Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? 3 Reasons and How to Stop the Behavior

Man working on a desk with a naughty cat about to knock things over.
Photography ©vgajic | E+ / Getty Images.

Does your cat knock things over? Of course he does. Is it frustrating? Most of the time, yes. We’ve all seen the funny compilation videos of cats swatting various objects onto the floor, but just why do cats knock things over? Are they simply trying to annoy us? Nope. There are actually a few reasons why cats knock things over.

1. Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? It’s Prey Instinct.

A cat knocking chess pieces over.
Why do cats knock things over? Prey instinct plays a part! Photography ©FedotovAnatoly | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cats are natural hunters. Even indoor cats who have never seen a real mouse have the instinct to go after prey. When a cat does capture something, he uses his paw to test for any movement and make sure it’s dead. Cats could be demonstrating this behavior when they swat your pencil or lip balm off your desk and onto the floor. They obviously know the difference between a pencil and a mouse, but their instinct kicks in and they explore the object with their paws.

2. Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? It’s Playtime.

Sometimes cats are bored and they might playfully knock an object over. If it falls and rolls, it’s automatically a toy! When kitty wants to play, he will find a way to do it — even if it means all of your pens wind up underneath the sofa.

3. Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? It’s an Attention-Grabbing Behavior.

Another reason why cats knock things over or swat objects is because they want to capture your attention. We all know kitties are smart little cookies, and they know — based on experience — that if they knock over your cup of water, you’re going to come running. They may choose to employ this attention-grabbing move if their food or water bowls are empty, they want you to interact with them or even if you decide to sleep later than you usually do. Cats do not have a snooze button!

So, How Do You Stop Cats From Knocking Things Over?

A naughty cat who has just knocked over a vase and made a mess.
Cats knocking things over can make a mess — and be dangerous for all involved! Photography ©jeffadl | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cats will be cats, and they’ll probably always find a reason to knock stuff over, but you can definitely take some steps to lessen the number of knick-knacks you lose to the sofa.

1. Make sure your cat’s needs are met.

Don’t let your kitty’s water bowl get too empty, feed him on a pretty regular schedule and keep those litter boxes scooped!

2. Make sure your cat isn’t bored.

To help with boredom, keep your cat’s toys in rotation so he regularly has “new” playthings. Have you tried puzzle feeders? You place treats inside the puzzle toy and the cat has to work to release the goody. It’s also a good idea to schedule playtime with your kitty. What a great way to release some energy and have fun after a long day of work!

3. Remove the temptation to knock things over.

Take away the temptation by placing any fragile items far from kitty’s reach. Cat behaviorist Pam Johnson Bennett advises, “Even if you don’t mind that your cat engages in the behavior, it can pose a risk to him. Glass objects knocked over can shatter. Pill bottles that aren’t securely sealed can spill their contents when knocked on the floor. There are many objects on tables that, if knocked over, can create danger for the cat.”

Let’s face it: Cats are little manipulators. If your cat seems to have developed the toddler-like behavior of acting out in order to gain your attention — and all his needs are being met — it’s best to simply ignore the behavior.

Thumbnail: Photography ©vgajic | E+ / Getty Images.

Read more about cat behavior on Catster.com:

21 thoughts on “Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? 3 Reasons and How to Stop the Behavior”

  1. Pingback: Becoming a Cat Parent: How Your Life Changes After Getting a Cat –

  2. Pingback: Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? And What Can You Do About It?

  3. Recently, my cat has started waking up in the middle of the night and either knocking things over or meowing to get my attention (he wants food). I made the mistake of appeasing him, and now it’s just become routine. I get up anywhere between 2-4 am (when he wakes me up, not on my own) to give him a tiny bit of food just so I can get back to sleeping peacefully. As much as my body has started to adjust to this a little, I’d really like to get back to sleeping through the night, especially considering it makes my 40 hour work week pretty exhausting. I really don’t like to shut him out of my room, and definitely don’t want him to think he’s not welcome to sleep with me anymore. Is there any way to un-train this behavior, even after having unfortunately re-enforced it by giving him food?

  4. My 19 yr old Macie has suddenly decided she doesn’t like anything on my headboard. She keeps knocking it all down, if I put it back she goes right back to knock it all off again. I try to get her to play but it’s been 3 yrs since she has had any interest in it so I have no idea why she’s doing it. She gets most of my attention, always has. She is the love of my life.

  5. My Popcorn used to knock everything on the floor. I learned to only keep unbreakable things around but one time she knocked off a table lampshade, a big, heavy one, and of course it broke.
    Popcorn died old but never stopped that behaviour. I wish she was still around knocking things off the furniture.

    1. Wow what a coincidence! My cat is named Popcorn and always knocks things over and destroys them if they are valuable. It could be possible that we have “A Dog’s Purpose” thing happening here lol.

  6. One time my cat sat on my desk where I kept the bag of cat treats. She started pushing items off the desk, one at a time. Making eye contact with big wide eyes. She kept pushing things off until the only thing left was the bag of treats.
    (I started keeping the cat treats in a drawer soon after, because when she’s ignored she decides to help herself and chew through the bottom of the bag)

  7. How’s a poor cat to know that the Ming vase on your windowsill is valuable?
    The only way to stop cats knocking things over is to not put knockoverable things anywhere they can access.

  8. we just adopted a new kitten (we have 2 others who I am integrating w/ the kitten) and, while it doesn’t have anything to do w/ knocking things over, kitten just jumped in the freezer of our fridge when I pulled out the bag of ice!!! Has anyone had a cat that would jump into the fridge or freezer? He’s now hiding under the sofa…think he scared himself!

    1. yes — our first kitten I literally had to pull out of the fridge — the second one launched himself into the freezer! He only did it one time — I guess curious?

    2. I accidentally left a kitten in the fridge many years ago. Didn’t see him get inside. Happened to return later and he came out. He was okay but I learned a good lesson on being more aware of kitten curiosity. That goes for the dryer also. Be aware of where kittens are at all times.

    3. One of my two kittens has jumped onto the bottom shelf of the fridge and laid down . Like here’s a good spot. I’ll take it. I had to pull her out . She did it a couple of times . This was when she was 6 months old or so . Now she’s 9 months old and on to other adventures.

    4. Hello Sandra
      I have a cat that used to jump into the fridge whenever she could . One time I just left her there for a bit (with the door opened of course, and with me in the kitchen) hoping she would get cold and get out but after 5 minutes I had to get her out myself. It was in the middle of summer so perhaps she wanted to cool off. That behaviour stopped after a while thankfully.

    5. Yes! I was cleaning the fridge and as I turned to gets a clean rag, my cat Ari jumped in to check it out!!!!

    1. I was going to post the same. It’s inexpensive (got some at Amazon) and it really works to hold down fragile items. Easy to remove, too — for us, not the cats! :)

  9. My cat likes to threaten me with knocking things over at around dinner time. Normally I feed her right when I get home from work, so if I’m home all day then she takes it upon herself to remind me what time it is. She’ll paw at the La Croix on my end table, then stop when I look at her, then paw again when I look away, etc. The way she looks at me says, “You know exactly why this is happening.”

    Other than that, she might occasionally bat harmless things off the table like chapstick or keys. Time to play!

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