they are used to leaping up onto the countertop without ever having seen it there before. It would be like if one day on your normal commute to work, you found that the road was suddenly covered in decorative rugs. You might find it a little odd, and would likely be a little apprehensive about driving over them. Maybe you would even consider taking an alternate route to avoid them. This combined with the fact that there is nothing like foil in the wild makes aluminum foil very peculiar to cats. They have no frame of reference on what exactly it is or how to deal with it.

 

Cats Hate the Look, Feel and Sound of “Tin” Foil

Aluminum foil also has some unique properties that make it particularly alarming to cats upon their first encounter. When moved, bent, or stepped on, the foil has a very distinct high-pitched crinkling sound. Crinkling aluminum foil actually emits a sound so high-pitched that it reaches into the ultrasonic range. Our human ears are not adapted to pick up on ultrasonic sounds, so for us, this sound may not be so bothersome. But cats are far more sensitive to high-pitched sounds. Many of their natural prey like mice and rodents communicate using ultrasonic sound, so it’s no wonder cat ears are fine-tuned to pick up on such high-pitched noises! While we may not be able to understand exactly how the crinkling foil sounds to a cat, it’s possible that it’s similar to nails on a chalkboard for humans.

The sudden, high-pitched crinkle in combination with the unusually smooth texture of foil when the cat is not expecting it can potentially cause a sensory overload. According to an article published by the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, “Cats have an innate fight or flight response to fearful situations and would prefer to flee and hide from a perceived threat.” It is certainly possible that a sensory overload could create a fearful situation for the cat, which triggers their instinctual flight response - when in doubt, flee from the potential threat!

Another theory is that the foil replicates some of the same traits as water - it’s shiny and reflective like water. If a cat had not been exposed to foil before, and suddenly there was a large “puddle” of it on the floor or countertop, it’s possible that it could be mistaken for water at first glance. In general, it’s safe to say that cats prefer to stay dry. So if the foil is initially perceived to be water, then most cats would likely be hesitant to walk right onto it. It is difficult to say for certain if cats really are tricked into believing the foil is a body of water, but if it is something that they have never encountered before then it is likely that it simply presents a risk they want to avoid.

 

Cats Will Eventually Become Comfortable

With all of the weird and unnatural features of aluminum foil aside, repeated exposure to foil diminishes the frightening aspects of it to most cats over time. After the cat has realized that the foil actually does not pose any type of threat (and is not liquid!), they become significantly less bothered by it. Instead of jumping away from the foil-lined surface, they will eventually confidently walk right over it. And, of course, there are also many cats who have absolutely no reaction to aluminum foil whatsoever, or decide to play with it instead!

Sure, there are some cats that may never get used to the aluminum foil crinkle, and for those cats keeping the countertops and tables lined with foil will probably prevent them from leaping on top. However, for the wide majority of cats, this is not a long-term solution. Aluminum foil presents a potential threat and has the “scare factor” initially, but most cats will quickly realize that it’s nothing more than a shiny, fabulous surface to walk on (and maybe it sometimes makes some strange noises.)


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