• Home
  • /
  • Cat Care
  • /
  • Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? (Because They Can?)

Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? (Because They Can?)

Posted in: Cat Care - Last Updated: March 13, 2023 - Author: Dexter Jones
Posted in Cat Care 
Last Updated: March 9, 2023  
Author:  Dexter Jones

Cats are very interesting creatures. One of the biggest selling points for most people that decide to get a cat is the fact that they are more independent and "free-thinking" animals compared to dogs and a lot of other potential pets. 

And while that free-thinking and care free attitude has a lot of upsides, it also can tend to result in some pretty serious headaches from time to time. Probably one of the more frustrating things you'll see from Mr. Whiskers is his penchant for knocking things over with his cute little paws... just because he can. 


Why Do Cats Knock Things Over

Seriously! Why do cats just love to knock things over? Is this normal? Is it just that cats like to cause problems for their owners or is there something else at play here?

And they all do it. We have all seen our beloved kitty slowly nudge something off the shelves or the counters.

Why Do Cats Knock Things Over? In Short!

Curiosity is the main reason. Cats are naturally curious and love to explore their surroundings, using their paws and nose to investigate new objects. Knocking things over can also be a form of play or a way to get attention from their owners if they are bored or hungry. 

Additionally, cats have a strong prey drive, and knocking over objects can mimic the behavior of catching and hunting prey. 

And finally, the brutally honest truth is that cats may knock things over simply because they enjoy the sound and movement of objects falling. PLUS they are mischievous creatures! 

Yes, it simply boils down to this, because they can! 

Why Do Cats Like to Knock Things Over? The Reasons

Reason 1. Boredom

Probably the first and most common reason your cat finds themselves knocking things over all the time is also the one that is the least interesting. They're simply just bored.

While we like to think that cats are wholly independent and self-sufficient, that's not 100% true. Especially for strictly indoor cats, it can be easy for them to get a bit stir-crazy if left on their own for too long. 

Even if you have some designated cat toys for them to play with if you're not actively using these toys to make it fun for them, cats have a tendency to lose interest. For them, a bag of rice or a potted plant is just the stimulation they may feel they need to get the heart racing and the blood pumping.

Again, the cat doesn't know that what they're jumping on is valuable to you. In fact, they may potentially think it's just another new toy you've gotten for them. We'll get to the solution a bit later, but the remedy really is spending a bit of time playing with them with their actual designated toys so they aren't confused about what's what.

Reason 2. Curiosity

This is especially the case if you've left something in a bag or container that, while open enough to leak out the smells, isn't all that visible. Your cat's curiosity is likely getting the better of them as they do a bit of sleuthing to see what's smelling so yummy! 

If you've got the bag only lightly covered, it shouldn't end up on the floor (hopefully). On the other hand, if you've got it covered well enough, they're likely to get really aggressive in trying to open it up. This can include knocking it over or tipping it on the ground to hopefully break it open and get at the spoils.

why do cats like to knock things over

Reason 3. Attention

The first time may have been an accident. The second time? Not so much.

For some cats, particularly smaller kittens, knocking things over is a way to get your attention. This is especially the case if it's already worked a few times in the past. And before you say you didn't give them any attention the first time, consider how you reacted. 

Did you stop what you were doing to make sure they were ok? 

Did you pick them up and handle them over whatever your previous plans initially were? For a cat (especially a kitten) that registers to them as attention.

You have to understand that, most animals, associate an action with a response. If they meow a certain way at a certain time and you go to feed them, they'll figure that they need to meow that same way at that exact same time whenever they're hungry for food. (It's almost like Pavlov in reverse!)

This is true for "bad behavior" as well. If your cat knocked something over and you went to pick it or them up while talking to them, that might teach your cat that, whenever they want your attention (for literally anything) they should just tip over a book or a toy. 

Probably the biggest tell that they're doing it specifically to get your attention is if you find them looking at you before doing it. 

You might think it's them being extra mischievous, but for them, they're just checking to see if you're in range to hear them calling out to you in the messiest way possible.

Reason 4. Hungry

This can stem from a lot of different things. The big issue is that your cat isn't interested in being ignored while its tummy is growling. 

Generally, cats will either yell out that they're hungry or go to you to have you move along to get their food to them. In some cases, your cat may end up knocking some things over, citing hunger as the reason.

In most situations, it's to do with whatever is in the container.

Oftentimes, if you're not answering their yells, and there's food on a table, they're just going to say "screw it" and try to eat whatever you've got lying around. After all, if you wanted to feed them their actual cat food, you'd have gotten around to it by now!

The other situation deals with them taking more drastic actions to get your attention. Remember that, if you've already come calling to them knocking things over in the past, they're very likely to use that method to get your attention now when they're hungry.

Reason 5. They're Just Being A Cat

Lastly, your cat may just be acting as a cat acts. A lot of the time we try to put human reasoning on our pets for why they do the things they do, and that makes sense to a certain degree. 

After all, we're humans so of course we'd view things from a human perspective. In truth, however, sometimes a cat is just acting like a cat, with no ulterior motives.

For most cats, their animal instincts play a role in how they act and do the things they do. In the case of knocking decorations off the table is concerned, it may seem pointless to us but for them, it may be as simple as removing a potential threat along their path. 

