Why Your Cat Likes to Knock Things Over

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?

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9 thoughts on “Why Your Cat Likes to Knock Things Over”

  1. I have seen my cat knock objects (a pen) off my desk in order to bat them around on the floor. My attention, or lack thereof, seemed irrelevant as the cat was amusing itself; I was welcome to join in the play!

    1. I think you are right. He/she was just playing and cats like to see things fall and hit the floor. She followed up by playing with the object. Thanks for commenting.

  2. I have more than a handful of cats that clear my counters tables, and shelves. They mostly do it while I sleep. I learned a long time ago not to have breakables or harmful things around. and I rig cabinets not to open for the couple of cats that are accomplished burglars.
    I agree that boredom is the best explanation because they don’t just knock things down and do nothing. It appears that their goal is to have different toys to play with on the floor.

  3. Diane Ricciardi Stewart

    Michael, having 10 cats (all adopted/rescued), I find that they keep themselves amused — with each other — especially if I am not home. However, they still want *Mom Cat* to give them attention. I don’t have problems with them knocking things over. Fortunately, since I do work nights, I tend to be on the same body clock as they are!! When I am ready to settle down to sleep, they usually are as well. They have NEVER gotten me up just to eat. They wait *patiently* for Mom Cat to get up when it is her day off. I do give all of them lots of love, attention and cuddles, and, believe me, I get lots of love and attention in return. I have always been the type that bothers them than they bother me!! Maybe that’s why I have never had behavior issues with any of my “kids”. . . ♥♥♥

    1. Diane, I think we should all work nights 😉 For the love of cats. We’d all be in sync then. The truth is that not that many cats knock things over deliberately. It may be fairly rare in fact but online media tends to hype it up. Although my late lady cat did it on occasion.

      I did not realise that you looked after 10 cats. Wow, is all I can thing of. Certainly, multi-cat household cats are probably less likely to demand attention as they can socialise nicely with their cat associates. I’d have thought that you have quite a large home to accommodate them.

      1. Diane Ricciardi Stewart

        Michael, my *kids* do get along nicely — there is the occasional hissy fit, but never anything bad. My son Tyler (25), the 10 kitties and I live in a medium sized apartment (flat), but they place is catered to and tailored for the kitties! I actually LOVE working nights as I have always been a *night owl* — my son and I actually work in the same place, but different departments>>>I am a poker dealer (croupier) on the casino side, and he is the chart writer on our racing side. We are very best friends as well as mother and son. We love our life with the kitties and are both nerdy gamers!! The kitties are our main loves and we dote on them constantly — and they show us much love, attention and head bonkies in return!! We had 12 kitties, but lost 2 (old age) — one on July 15, and the other on September 1. All of our cats have always been adopted/rescued. . . ♥♥♥ — and, yes, our landlord knows we have that many cats — they are great owners, and do allow pets in our building — ♥♥♥

        1. Wow again. You have a slightly unusual lifestyle but a nice one and a successful one. I love to see that. And your cats are happy. Great to know that you get on so well with your son. That is precious. Thanks for telling me about these things.

  4. I adopted cat that did that and her owner said he would come home and all kinds of things were knocked down but she never did it when he was home.I think it was to amuse herself, yes boredom. She never did it when i was out, only when i was home and she got lots of attention.

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