Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? An Investigation

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why do cats knock things over
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Every cat owner knows the benefits of owning their very own feline friend. Cats are companions, have been proven to lower blood pressure, and gosh darnit they’re just so dang cute and soft! They also do hilarious things like chasing their tails, falling asleep on your face, and finding entertainment in a piece of string.

On the other hand, every cat owner also knows that leaving a glass or objects of any kind on a table is just asking for disaster. Because not only do cats knock things over, they seem to take pride in it.

But why do cats knock things over? Is it their natural instinct to “kill” things that are in their way? Do they enjoy watching you freak out over your broken vase? Are they finding enjoyment in your pain?


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Well, it’s a mixture of all of the above ... and more.

1. Hunting is in their nature.

Cats are natural-born predators from the smallest house cat to the biggest wild one. As many cat owners will tell you, their pets frequently bring home dead animals. In fact, according to studies, cats allegedly kill billions of small animals every year in the United States. That doesn’t make them immoral — it’s just what they do.

They also have a high “prey drive,” meaning they may find other ways to express this when there isn’t actually live prey in sight. According to Adi Hovav, a senior feline behavior counselor, “Cats are hardwired to hunt for their food, so knocking things over may be a manifestation of this instinct.”

But does this mean that cats think your prized Fabergé egg collection is prey? Not exactly. They may just be “checking” to make sure if it’s a live animal, or just another inanimate object. And once they learn what it is, they act accordingly.

2. They're trying to explore their surroundings.

Cats have very sensitive pads on their paws, allowing them to hunt and maintain balance. That explains why Fluffy doesn’t want you touching them — ever. But their pads are also a way for them to get a feel — literally — for what is around them.

Amy Shojai, a certified animal behavior consultant, says, “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.”

3. They want your attention.

How many times has your cat knocked something over, waited for you to come running into the other room, and then stood there staring at you, seemingly oblivious to what they just did? It’s obvious you’re nodding your head “yes.” Once cats figure out that your knick-knacks aren’t live animals, they will continue to knock things over so you respond.


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As Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley explains, “Once a cat learns that knocking something to the floor will bring humans on the double-quick, she may actually do it on purpose to get your attention, particularly if she feels that a meal is long overdue.” You hear that, cat owners? The food you gave them less than an hour ago didn’t do the trick.

4. They're trying to get a reaction out of you.

Hovav says, “Humans make great audiences. Who doesn’t jump up when that glass starts to go over the edge of the table?” If they want attention, they’ll do what they can to get you to respond. Those sly fluff-balls are incredibly manipulative, that’s for sure!

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When they do something that elicits a response from you, that tells them they can continue doing the same action with the same results. We suppose it’s similar to a baby crying — not out of necessity but because they know you’ll give them attention.

As Shojai explains, “Cats are incredibly adept at finding ways to manipulate what they want, which often comes down to: Look at me, feed me, play with me.” The best way to stop this behavior is to simply ignore it, as hard as it may seem. That means cleaning up and putting away your valuables, as well as staying mum when your cat does something you don’t like.

5. It’s fun.

As it turns out, playing with that toy mouse or string isn’t always enough to keep them entertained. They have to get creative and that sometimes comes at the expense of your items. According to Shojai, “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.”

So, the whole process of stalking, chasing, and then knocking your objects over to their “deaths” is just another way to have a good time. Yes, even if it means destroying your glass antiques.


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Samantha Maffucci is an associate editor for YourTango. In her free time, you can find her obsessing about cats, wine, and all things Vanderpump Rules.