Do you know why your cat likes to knock things over? What’s your theory? In fact, does he do it? Not all domestic cats do. What percentage of cats do this? Despite what experts say I don’t believe we have a full and certain answer to these questions so I’ll provide mine but I’m not certain either.
I have the distinct impression that when cats knock things over (say, off a table or shelf) they are doing it to arouse your attention. They are provoking you into action. They’ll do other things too, with the same objective (I discuss this below). The reason why they want to get your attention is because, as far as they are concerned, at that particular time, you’re not giving them enough attention and often the desire is to get you to provide some food or perhaps to go outside with them on a hunting trip. The fact that it is a time of day which is unsuitable to humans is irrelevant to the cat because we are cats to a domestic cat. They probably find it hard to understand why we don’t want what they want.
If this is true it tells us that cats are smarter than many people give them credit for. But sometimes the process of knocking things over or doing something which irritates the human is informally trained-in by the human. If the cat’s owner responds, as is likely, to something that irritates and which provokes a physical response, the cat recognises this and understands that their actions in knocking something over achieves the desired result and so they’ll do it again.
The domestic cat and the human are out-of-step in their biological clocks. When the cat has the urge to be his most active at dawn, dusk and during the night to hunt, the human wants to be his/her least active. At 4 am she is still asleep or barely awake. During late evening she is watching television or chilling out. Our cat sometimes want to interact with us at some of these times. Not all cats do. I sense that some cats give up on their hard wired desires to be active at night and dawn because they are full-time indoor cats and they understand there is no point in fighting their natural instincts to hunt at night. This is not a rational decision, it is just that they unlearn these hard wired traits.
My cat does not knock things over off shelves or tables. His habit is to lick the side of the bed. I think he did this initially because he likes the taste (it is cloth covered). He soon realised that it annoyed me and made me interact with him even in an unpleasant way (I’d push him out of the bedroom and close the door). Once he’d learned that licking the bed elicited my response he did it at 4 am because he wants me to go outside with him on a hunting trip. Or he wants to be fed. He does not want me to roll over in bed and snooze. These days I feed him even if it is 4 am.
There are probably other influences at play. For example: boredom. If a cat is bored he may prod items and push them off a table. But this is linked to the idea of provoking us to interact with them. If we did interact with our cat more he would not be bored. Perhaps this is a result of the well-known aspect of cat behavior: independence. It can lead us into ignoring our cats too much. Domestic cats are relatively independent but also sociable with other cats in the house. We are big cats.
That is my theory. What’s yours?