Why Do Cats Knock Things Over?

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Epic purring, adorable antics, and cozy cuddles generally keep cat lovers content. But then there's the feline frenzy to knock things over. What gives?

Some cats are affectionate, others are aloof. Some love to pounce around and play, while others prefer to lurk mostly out of sight. Then there’s that thing where a cat zooms from one corner of a room to another in a blur, as if possessed. These are just a few of the many vagaries of living with felines. But there are certain consistent questions that captivate owners across the board, no matter what kind of personality their cat has. For instance, why do cats sleep so much? Why do cats meow? Why do cats purr? And why do cats knead any available pillow or blanket?

Another question that often rears its head—pretty much every time a cat bats something off a table, desk, or counter—is why do cats knock things over? Is it a hardwired feline obsession with what we humans know to be simple gravity? Or is there something else at play?

Why do cats knock things over?

In a household with cats, very little that rests on top of a table—or any flat surface, for that matter—is safe. Pens? Batted to the floor. That vase of flowers? Going overboard. Random coins? Down for the count. But why? Why do cats knock things over? There isn’t necessarily just one reason.

While there hasn’t been much scientific research done into this question, cat experts have their own theories. Cat behaviorist Pamela Merritt, author of The Way of Cats: How to Use Their Instincts to Train, Understand, and Love Them and blogger at wayofcats.com, points out that a play-prey drive exists in all cats, at least to some degree. The level of this drive is a mix of a cat’s genes and early life experiences. A higher prey drive can result in a cat using its paws to knock things over as a means to try to find out more about the environment around them.

Do cats knock things over just to get attention?

It could be, because think about it: Chances are, when you see your cat heading for a table, the countertop, or your desk, you react quickly, points out Rita Branson Bowman, a cat behavior expert and executive director of Kitty Kat Haven & Rescue, a nonprofit in Birmingham, Alabama. So from the cat’s perspective, looking like they are about to strike means you will swing right into action.

How do I get my cat to stop knocking things over?

No surefire method exists for getting cats to stop whacking at things altogether, but giving them plenty of positive attention is a good strategy to try, according to Branson Bowman. Another suggestion is to provide plenty of different toys to prevent boredom. Consider rotating toys in and out from time to time to keep them novel.

Now that the question of “why do cats knock things over?” has been (at least mostly) answered, what about other burning cat questions? It turns out, feline mysteries are not so mysterious. Why do cats love boxes? Why do cats hate water? How can I tell if my kitty is stressed out? Now you know!

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Jonna Gallo Weppler
Jonna is an award-winning service journalist with 20+ years of experience covering all things lifestyle—her areas of expertise include food, personal finance, organizing, and entertaining. When she isn’t researching or writing stories for national magazines, she enjoys cooking, hanging out with her teenagers, and coaxing the family's cat to be more cooperative.