The reason why cats knock things over and how it can be avoided

This is a response to the Bored Panda article on why cats knock things over and how to stop them. The veterinary student author of that article lists many reasons why domestic cats knock things over. What we are talking about is cats jumping up onto a table, sideboard or a mantelpiece and knocking things off onto the floor. When they do this the cat watches curiously and it’s pretty obvious that they enjoy doing it.

The reason why cats knock things over and how it can be avoided
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I don’t think that there are many reasons why domestic cats knock things off mantelpieces. I think the evidence is there, in front of our eyes, to see. They just enjoy doing it. They are creating some activity in their lives.

I don’t think there’s a study on this but I would bet my bottom dollar that nearly every cat who has the habit of knocking things off mantelpieces and sideboards is a full-time indoor cat.

Because the owner wants to keep their cats safe, they keep them inside which is understandable. But they don’t, sadly, substitute the indoor environment in terms of stimulation for the kind of fun and stimulation that they would receive if they were allowed outside.

So, they get bored. I believe that “bored kitty syndrome” as I would like to coin it is very prevalent in millions of homes. And I think it comes about because many cat caregivers think that cats are independent-minded. They believe that their cat is happy to snooze all day and do nothing. But the reason why cats snooze all day and do nothing is because there is nothing to do 😢.

My neighbour has seven cats. She told me the other day that they do nothing all day but snooze. I didn’t say anything but, in my mind, I said, “No surprise there then! They do nothing all day because there’s nothing to do all day because they are kept captive inside her smelly, cluttered home!”

Cats are programmed to hunt. It’s a pretty straightforward life for a domestic cat. They sleep, they get up and hunt. They eat. They defecate and urinate. And they sleep. But their whole life is based around predation and it is in the predation of animals where they get their fun and mental stimulation. Without that activity they have to find other sources and so they animate an inanimate object such as a small ornament on the mantelpiece by forcing it off onto the floor.

The cat that knocks something off a mantelpiece is trying to make a dead object such as a pencil into a live object as it falls to the floor and bounces around the floor. That’s at the root of the reason why cats knock things off high pieces of furniture.

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Comment on the list reasons provided by the Bored Panda

Hunting instinct: the Bored Panda website provides a long list of reasons. One of which is hunting instinct. This is supportive of what I’ve just said. At the root of knocking things off surfaces is this hunting instinct which means the cat needs something to hunt and they haven’t got it inside the home. And so, they play with objects as a kind of substitute.

Attention seeking behaviour: I do not think that knocking objects off surfaces is attention seeking behaviour as the Bored Panda website states. To stress, I don’t think a cat is trying to get attention from their owner. They are simply amusing themselves.

Curiosity: another proposed reason why cats do this is out of curiosity. I don’t think cats are curious as to what will happen when they knock things off mantelpieces. Why should they be interested in what happens to a pencil or an ornament knocked off a high surface? What they’re interested in is trying to self-stimulate their brains. They are creating activity out of an inactive environment.

Playtime: it is a form of play because a lot of what a domestic cat does in play is a form of training for hunting. So, it is fair to say that when cats knock things off surfaces it is a form of play which in itself is a form of hunting substitute.

Territorial marking: I don’t see any aspect of this behaviour as territorial marking. Knocking things over is not territorial marking in my opinion. It has nothing to do with it.

How to stop your cat knocking things over

The bottom line is that you have to create an environment inside your home which mentally stimulates your cat. This is called an enriched environment. Jackson Galaxy Calls It “catification“. The same thing. The idea is to create a home for your cat which is as enjoyable as the home is to you. It is not just focusing on the interior of your home as a home for people but also a home for domestic cats.

This means installing climbing frames, a catio if it can be afforded and if it’s practical, an outside run, a garden enclosure specifically for domestic cats, high perching points and so on and so forth. The end result will not look great or appealing to a human but it will to a domestic cat and there will no longer be a need for them to knock things off surfaces because they will be fully entertained.

Postscript: a cat is not being naughty when they knock things off onto the floor. Cats can’t be naughty. They are behaving instinctively and naturally as nature intended. Calling cats “naughty” is a form of anthropocentrism. It is treating the cat as a human being which is all well and good and great most of the time but not in this respect.

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