I think we’ve all experienced that frustrating moment when you find your cat sitting on something they shouldn’t be sitting on. You know like the dining room table, the TV stand, the coffee table, the bookshelf or even the fridge.
Your cat looks you dead in the eyes. They have a wide-eyed expression to make you believe that they’re not doing anything wrong, but you know it’s all lies. So you sternly say their name once, but they don’t budge. Instead, you see them slowly inching their paws closer to the object… usually breakable.
So you get a bit more demanding. You start moving towards them and call their name again, this time with a bit more vigour which startles your cat. Your cat jumps down from the surface you don’t want them on and so you think that the breakable object is safe, but as you begin to make your way back to your seat you hear a SMASH. Your cat has dropped your favourite snowglobe.
My cat Beau is the absolute worst when it comes to knocking things over. Beau gets into these moods where he wants everyone to be aware that he’s around and will do whatever he can to make sure you pay attention to him. He will often jump in front of the TV while we’re watching a show and if we don’t give him attention immediately he will begin pushing the candlesticks off of the TV cabinet.
Don’t get me wrong, we give Beau lots of attention, we play with him and make sure to cuddle him whenever he wants, but just like all other cats, Beau needs to wreak havoc on our lives every so often.
Cats knock things over or off surfaces for a number of reasons. Like many other behaviours cats exhibit, behaviourists aren’t fully certain what causes cats to exhibit this type of behaviour but have a number of guesses.
Behaviour is also believed to vary from cat to cats and some cats may even exhibit this behaviour for multiple reasons within the same sitting.
So let’s get to chatting about some of the reasons your cat may be for your cat to obsessively knock over objects in your house.
YOUR CAT MAY BE TREATING THE OBJECT AS PREY
Ever notice that your cat loves to chase bugs like spiders, centipedes or cockroaches? Well, have you also noticed that your cat spends more time playing with the bug than actually trying to eat it?
My mom’s house used to have a number of centipedes during the winter and her cat Walker used to paw at the door to the basement so she would let him down. As soon as Walker was downstairs, he would go hunting for centipedes. In the instance that he found a centipede he would bat at it, often leaving it alive so he could continue chasing it.
Beau, my eldest cat, did something similar when he was still a stray cat. My sister often reminds me of how Beau used to play with mice in my grandparent’s backyard. My sister would be able to tell where Beau was by the loud squeaking of the mice even if it was extremely dark.
Although there were times where Beau would kill a mouse and bring my sister the head, he often wasn’t hungry enough to eat the mouse so he didn’t kill them, but instead used them as an interactive toy.
It is believed that indoor cats will tap on or knock over objects in hopes of discovering whether or not the object will move or roll in a way that makes it fun to chase.
Cats will also tap on objects as a form of getting more information regarding whether or not the object is safe.
YOUR CAT WANTS YOUR ATTENTION
Cats are wonderful creatures of habit who are also very perceptive. Cats will learn your behaviour and will take note of whenever you positively enforce a behaviour. If you positively enforce behaviour and your cat gets exactly what they want they will repeat this behaviour.
A perfect example of this would be when cats rub themselves against you. Many cats will exhibit this behaviour when they are hungry and because this is often seen as unharmful or cute behaviour, many pet parents will feed their cats immediately after they have exhibited the behaviour.
Cats will begin putting two together very frequently, realizing that if they do that specific behaviour they get the reward they desire. This is why cats like Beau do the naughty things they do!
Beau has realized that if he acts out by knocking something over that I’ll either rush to him immediately to see if he is okay or will pick him up and move him out of the way. This, on my part, is pretty bad parenting.
A better response is to deter Beau from exhibiting these behaviours and immediately scolding him with a training word or at most a spray bottle.
It is best not to yell or hit a cat, especially if they are exhibiting behaviour to get your attention. This may cause your cat to relate asking for attention to being hit or yelled at. This will often result in your cat running away from you or acting traumatized around you.
It is also a good idea to treat train your cat if they’ve exhibited good behaviour. If you are concerned about your cat’s weight, you can pet to enforce good behaviour instead.
The most common time a cat will knock objects over to get attention is when the cat is hungry. Again this will completely depend on the personality of the cat.
If your cat exhibits this behaviour because they are hungry it might be a good idea to schedule feeding times or split up the feeding throughout the day.
Beau needs to be fed 4 times a day due to his Pica, so if we’re ever late on a feeding he will get especially grumpy. Behaviours have included knocking things over, chewing on cloth, beating his sister up or meowing incessantly.
YOUR CAT WANTS TO PLAY
My cats are fairly active, especially during the night. It’s usually then that one of them will jump up onto our coffee table and try to knock down whatever is on there. Usually, my cats try to knock down something that’s harmless like our TV remote or my house keys.
Once our friends were over and we were playing CLUE the board game, and Beau kept knocking over random characters on the board because he wanted to play.
