Why Do Cats Knock Things Over — An Investigation

Photo: Getty
cat on table thinking of knocking things over

Every cat lover knows the benefits of having their very own feline friend.

Cats are companions, have been proven to lower blood pressure, and gosh darnit they’re just so 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.

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.

5 Reasons Why Cats Knock Things Over

1. Hunting is instinctual.

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.

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 cats want attention, they’ll do what they can to get you to respond. Those sly fluff-balls are incredibly manipulative, that’s for sure!

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 for cats.

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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How can you stop your cat from knocking things over?

If your cat has made a habit of hopping up on your tables or counters and continually breaking or damaging your items, there are a few ways to help curb this behavior.

1. Remove distracting items from tables or locations that are high up.

If you have items on your counters or tables that your cat will find interesting, be sure to remove them from the area or relocate them to locations your cat cannot reach. For instance, if you have items like napkins that move around when there's a light breeze, move them or weigh them down.

This is especially important when it comes to items like knives or anything made of glass, as these can be dangerous to both you and your furry friend.

2. Add deterrents around problem areas.

Whether it's a spray, a puff of air, or a certain scent, these deterrents will cause your cat to steer clear of specific areas.

You can spray smells like oranges, eucalyptus or vinegar to deter your cat, or purchase other items online or in pet stores to discourage your cat from knocking things over.

3. Redirect their attention.

If you witness your cat about to jump up to areas where they usually cause problems, do something to distract them. For example, you can bring over a toy for them to play with, or give them a treat on the floor. Either way, the point is to prevent them from jumping up at all.

4. Make sure your cat's needs are being taken care of.

When your cat is used to a certain schedule, be sure to stick to it. For instance, if you feed them at a specific time each morning and you aren't consistent, they may knock things over to get your attention and remind you that they need something. It's the same thing with providing affection.

In an attempt to get what they want, they will resort to knocking over your items. So, it's essential to make sure you are meeting your cat's needs.

5. Add more playtime to their routine.

Cats have a lot of energy, and it's essential that they take this energy out in a healthy way. It's also important to ensure they are getting enough exercise throughout the day.

The recommended time to play with your cat is about one hour, but you can split this up into 15- or 20-minute play sessions.

You can prevent your cat from becoming bored and resorting to messing with your items. Be sure to choose a toy that will have them captivated and will keep playtime interesting!

6. Change your reaction.

When you react in a negative way, either by yelling or "punishing" your cat in a non-violent way, you are reinforcing their bad behavior. Instead, when you see your cat jumping up, don't react at all.

If the item falls on the floor, leave it there until a later time, showing your cat that you aren't reacting. And when you do eventually retrieve the item, don't pay your cat any mind while you do so.

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Samantha Maffucci is an editor for YourTango who has written hundreds of articles about relationships, trending news and entertainment, numerology and astrology. Follow her on Twitter for more.