Cats are beloved companion animals and have been for centuries. Yet in some sense, it is easy to forget they are pets – it always seems like some part of every cat remains wild.
The fact is, this is true for every animal. Cats just show it more readily.
Often, a mysterious companion animal’s behavior will make more sense when we look for what that same behavior might look like if the animal was in the wild.
So now let’s dive deeper into understanding why cats knock things over. Could it be the wild cat in them?
Why Do Cats Knock Things Over
Cats knock things over because it is fun. It gets your attention. It makes their life more interesting and engaging. And it gives a cat that sensation of hunting and catching prey which is often missing from their life as a family pet.
Hear a Feline Veterinarian Explain Why Cats Knock Things Over
In this short YouTube video, a feline veterinarian explains one theory that attempts to explain this strange behavior.
In some cases, the simplest explanation really may be the right one!
The Most Popular Theories About Why Cats Knock Things Over
While there are lots of theories about why cats knock things over, they will forever remain theories until cats and people can talk using the same language.
PetMD outlines five of the reigning most popular theories about why cats knock things over and what that might mean to your feline.
It is the feline prey drive at work
If you have ever watched a wild cat or even a feral domestic cat hunting and stalking prey, they use an interesting pounce and wait for strategy.
It often appears like the cat is actually playing with its prey even while eating it.
This may actually be true. As the ASPCA emphasizes, cats are obligate carnivores, which means their digestive tract requires a diet of pure animal protein to function properly.
So cats absolutely must hunt and kill animal prey once or even multiple times each day.
This specialized digestive system has given cats a very strong prey drive and instinct to hunt. In the wild, it would be normal for a prey animal to keep trying to escape as the cat kept trying to kill and eat it.
What is so interesting about this, as Oakland Veterinary Referral Service explains, is that a cat wants to be sure the prey animal is really dead (or at least thoroughly unable to move) before starting to eat it.
Otherwise, the prey animal could still inflict damage on the feasting feline. So cats have often been observed to walk up to a prey animal they are hunting and poke or paw at it to see if it moves.
Cats that live with humans never get the chance to express their strong natural prey drive to hunt live prey. Knocking things over and then pouncing down to check out their handiwork may fulfill that drive at least in part.
It gets the cat what they want
For this theory to make sense, you need to consider how you react whenever your cat knocks something over. What do you do? Do you sit in place and ignore the behavior? Or do you jump up to go see what just made that loud crash?
Cats are quick learners and they will readily associate knocking something over and you come running to investigate.
So when your cat wants your attention or wants something from you, it might make sense that they could figure out that if they knock something over they will get it.
It gives a cat valuable information about their world
As Texas A&M University College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences outlines, felines come equipped with unusually keen senses. Hearing, eyesight, smell, touch – all are necessary if you have to hunt for your dinner each and every day of your life.
This also means cats need to thoroughly explore their world to know what is safe, what is sturdy, what is breakable, what is sharp or even potentially dangerous.
When your cat knocks something over, this gives them valuable information about that item or object.
And in fact, your cat may not necessarily intend to knock the item over. They may just be using their sensitive paws to explore the object and then – whoops! Over it goes.
It is fun
Thankfully, the days when humans viewed animals as pre-programmed robots that operated on pure instinct are finally fading into the proverbial sunset.
Today, as Slate highlights, there is a growing body of research to suggest all animals understand fun and humor at least to some degree.
It certainly seems to make more sense in today’s modern world to assume cats do understand and seek out fun versus that they do not. Even if you don’t call it fun, cats are certainly capable of experiencing enjoyment and seeking out more of the same.
Your cat is bored
When your cat knocks something over, a lot is happening. First of all, something interesting is happening.
To a bored domestic house cat that is home alone all day or simply left alone while the humans are busy, knocking something over gets rid of that boredom in short order.
Suddenly your cat has something engaging to do. There is sensory information to process and make sense of.
An item that perhaps now looks like many items (especially if it was your grandmother’s heirloom vase that is now in a thousand pieces on the floor).
A new space on the countertop or table or shelf that is now free for the cat to nap on or explore.
If you were a bored cat in search of something to do that felt natural and cat-like, knocking something over might fit the bill quite well.
How to Train Your Cat Not to Knock Things Over
As Union Lake Veterinary Clinic and Pet Services point out, there are a lot of cat owners in the world who would love to train their felines not to knock things over.
But is it possible?
Train your cat using a clicker
Vetstreet suggests using clicker training to redirect any undesirable pet behavior, including knocking or batting objects off high places.
Training your cat to not knock things over is one option.
Give your cat something else to do
Another option is to simply provide your cat with so much sensory enrichment they do not need to knock things over to get attention, playtime, or whatever their reason may be.
You can tire your cat out with interactive toys that encourage physical exercise as well as mental and sensory stimulation.
The theory here is that a tired cat is a cat that is less likely to go hunting around for things to explore, bat around, and knock to the ground.
Make the high places undesirable to visit
Yet another strategy is to cat-proof the high places where objects are getting knocked over and off and onto the ground.
WebMD Pets suggests applying sticky tape or lining surfaces with crinkly paper, which are both unpleasant for your cat.
Give your cat its own high places to explore
Cat trees, cat shelves, and cat window ledges are all great high places your cat may actually prefer to your cabinets and shelves.