Similar to your cat knocking things over because they want attention, cats will knock things over because it gets your attention so they can play.
It is important to play with your cat daily to ensure their overall health and wellbeing. If your cat is regularly having to remind you to pull out their favourite teaser toy it’s probably a sign that you should add an extra play session.
If you haven’t already, I would recommend grabbing your cat some cat springs. They are a fantastically simple toy and inexpensive toy, but my cats absolutely love them and will play with them regularly.
It is always a good idea to schedule in playtimes so that your cat begins understanding that certain times of the day are considered the time to play and others are for you to sleep.
I know when I first brought Beau in he would attack my toes all night because he was so used to hunting at night. That was something I quickly had to discourage because I wasn’t getting much sleep.
SO HOW DO I GET MY CAT TO STOP KNOCKING THINGS OVER?
There are a few ways you can get your cat to stop knocking things over, it’s just going to be about how patient you are with them and how fast you want the problem handled.
The first option is obvious: move everything to an area that is closed off or too high for the cats, though this is not always possible.
If you have shelves, think about keeping expensive or breakable objects lower and closer to the wall of the shelf for extra stability. Remember that the less space there is for your cat to curl their body around the object, the higher the chance they are going to avoid the object.
It’s always a good idea to put away dishes immediately so your cat isn’t tempted by knocking over your cups or plates. I know cats don’t seem to be that strong, but I’ve witnessed cats push cups off the counter, right off drying mats.
The second option is to train your cat to understand a phrase or sound that means “no” or “stop.”
I personally recommend using a sound or phrase that you don’t usually use in sentences since sometimes cats have been known to respond to the phrase or sound when they are not the ones being scolded. Though this is not the biggest problem, you might as well avoid it anyways.
The third option is to redirect the attention to something your cat can play with.
This is when teaser toys, automatic toys or even regular catnip toys work miracles. When Walker gets fiesty we throw bouncy balls for him to play with. He loves batting them around the apartment. My mom even calls him her little soccer player.
Kalista, as mentioned, loves to run around the apartment with springs in her mouth.
Beau often requires you to play with him or will meow until Kalista starts playing with him.
As mentioned, it’s a great idea to schedule in playtimes so your cat starts understanding when is an appropriate time to play. If you feel like you don’t have the time to schedule in playtime, see if you can come up with strategic ways of playing with your cat.
One of my favourite ways to passively play with cats, especially kittens, is to tie a string to the back of my pants and walk around the apartment as I clean. You’d be surprised how fast they get off their bums and chase the string! Although I’ll be honest, you have to tie a spring to the end of the string for Kalista to come chasing… what a goof!
The fourth option is to stock up on passive toys.
Due to the fact that cats will knock over objects because they feel unstimulated, it’s a good idea to have a set of toys that you can leave around the house.
You can even use things like corks, as long as there’s no wine on them or tinfoil balls. Honestly, cats will play with most things that bounce, roll or are lightweight. It’s just important to differentiate between objects that are considered toys and objects that aren’t.
IS IT USEFUL TO IGNORE YOUR CAT WHEN THEY KNOCK THINGS OVER?
Honestly, yes it can be extremely useful to ignore your cat when they knock things over.
Similar to how some children need to learn from crying wolf, many cats have to learn that acting out isn’t the appropriate action they should take when they want attention. Due to this, some cats may learn best when being ignored because they are getting no satisfaction from the misbehaviour.
It’s not to say that there are cats out there that are out to get you, but… there are some cats out there that really seem to be out to get you!
So whether your cat is batting at things because it’s in their innate nature, because they want your attention or because they are hungry it all comes down to having a solution before there’s a problem when it comes to getting them to stop.
If your cat is a little rascal who likes to knock things over frequently, there’s always a solution to it. It’s just important to take note that the more you respond to the behaviour, whether it’s positive or negative, your cat will continue knocking things over.
To cats, it doesn’t matter if they are negative attention (unless that attention is abusive). Cats have a similar relationship with attention as celebrities have a relationship with the press. All press is good press.
Due to the fact that cats are creatures of habit they really benefit from a schedule and routine in their lives. Think about scheduling playtimes and feedings as this will help reduce the amount of acting out a cat will have. This will also help reduce the number of midnight zoomies cats seem to get, as they will be all tuckered out by then.
At this point, both of our cats are sleeping with us every night because we get to have a few play sessions during the day.
I know that this behaviour gets pretty annoying quickly, but it’s still a good idea to remain as calm as you can be with your cats. Make sure that you never physically scold or yell at your cat as this will not help the situation.
If you want to quickly solve the problem it is better to hide all trouble items, especially when you are away.
We have a couple of rooms that are always closed when we are not in them. This is to ensure that no instruments, computers, or other expensive wired items get damage.
So pet parents, I’m curious, how many of your cats love to bat things over? Do they have a particular item that they are most interested in? Have you been able to get them to stop? Let me know in the comments below!