By Caitlin Ultimo
At times, our cats can be funny—and weird—companions. They like to sleep on our heads, play with boxes and bring home that dead mouse they recently killed. Some like to sprint and jump off of couches and counters and rest in nooks behind toilets and on top of cabinets. Another strange-to-us behavior that felines seem to favor? Knocking things over. And while the habit can be funny sometimes, other times it leaves us with a shattered glass, vase or [insert your latest broken item here] and a mess to clean up.
Why Do Cats Knock Things Over?
Some of our cats’ strange habits can be easily explained, but this is one habit that leaves us scratching our heads. So, while trying to better understand your cat and prevent a future mess you may wonder: Why do cats knock things over? “It depends, says Amy Shojai, CABC, certified animal behavior consultant (CABC) with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the author of several books about cat antics. “There could be multiple reasons why cats knock things over.”
Could cats knocking things off tables and shelves have something to do with your cat’s prey drive? “Probably,” says Adi Hovav, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “Cats are hardwired to hunt for their food, so knocking things over may be a manifestation of this instinct.” Further, Shojai explains, “Cats use their paws to test and explore objects, and the movement, sound, and touch or feel of the object helps them understand what might be safe or not.” Your cat’s paw pads are very sensitive, so when they pat, swat, and knock something down, it helps them better explore the objects around them.
How you react after something is knocked down can also influence whether or not the behavior continues. “Humans make great audiences,” explains Hovav. “Who doesn’t jump up when that glass starts to go over the edge of the table?” When cats want attention, they learn very quickly what gets your eyes on them.
“Cats are incredibly adept at finding ways to manipulate what they want,” says Shojai, “which often comes down to: Look at me, feed me, play with me.” She explains that since even bad attention is better than being ignored, knocking over objects provides another way for cats to get a reaction out of their owners. So as hard as it may be, if your cat is in the habit of knocking things over to get your attention, the best thing to do is to ignore the behavior (and put away any breakable valuables).
Another explanation? Your cat may knock things over simply because it’s fun. “A moving paw-patted object combines all of the best aspects of stalking and prey chase with the movement and tactile feel of the patted object, and the final escape rush of the falling item,” explains Shojai. To prevent accidents, make sure your cat has plenty of appropriate toys around and rotate them in and out of service to keep them exciting and new. And schedule play and exercise time with your cat every day. The combination of boredom and pent up energy will always send cats searching for “trouble.”
Knocking objects over or off of shelves and tables may be a way for your cat to express his prey drive, explore his surroundings, and get your attention, but cat behaviorists agree that there could be other undiscovered reasons behind this common cat behavior. “The research just hasn’t been done yet,” shares Hovav.