Cat zoomies: what do they tell us about human behaviour?

When people discuss cat zoomies, they invariably discuss feline behaviour. They tell us why domestic cats do the zoomies. It’s a feline thing. A problem of sorts. It’s amusing. You will see lots of videos of cats dashing around their homes in a sudden outburst of energy. Cat zoomies are particularly good on hard floors because cats slide when they take a bend down the corridor. Some people refer to the ‘cat crazies’ – same thing.

Feline zoomies
Feline zoomies. Double trouble version. Pic: Pixabay.
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The cat zoomies are about two beings: the cat and the human. It’s useful to look at the latter for a few minutes. Cats do the zoomies because they instinctively need to release energy which has become pent up. Jackson Galaxy, the well-known cat behaviourist, likens it to a balloon which is gradually being blown up and becomes more and more taught and finally explodes.

The issue, then, is about pent-up energy. Normally, a cat’s lifestyle would not result in the generation of pent-up energy. You won’t see wild cats doing the zoomies. You don’t see lions doing the zoomies on the Serengeti plains or the Masai Marra. You don’t see bobcats dashing through a forest trying to burn up pent up energy. Their energy has already been fully utilised in surviving.

And I would suggest that you won’t see indoor/outdoor cats doing the zoomies. If they do them, they will do them very rarely. My cat has become an indoor/outdoor cat although it was my original intention that he was a full-time indoor cat with a garden enclosure.

About three days ago he did the zoomies for about 15 seconds. I think that was the first time he’d done them. He is seven years old. He was probably a little bored because the weather was too cold to go out.

RELATED: How do I know if my cat is bored?

Indoor/outdoor cats can burn off energy when they patrol their home range and do the odd bit of hunting. But full-time indoor cats are much more likely to do the zoomies and the reason is obvious.

It is a good idea in terms of safety and the protection of wildlife to keep cats indoors full-time but the great failing of cat caregivers is that they hardly ever fully enrich their cat’s environment by modifying the interior of their home.

In essence, many full-time indoor cats live in a relatively sterile environment devoid of naturalness and the opportunity to use their instincts to hunt. Their entirely human-made environment likes challenges. Everything is provided. They are not tested either mentally or physically. And all creatures both human and animal need to be tested in both areas.

The cat is a hunting machine, a top predator. They are the Rolls-Royce of predators. Just like a Rolls-Royce they need to be used to be in top condition. You can’t leave a quality vehicle in a garage for weeks on end without expecting mechanical problems.

You can’t confine a domestic cat to even the most beautiful home without challenging them with a fully enriched environment combined with lots of play without expecting them to do the zoomies from time to time because of pent-up energy; energy for which there is no outlet.

And this is the domain of the human caregiver. The feline zoomies are about human behaviour more than about feline behaviour. It is the human who creates the environment for their cat. I would argue that when a full-time indoor cat lives in an environment which has been cat enriched, they will not do the zoomies.

Postscript: there are perhaps one or two other conditions which might cause the feline zoomies. One might be hyperthyroidism. The first signs may be dramatic because the increase in thyroid hormones tends to cause an increase in appetite and an increase in activity. A quiet, sedate older cat may suddenly start flying around the house like a wild youngster. This would be a version of the cat zoomies caused by a fairly common condition in elderly cats.

Some experts say that the following can cause zoomies: anxiety, fleas, mimicking another cat in their multi-cat households, emotional imbalances and age-related dementia. If any of these are relevant, I believe that they are normally irrelevant because by far the most likely cause is boredom due to the lack of a challenge.

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