Why Do Cats Knock Things Over?


Cats are possibly the most athletic, graceful animals on the planet. Certain breeds, like the Oriental Shorthair and Cornish Rex, can scale a mantel filled with knickknacks without knocking a single one over. It’s one of their most impressive talents. So why is the internet filled with videos that show cats knocking stuff off of high places like tables and countertops?

Even though this behavior may be funny sometimes, it can be harmful at other times if something breakable shatters when it hits the floor. This behavior can also be a problem if the object is something valuable, like your smartphone or a family heirloom. To keep your cat and household safe and happy, here are some basic feline needs to consider and how to avoid having your home trashed.

Cats Test Everything

Cats want to know the nature of everything in their territory. They want to know: Can I eat this? Will this eat me? Is this a safe place to nap? Is this a private bathroom? Is this fun to play with?

Cats test everything by sniffing it, biting down on it or using their paws to bat it around. And if it moves when they bat it, they chase it as they would go after prey. Most of the things they bat at are roughly the size of their natural prey animals: mice, birds, lizards and other small animals. Tile, wood and laminate floors are extra fun, because anything that lands on them will slide around if it doesn’t break.

What you can do: Batting stuff around is natural feline behavior and cats need to engage in it to thrive. Provide mouse-sized toys they can bat around and pounce on, but keep your breakables and valuables where your cats can’t get to them.

Cats Need to Play

Cats love to play. In fact, they need it to stay happy and healthy. Play provides exercise, which indoor cats may have trouble getting enough of. Play also keeps their hunting skills sharp. If they know something moves when they bat it, they take mental notes and routinely return to that spot and object.

Cats are entertained by batting and chasing things that slide across floors; that is, until they disappear under furniture. We’ve lost many pens this way, but we find them whenever we move the furniture for spring cleaning.

What you can do: Provide your cat with playtime and toys they can bat around and chase each day. When they play with something they shouldn’t, redirect their attention to their toys.

Cats Crave Attention from You

Knocking stuff off high places can be a sign that your cat needs more attention. If your cats aren’t getting adequate attention, they may resort to doing whatever they know will get you to notice them.

So when you see your cat knock your cellphone off the table, chances are you will say your cat’s name, jump up and pick it up. To your cat, you just participated in the game and his effort to gain your attention worked, which reinforces the behavior.

What you can do: When you see your cat knocking stuff off the counter, ignore the behavior. This teaches your cat that this is not the way to get your attention. Wait a minute. Then redirect your cat’s attention to appropriate toys and spend about 10 to 15 minutes playing with him.

Why Cats DON’T Knock Stuff Over

©asadykov | Getty Images

I’ve always been impressed by cats’ ability to jump onto a shelf or counter covered in objects without knocking anything over. How can they be so graceful?

Aside from their athleticism, cats walk with a precise gait, meaning that their hind paws step into the same tracks as their front paws. They also step lightly onto their tiptoes and paw pads to be undetectable to prey.

6 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knock Things Over?”

  1. My rescue cat, Lil' Girl, knocks everything off the living room tables if I lie down to take a nap. I know she needs playtime then, but I wait awhile so she isn't being rewarded for bad behavior! After a good play session, she curls up on my lap and we both have a nap.

  2. I saw a meme once that had a picture of an orange cat (like mine) walking around on a flat planet Earth. The text underneath read “If the Earth was flat cats would have pushed everything off of it by now.”
    Apparently it’s a very common behavior – my guy likes to push my hairbrush into the bathroom sink.

  3. My cat, Jabari likes to knock things off the counter when he’s trying to get my attention; especially when he wants food. He definitely knows how to get my attention. After I feed him, he stops his antics. I honestly think cats know what they’re doing when it comes to this particular attention grabbing behavior. My boy is definitely the master at getting his way, especially if a can of his favorite food is the motivation behind this behavior.

    1. We had a blind cat once. He came to us blind. But one thing we noticed was that if something made a "noise" it would get his attention.
      Maybe that will work for your blind cat? Maybe something on a string that rattles. This would excite the cat aurally, perhaps stimulate the desire to 'track'?
      Then there is the infamous 'feather toy'. Dragging it on the ground again. This would be a subtle sound sensation, then the lovely scent of a feather to track?
      I hope this helps. And maybe vegetables. Ty, the cat, would almost walk over a piece of chicken to rip off a tomato…go figure…we never did.

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