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Why cats can’t resist knocking things over and driving you crazy

Cats are agile, acrobatic, and so incredibly aware of their surroundings. Yet chances are you’ve watched your cat jump up onto a table or counter, then meticulously knock numerous items over and onto the floor. Cats seem to think it’s fantastic to knock items over, but when those items are breakable or cups full of water, or just anything you want to remain where it is, this feline habit can start to become frustrating. So why do cats knock things over, and what can you do about it? According to the Metropolitan Veterinary Center, there are three main reasons behind this behavior.

It’s instinctive

Cats are hunters, and as a result, they explore the world with their paws. Cats who find a mouse need to bat it and touch it with their paws. They use their paws to play with it, and then to eventually kill it and eat it. In doing so, they learn about the mouse and ultimately determine that it’s safe to kill and eat it.

Your cat’s hunting instincts carry over to the objects he finds around your home. This instinct is strong, and when your cat bats at and touches objects, he may be exploring them and learning about them. While he might not be trying to actually knock the items over, it can happen pretty easily.

Cat lying on its back playing with a purple toy

It’s fun

Investigating new objects (with his paws) is also fun for your cat. If you’ve brought home something new, like a new candle, your cat will quickly identify the change in his environment and want to investigate. The same is true if you rearrange a room or clean up and make the home feel different. New objects in new positions are super fun for cats, and they’re bound to catch your cat’s attention.

In some cases, the object your cat is playing with can become very enticing. You might notice this if your cat plays with a pencil. He might touch it initially to check it out, but then when it rolls and makes an intriguing sound, that pencil looks and sounds like a whole lot of fun. Your cat will start batting it and playing with it as a result, and soon he’s knocking it around just for fun. Now extend this logic to any other item that could catch his attention and you can see how ordinary belongings can turn into the most fascinating things in the world to your cat.

It gets your attention

You may have unknowingly contributed to this third potential reason why your cat knocks things over. If your cat has knocked items over in the past and you’ve responded by laughing at him, scolding him, or coming into the room and lifting him off of the counter or shelf, your cat has learned a valuable lesson: if he knocks things over, you’ll give him attention.

You might not be giving your cat positive attention, but he probably doesn’t care. Try to quietly watch your cat the next time that he knocks things over. See if he’s looking over to you for attention.

Kitten sitting on the edge of an office desk

What to do if your cat knocks things over

Understanding the reasons why your cat knocks things over can help you to make sense of this behavior, but it can still be inconvenient and frustrating to have your cat clearing your counters and damaging your items. Luckily, there are a few ways you can discourage this behavior.

First, if you know your cat likes to knock things over, secure your breakables out of your cat’s reach. You might put them into a display cabinet, store them on shelves out of your cat’s reach, and even put them in a room that your cat doesn’t have access to.

Next, try to understand what’s motivating your cat to knock things over. If your cat is bored, he’s likely performing this behavior because he’s looking for something to do. Buying more cat toys, spending time playing with your cat daily, and even getting some electronic cat toys that engage with your cat on their own can help to break up this boredom. You might also consider options like getting your cat a window seat or building him a patio (or “catio,” if you will).

If you catch your cat in the act of knocking things over, try to redirect his attention. Put him on the floor, give him some cat toys, and encourage him to play with more appropriate items. Don’t laugh at him or say anything to him, since this can give him the extra attention that he’s looking for.

In conclusion

With time and some vigilance, you may be able to reduce the number of items that your cat knocks over, but this isn’t guaranteed. Remember that cats may knock things over in an effort to explore them, which is a natural behavior. Sometimes, the best thing that you can do is to make sure that your belongings are protected and out of your cat’s reach. Keep surfaces clear and avoid items that could harm your cat if he gets a hold of them, like breakable glass objects or lit candles. If you need to keep items out, keep them well away from the surface edge.

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