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Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? Vets Reveal What’s Going On In Their Kitty Brains — And How to Get Them to Stop

Learn how to prevent this strange behavior in the first place.


Anyone who has a cat knows how much kitties love knocking things over. From a potted plant to a priceless piece of china, pretty much no object is safe from your precious pet’s curious paws. It’s no wonder why many animal experts recommend keeping breakable items out of a cat’s reach, especially when you first bring your new fur baby home. But why do cats knock things over in the first place? We asked top vets for the reasons behind this bad kitty behavior and how you can put an end to it.

Why do cats knock things over?

No, it isn’t just to annoy you… or is it? Here, experts share some of the most likely reasons your cat is knocking things off your tables and shelves.

1. Their hunting instinct is activated.

Though she’s come a long way from her wild roots, your cat may still be acting on her natural hunting instincts when she knocks things over. It’s possible that she might approach certain objects — especially small objects — like she would pursue a mouse. “As predators, it’s natural for them to ‘investigate’ any potential prey by touching it with their paws,” says Dr. Mikel Maria Delgado, cat behavior expert with Rover. “That pencil could be a lizard — best to bat at it and get more information about whether or not it is safe!”

When cats bat at things, people assume it’s simply a play behavior, but that’s not always the case. “This is a behavior you might see if you watch a cat hunt — people think they are ‘playing’ with their prey, but they’re really testing to see if it’s safe to hunt.” Although it probably doesn’t take your feline too long to realize that your fragile teacup isn’t food, that doesn’t stop a cat’s instinct to explore the fascinating object with those little paws.

2. They are seeking your attention.

Even if it seems like your curious cat has explored every nook and cranny of your home, they may still knock the same object down over and over again — much to your dismay. If that’s the case, this might simply be yet another example of your kitty knowing what to do to push your buttons.

“Since the house is a familiar environment to your cat, chances are, she’s learned that she gets attention from you if she knocks things over,” says Dr. Paola Cuevas, MVZ, veterinarian, behaviorist and consultant at Excited Cats. If you react every time she pushes your cup of coffee off the kitchen table — which, let’s face it, who wouldn’t? — Kitty might simply be looking for that attention from you.

3. They just want to have a little fun.

It’s also possible this might simply be an instance of your kitty wanting to play. Although you may have already bought several different cat toys that are actually meant for playtime, you’ll learn pretty quickly that just about anything can be a toy in a cat’s eyes — even the cherished heirloom crystal vase that sits on your mantel.

And if you immediately pick the item back up, only for your cat to knock it back off the shelf, she might see it as a game. It’s like playing fetch with a dog — you keep throwing, Fido will keep fetching. You keep setting the item back up, Kitty will keep knocking it off.

As infuriating as it may be, watching cats knock things off of shelves can be entertaining, at least when they’re not making a mess in your house! Check out the video below for a compilation of kitties knocking things over:

How to stop a cat from knocking over stuff

Kitten standing in front of a plant that it knocked over and dirt is spilling on floor

As you work on getting your cat to leave your stuff alone, it’s probably a good idea to keep anything fragile, breakable or irreplaceable stashed away where your kitty can’t find it. That said, you’ll be happy to know that there are a few possible ways that you can prevent or at least cut down on this type of catty behavior.

1. Secure your items

Good news: You don’t have to put all your valuables into hiding just to keep them safe from your cat’s paws. Affix your items to the surfaces on which they sit so that Kitty, try as she might, can’t knock them off. Small, light items can be attached using double-sided tape, but for heavier things, try museum putty (Buy from Amazon, $4.25).

2. Provide alternatives

This might be as simple as instructing your cat to come to you or perhaps serving a fun distraction with a cat-friendly toy or a game. Chances are, your cat is feeling a little bored, so it’s helpful to think of this as an opportunity to get your pet excited — about something that’s fun for the cat and for you.

“Give them things to explore and play with on their own, such as food puzzles, safe solo play toys and cat grass,” says Dr. Delgado. “A window perch and a bird feeder to watch keeps many cats busy during the day. The important message here: Give your cat things to do that are more fun than knocking things over.”

Another thing to consider is giving your cat options to explore vertically. “Cats naturally like to be up high — give them options via cat trees and condos,” recommends Dr. Delgado. These might keep her from exploring vertically via your mantels and bookshelves.

3. Offer positive reinforcement

Cats are strong-willed, so it may be difficult to train them not to knock things over. Redirecting their behavior by using positive reinforcement is the closest alternative to “training” her. Use treats to encourager your cat to climb her cat tree instead of your shelves, for example, says Dr. Delgado.

Whatever you do, don’t raise your voice or otherwise punish your cat — she won’t understand, and it will hurt your bond. “I don’t recommend using any type of correction or punishment to try to stop your cat from knocking things over,” notes Dr. Delgado. “It’s much more effective (and better for your relationship) to focus on prevention and making other things even more fun than the behaviors you don’t want.” (Click through to see why positive reinforcement works best for dogs, too.)

No matter how you nix that knock-everything-over behavior, remember: Practice makes purrfect!

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