As an example, if your cat tends to normally walk on your table, if they find a couple of pens and a notebook placed a certain way, they may perceive it as an obstacle big enough to trip them over but small enough that they can just move. 

In this case, it only makes sense for them to want to push it aside and go about their regular path, completely uninterested in where it landed.

Another example is that some cats will play hunt with certain inanimate objects. Depending on where they're located, a cat may find themselves practicing their prey pounce using that abandoned stuffed animal. 

It's not uncommon that, in the midst of their pounce, they completely knock the item over, freak out at the sound (and the potential yelling), and flee the scene of the crime.

why do cats knock over things

Tips For How To Stop Them 

Now that you understand what is and isn't causing your cat to do what they're doing, you can now spend some time deciding what steps you can take to get them to stop.

1. Don't React Or Give Them Attention 

Whether it's because they're bored, looking for you to pay attention to them, or just that they're hungry, they need to know that what they're doing isn't ok. The best way to do that, however, is not by punishing them, but rather (for starters) by not doing anything at all.

Again, you need to realize that most of the time they're doing this to get a response from you.

Instead, simply ignored them and clean up the mess after they've left the area. 

This not only tells them that knocking things over is an ineffective way to get your attention, but it forces them to have to be more personal and direct, saving any other knickknacks they've got from being shattered.

2. Use Positive Reinforcement 

While negative reinforcement isn't ideal or effective, the same can't be said about positive reinforcement. The thing with most forms of negative reinforcement is that the cat doesn't correlate the action with the punishment.

In most cases, they just think you're being mean for no reason. Instead, you want to offer positive reinforcement, as this actually rewards them for doing the right thing, something their brains actually will connect activity and result with

This means that, while you'll want to completely ignore them when they're knocking things over, you want to give them all the attention in the world when they're not on the countertops or tables and just hanging out with you. 

Simply put, while every cat relationship is different, you want to wait until your cat is doing what you want them to do before giving them all the hugs, kisses, and kitty treats they want.

3. Just Play With Them

Remember that the biggest reason your cat knocks things over has nothing to do with you and everything to do with the fact that they've got nothing better to do. 

Since that is the case, invest in some cat toys or even a cat tree for them to adventure on. Try some kitty toys to play with, maybe even some catnip toys, but also make sure you're setting aside some time to play with them with said toys. 

Top Kitty Tip: My cats absolutely love laser pointers! They go crazy for them at playtime, it gives them plenty of mental stimulation, lots of natural instinct chase time, and counters any withheld kitty frustration. They also love feather wands but they don't seem to last very long in our house! 

Cat behaviorists recommend having daily playtime with your cat, and ensuring that they have their own toys to push around, as well as a food puzzle or other interactive game to provide some real kitty mental stimulation.

Then they will have a 5-hour nap! 

Remember, cats aren't dogs, a cat's behavior ( and a cat's instincts)  is different, and they don't need a ton of stimulation to keep from climbing up the walls (literally).

Still, something is better than nothing. If you're willing to devote 15-20 minutes every other day to playing with them, that would dramatically reduce the number of kicked-over utensils and kitchen items.

Here's What It Isn't!

Before we jump into the reasons why your cat is tearing up your house and knocking things over, it's important that we allay any fears or concerns you might have.

It's Not Medically-Related 

While, yes, your cat causing a mess can certainly be annoying, it isn't because of any health or mental issues. For many pet owners, it can be a real fear that their cat is suffering from some sort of health issue and is trying to get your attention to the problem. This isn't the case. Cats usually act the exact opposite way when it comes to illnesses and diseases, often suffering in silence.

It's Not Because They Want To Upset You

We'll touch on some of the behavioural aspects in a minute, but you should also know that if your cat is knocking things over it's not because they're actively trying to upset you. 

While we'd like to believe cats do what they do to annoy and upset us, the truth is that they rarely think of us in that way. In most cases, a cat is doing what they're doing because it makes logical sense to them at that time.

why do cats knock things over at night

Even the more dramatic and serious reasons a cat may knock something over aren't necessarily to upset you (after all, he doesn't know that's a priceless crystal vase that's now been shattered) but rather to get you to pay attention to them.

So now that we've cleared up what it isn't, let's go over some of the reasons your cat might be tipping over your favorite coffee mug.

Why Do Cats Knock Things Over: The Verdict 

Cats are awesome animals with a ton of aspects that make them one of the best pets a person could have. But that doesn't mean they're perfect or that they can exhibit behaviors that aren't ideal. 

By understanding that your cat knocking things over isn't because they're holding a grudge against you, but rather because they want your attention or are bored or are practicing mouse hunting, you can work to handle those issues and completely get them to stop that activity. 

By you taking some sensible cat care action on your end, you'd be surprised just how quickly they lose interest in making a mess in your home.

Get 30% off and FREE shipping on cat supplies!

U.S.A only

To Find out why we recommend chewy.com, click here

About the author

Dexter Jones has been a solid member of the ‘Mad Cat Dad’ club since time began! Dexter has been a keen cat writer for many years and lives in Croatia. He lives with his two tabby cats, Milly & