Customer Service: Contact Us Here +1 (844) 673-7287 • 9am - 5pm EST (M-F)

Why do cats love to knock stuff over?

Cat knocking stuff over

We love cats for the many enjoyable behaviors they offer their people. We are comforted when they climb into our laps and curl up, laugh when they gently head butt us or rub their cheeks on us, and smile as they weave between our legs, purring all the while like they are walking happiness engines.  

As everyone knows, however, cats can also engage in much more mischievous and not-as-charming behaviors such as scratching the furniture, pawing us awake early each day, and maybe most commonly, if the large number of YouTube videos are any indication, endlessly knocking items off of tables, desks, and shelves. This last behavior can be very annoying, especially if you don’t enjoy playing a repeating game of pick-up or if important objects get broken. Sometimes objects get knocked off of surfaces as a result of active play, an out-of-control cat zipping too fast across the room, or our furry friends not being quite as slim as they think they are. At other times, it seems quite intentional as time after time, they reach out a paw and offer a swipe just to watch an object tumble to the ground. 

Why do they do it?

It seems like most cat behavior is inscrutable, but there are a variety of reasons that might lead a cat to push one item after the next from a shelf. One is that they could be exhibiting instinctual hunting behavior. Cats hold onto instincts from times when their living situation in the wild was very different from the pampered lives they lead as domesticated companions in our homes. They needed to be able to find, stalk, and hunt small prey in order to feed themselves. Cats often ‘toy’ with their prey by batting it with their paws to see if it is alive and then to tire it out and make catching it for a tasty meal easier. They might employ this same batting behavior as they nudge an object to see if that knickknack on the shelf is actually a small critter they would like to catch and eat. 

Another reason behind this behavior is that they might be trying to get our attention. When you react to that tipped-over glass of water or pill bottle knocked off a shelf by running over and talking to them in a loud, excited voice, your cat learns that this is an easy way to get you to give them some attention. Maybe it is a reminder that they want you to fill the water dish or to give them some food. They also might be trying to get you to play with them or letting you know that it is not ok to sleep in too late in the morning. 

Knocking items over might also be a way for your cat to mark their territory. All cats have scent glands on their paw pads that release special hormones called pheromones, which they can use to communicate with other cats. Cats are territorial and want to send a clear message about their space. By rubbing their paw pads on objects, cats leave behind a pheromone scent print and let others know that this is their area.  

Simple curiosity might also be a reason for this behavior. Cats love to explore their environments, and they learn by watching the world around them. They might be drawn to the sound or movement of an object and become curious to see what will happen when they give it a poke. 

What can be done about it?

While all of these reasons for knocking things over are a part of general cat life, there are a few steps we can take as pet parents to limit the daily mess and chaos that can come from a cat repeatedly pushing items onto the floor.   

In order to help to satisfy their hunting drive and to keep your cat from becoming bored, you can provide plenty of interactive toys and scratching posts. Toys on strings or wires will help satisfy the feeling they get from batting an object. Rotating what is available will keep their attention as new toys periodically show up. Food release toys can be particularly intriguing and offer good mental stimulation since they have to puzzle out the way to get the food treat. Begin by placing the new toy in an open location for your cat to discover, and then you can progress to hiding it so the cat has to ‘hunt’ for it.  

Try to spend quality time with your cat each day. Play with them, groom them, and give them plenty of attention to prevent boredom. Be sure that all of their basic needs are being met with plenty of access to fresh water, food, and clean and available litter boxes. 

Provide plenty of high perches and hiding places for your cat. This will help them feel safe and secure in your home and lessen their desire to mark their territory. 

Train your cat not to knock things over. This can be done with positive treat reinforcement if you reward them for leaving items alone or stopping before knocking something over. Try to distract them by redirecting their attention or by tossing a toy when you see them getting ready to swat.  Ignoring the undesired behavior, rather than responding with a lot of excitement, will help diminish it if your cat is attention seeking. If you can, take your time and quietly clean up any mess they have made without a fuss and a scolding. If your cat is seeking attention, they will be happy even with negative attention. Be careful not to reward bad behavior by offering extra food. 

Be aware of the environment you create for your cat. Pill bottles that can spill or items that can break and injure them are dangerous and should be placed out of paw’s reach. If your cat seems to be drawn to certain objects, move them out of reach or put them out of sight. Low tables, open shelves, or a spot with a lot of possible ‘targets’ such as small picture frames or collectible figurines pose attractive nuisances for your cat. Moving your furniture or placing objects in different locations might also work to lessen their temptation and help to break the habit. 

Is it normal? 

It might be annoying, but knocking stuff over is a perfectly normal cat behavior. It can be a holdover from their hunting days, a sign that they are bored and need more stimulation, or a grab for your attention. Taking some time to notice if there are any patterns around the behavior could help you put an end to it. If their water and food needs are taken care of, they have plenty of toys, and ample playtime with you, it might just be something your furry friend really likes doing. In that case, protect your treasures or any objects that could harm your cat in a closed cabinet or make sure they are beyond the reach of a curious paw. Hopefully, a few changes around the home can have everyone happily co-existing and will result in fewer toppling objects.