How To Outsmart Your Overly-Smart Cat

cat fishbowl face

Cats think they’re real smart. Just reeaalll clever. They think they’ve got us under their thumbs. (If they had thumbs, that is).

If you have one of these smarty pants cats, you’d know it. She’s the cat that knows to wait until you leave the room to jump on your countertops. The cat that stomps on your face to wake you up. The one who rearranges your furniture to better suit her needs.

Active, clever cats are a joy to live with, if handled and trained well.


Here’s how to outsmart a cat who seemingly has you outwitted at every turn.


smart einstein cat



Part 1: Cat Traps

cat sitting in a tape circle trapAfter our move to Seattle, my cat Sita went through a phase where she’d claw her way up the clothes in our closet to get to the linen shelves above. So many mornings we’d wake up, wondering where our customary morning cat greeting had gone, to find her snuggled up high in some dark corner of our closet.


2 major problems here:

  • Her preferred nesting spots consisted of freshly-laundered towels and bedsheets
  • She was leaving a trail of shredded clothes in her wake


Now, even if we’d caught her in the act, shouting and scolding would only have made her afraid of us. Rather than correcting her behavior, scolding may have exacerbated her anxiety and spurred on her efforts to seek a safe roosting spot.

With overly-clever cats (like my little turd), any corrections should be designed to make the cat think her behavior change is her idea.

empty soda cans


This is where cat traps come in. In our closet, I rigged a bag of empty soda cans to fall if our clothes were prodded too excessively—and after a few summiting attempts thwarted by a clattering soda can avalanche, Sita soon decided (all on her own!) that the closet wasn’t really all that appealing after all.


cat on a countertopCat traps like this can work in almost any situation. Have a kitty who won’t stop jumping on your bookshelves, countertops, or other off-limits surface? Balance a few magazines along the sides, creating a “false edge” that collapses when your cat attempts to jump on top of it. If she isn’t easily discouraged, add a few noisy objects (like empty soda cans or bells) that will startle her when they clatter to the floor.

Or if your little prodigy won’t stop scratching your couch, (or just refrains from doing so in your presence), it’s time to lay another cat trap. Apply a few strips of double-sided tape to the arms and corners of your furniture. Cats hate sticky sensations on their paws, and will soon learn to avoid those surfaces.


After a few unpleasant experiences, kitty will decide that the countertops/your couch weren’t all that much fun to begin with. She’s got better things to do; she’s a very busy cat, after all. Feel free to phase out your booby traps once kitty has settled into a life of law-abiding catizenship.


Don’t forget the clincher:



Part 2: Redirection

cat about to jump on countertop[A cat that’s acting out isn’t just choosing to be a dick.

As much as we like to project our own human tendencies onto our cats, they aren’t people. They don’t intend to be vindictive and manipulative—they’re simply expressing a need. When you booby trap your home to eliminate your kitty’s unwanted behavior, it’s vitally important to provide an equally-appealing alternative that meets this need.

Otherwise, they’ll continue expressing it in other ways while you spend your life chasing down one bad feline behavior after another.

When Sita was clambering up our clothes, she was expressing her need to be up high, where she felt safely out of reach. We had ordered a new cat tree that hadn’t been delivered yet, so she was attempting to fulfill this need on her own.

In combination with the soda can trap, the arrival of the cat tree successfully curtailed her closet mountaineering expeditions and redirected it to an appropriate alternative.


If your cat insists on climbing your bookshelves, countertops, or refrigerator, take a look around your home. Are there plenty of cat-friendly vertical spaces available? If so, are they actually appealing? A cat tree stowed in a dark back room isn’t going to be nearly as enticing as one next to a window, or in the corner of your sunny living room. Cats generally just want to be around you, so if you’re not spending all your time in a dark guest bedroom, why should they?


cat jumping for stringSimilarly, if your cats won’t stop scratching your furniture or getting into your pantry, take stock of their environment: is it filled with sufficiently enriching alternatives? An under-stimulated (and clever) cat won’t quietly resign themselves to a life of boredom—they’ll hunt down entertainment in the form of your silk curtains or your Swarovski crystal figurines. Fill your home with plenty of cat-friendly scratching surfaces and puzzle toys to keep your intrepid kitty occupied and happy.

