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Home > Cats > Why Do Cats Like to Knock Things Over? 3 Reasons According to Science

Why Do Cats Like to Knock Things Over? 3 Reasons According to Science

cat sits on a table beside a table lamp

If you own a cat, it will inevitably knock things over once in a while. Sometimes that can be amusing, but the sight of a valuable item lying in pieces on the floor is not a laughing matter.

But why do cats do this? Are they deliberately trying to annoy you? There is not enough scientific research on this issue. But that has not stopped cat experts from fronting their theories.

According to veterinarian Evelyn Kass, DVM, knocking things over is among several normal cat behaviors. Experts offer three reasons for this: Hunting instincts, attention-seeking, and playfulness. Read on to learn more about each.


The 3 Scientific Reasons Why Cats Like to Knock Things Over

1. Hunting Instinct

Cats have natural predatory instincts. That means they are always hunting for something, and anything could be potential prey, mouse or not.

Part of the hunting process involves investigating. The cat must first make sure the object of interest is alive. It also needs to know whether it is harmless or potentially dangerous.

Your cat will sniff at the object and use its paw to bait it around, looking for movement. After all, the thing could be playing dead (a trick popular with mice). Sadly, these items eventually end up on the floor.

person working on laptop with a black cat on the table
Image Credit: Kari Shea, Unsplash

2. Getting Your Attention

It’s hard to believe, but sometimes the cat could deliberately knock things off the countertop. Yes, your suspicions could have been right all along.

Your cat can knock things off on purpose to get your attention. They will even look at you while doing it.

Cats love attention, some more than others. So, if your cat notices you have not acknowledged them lately, they will do anything to get you to notice them. That includes knocking that expensive vase off the shelf.

It may not be entirely the cat’s fault, though. Remember how you acted the last time it knocked something over? Perhaps you reacted positively by trying to offer it food or negatively by scolding it. Either way, the cat interpreted that as attention, and now it wants more.

3. They Want to Have Fun

Cats are naturally playful and are always looking for ways to have fun. If you are not playing with them or offering exciting toys and puzzles, they will find other ways to stimulate their mind.

In particular, house cats can get bored fast, especially when you leave by themselves most of the time. Sooner or later, the boredom will get to them, and they will turn your valuable items into toys.

Cats are also naturally curious and want to explore new changes in their surroundings. For instance, the new box of pens you placed on the table will pique its interest more than the toys it always has around.

Even if all you have done is rearrange items in your living room, the cat will still want to check things out. It will pick up on the subtlest of changes and proceed to investigate.

DIY Feather Cat Toy1
Image Credit: scatteredthoughtsofacraftymom


How to Deter the Behavior

Trying to tame behavior that comes as an instinct can be challenging. So, the most obvious solution is removing items that might pique your cat’s interest from view. But knowing cats, that can be almost everything.

Fortunately, there are several things you can try to keep that destructive behavior in control. Understanding the motivation behind the behavior can help you know which method to use in your case.

Schedule Play Time

Playtime is the perfect way to give your cat the attention it craves. It will also provide adequate mental and physical stimulation, ensuring your cat doesn’t need to knock things over.

Set aside at least 20 minutes every day and incorporate games and toys that play into your cat’s predatory instincts. Kick sticks and wand toys are perfect examples.

Redirect their Attention

You can also redirect your cat’s attention every time they want to engage in destructive behavior. So, the next time your cat jumps on the countertop to knock things over, offer it some toys or invite it for a play session.

tabby cat with green eyes lying on the table
Image Credit: driesel, Pixabay

Rotate Toys

Toys can be the perfect distraction. However, your cat can get bored with them quickly and switch its interest to the new items on the table or shelf.

Having a variety of toys is the answer. But don’t let it play with them all at once. Keep some of them hidden and rotate whenever it gets too familiar with some.

If your cat loves knocking things off your countertops just for the sake, buy toys it can knock over. A puzzle feeder is a great example, especially the one where the kibble falls out when the cat knocks it around.

Don’t React

Ignore your cat the next time it knocks something over. The worst thing you can do when it tries to get your attention by doing something naughty is to react. That will only serve to reinforce the behavior.

Reacting on the spot will only give the cat what it craves. It will remember that experience the next time it feels ignored, thus creating a cycle that will be hard to break.

So, remember to stop yourself whenever you feel the urge to scream at the cat or rush in to clean the mess. Instead, wait a little longer and only clean up when the cat forgets about it.

Use Positive Reinforcement

You can use treats and playtime to reinforce your cat’s good behavior. Reward it when it falls for your distractions and abandons its destructive ways.

If you do that enough times, the cat will realize engaging in safe play is the only way to get your attention. That will make it refrain from knocking things over.

woman owner petting and playing with her cat at home
Image By: Stokkete, Shutterstock


How to Keep Your Cat Safe

Sometimes you can worry too much about your valuable items and forget your cat’s health and life are at stake too. The cat could knock down heavy unsteady objects on itself or step on sharp objects such as broken glass or a knife.

Controlling the cat’s behavior is essential, but some items should not be lying around for your pet to find. These include:

Sharp Objects

Keep sharp objects like knives, razors, and scissors away from your cat. But if they have to be close by, don’t place them near the edge of shelves, countertops, or tables.

Breakable Items

Keep breakable items such as glasses out of your cat’s reach. A slight push with the paw is enough to knock them off to the floor, so you better tuck them away in your cabinet.

black brown cat in the coffee table
Image By: Madalyn Cox, Unsplash

Heavy Objects

Don’t put heavy unsteady objects close by since they can fall on your cat. Be sure to anchor items like TVs and keep your house plants in sturdy containers.

Household Cleaners

Some household cleaners like bleach are poisonous to your cat. Therefore, avoid leaving them around where your cat can knock them over. Instead, keep them in secure containers and lock them in a cabinet.

Poisonous Plants

Some plants and flowers are toxic to cats.  Examples include sago palms, irises, and lilies. Keeping vases of such flowers where your cat can knock them over easily is not safe.

Little cat taking a bite off a plant leaf
Image By: Mikhail Olykainen, Shutterstock



It is not unusual for your cat to knock things over. Eliminating this destructive behavior may be impossible. But you can certainly manage it using the methods we outlined above.

Understanding the motivation behind your cat’s actions will allow you to know which method can work in your specific case. But remember to avoid any reaction that would serve to reinforce the behavior.

Most importantly, don’t forget your cat’s life is also at stake. Some objects can be dangerous to your feline friend, and it is better to keep them away if possible.


Featured Image Credit: Martin Haas, Shutterstock

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