Science You Can Use: Why Cats Knock Over Stuff

Sometimes it's instinct, sometimes it's learned behavior, but cats knocking stuff over is a fact of life. Hear three theories why.

Online and in your very house, cats often can be found knocking stuff to the ground. After giggling about seeing it on YouTube (or grimacing about seeing it happen at home), check out some reasons why your cat might knock over your things, according to a recent Daily Mail story.

1. Nurture: Your cat wants attention.
“Cats use us and this is just a way of them getting what they want, which is probably to be fed or it could be their way of them telling us they’re ill,” Dr. Eric Doughtery of The Cat Practice told

Dr. Katherine Houpt, Cornell University emeritus professor of veterinary behavior, discussed her take on cats knocking stuff over with Upvoted. She concurs that cats act this way to gain your attention. Your cat simply could be hungry.

“This tends to happen a lot in the middle of the night — when you’re trying to get some sleep,” she says.

Do you get up when your cat knocks your drink off the table, leading it to spill all over the floor? Welp, you reinforced this behavior. Sure, cleaning up the spill sounds like a good idea so keep doing that part. But when your cat knocks stuff over that doesn’t require cleanup, leave it be.

2. Nature: Your cat wants to hunt.
Cats hunt small, fast creatures in the wild. Seeking that thrill of the chase indoors, they send objects flying, Doughtery says. The hunting instinct also leads cats to seek out high spots from which to perch and prey.

Houpt has observed lion cubs playing with prey in the wild to practice hunting. Often, house cats will swat at rodents before capturing them, or play with semi-dead critters the cats have captured. Is it too big of a leap to thing they also practice by knocking over your things?

Doughtery says that you can redirect some behaviors by giving in to your cats’ instincts. High shelves and quiet, secluded hideaways recreate the perches and dens your cat seeks in nature. Doughtery recommends using these to tame cats’ destructive behavior by satisfying these innate cravings.

A third thing could be to blame: boredom. Cat behavior consultant Marilyn Krieger says cats act in destructive ways because they lack mental stimulation. Find her advice on preventing cats from tearing up homes here.


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