With highly intelligent cats, it’s also incredibly important to stimulate them with plenty of physical exercise: at least 30 minutes of it per day. “Cat-fishing” wand toys are awesome in this department.



Thoughtfulness is Key

cats looking out the window

Now that you know your kitty isn’t maliciously scheming to drive you crazy, it’ll be easier to understand and address her destructive behavior. If she bats your face or howls to wake you up in the morning, think about the root of her behavior and how to redirect it.

With clever cats, it’s easy to accidentally fall victim to their “manipulation,” which is really just us humans training them into repeating behaviors that worked for them in the past.


If you neglect your cat but run to her each time she knocks over a vase, you’re training her to knock stuff over whenever she wants your attention. If you jump up to feed your cat or let her out each time she howls or paws at your face, you’re reinforcing her annoying behavior as a way to get what she wants.

cats don't begInstead, anticipate your cat’s needs and redirect her behavior with an enriching, cat-friendly environment. Once that’s in place, set your cat traps and steadfastly ignore any unwanted behavior.

Schedule mealtimes twice a day, and try not to stray from your set feeding routine. On weekends when you’re dying for a lie-in, invest in a timed automatic cat feeder. Play with your cat and shower her with affection only when she’s in a calm, relaxed state.

With patience and environmental enrichment (and a whole lot of empty soda cans), you’ll soon have a genius cat who uses her powers for good instead of evil.


Congratulations! You are now smarter than a cat. (And trust me, that is no small accomplishment.)


Flex your cat knowledge further: Find out why your cat goes batshit crazy in the middle of the night.

Or, have a few tips to get your cat to like you even more. (Well, more than she already does.)

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How to outsmart your cat

5 comments on “How To Outsmart Your Overly-Smart Cat”

  1. Ellen Pilch says:

    Excellent post. My cats are smarter than me. Sammy peed on the couch because he is jealous of our newest cat. Now I spray it with Feliway before bed and put a clothes basket on that area- well, he peed near it. After replacing the foam cushion, I now have a waterproof pad on it, hopefully it won’t happen again though.

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Oof I feel your pain… Cat to cat relationships are sometimes more complicated than people relationships!
      Best of luck with the newest member of your family. :]

  2. Diane Ricciardi Stewart says:

    I generally have no major issues with my 12 *kids* (all adopted/rescued). Since I work evenings, I tend to be on *their schedule* so I don’t have to deal with the *midnight crazies*. When I am ready to go to sleep, they usually are as well. In 50+ yrs. of having kitties, I have never had them wake me to feed them. If they have been really hungry, they have always tried to get someone else up, but never me — which I thought was always unusual — but most welcome!! Since I do have 12, they tend to keep each other occupied although I still like to play with them as well. I give them all lots of attention and cuddling. If they start getting out of hand with each other, I just talk sternly to them and tell them to behave, and they usually listen to me. I really never have issues with my *kids*, and I consider it a blessing. I truly love my *kids*, and they really do know that. I tell them all the time. I speak to them as little people who can’t communicate very well, but I truly believe they understand me. I pretty much let them have run of the house — I figure that if it was going to kill me, I would have been dead years ago!! My son is the same with them. We both play games with them. We love our kitties! Excellent post!! ♥♥♥

    1. Why Cat Why says:

      Agreed! Cats are amazingly perceptive and understand us a lot more than we think… So I think speaking to them like they’re tiny people is quite effective! :]

  3. David Wolf says:

    I find that the most effective way of trapping cats is to poke them with bats until they move to were you want them to. Study how the most fierce animal of the savanna, the lion, hunts and use numbers to trap your intelligent feline. It is most effective to have multiple people participating in your excursion. Bear in mind, you do not want to injure the cat, so be careful.

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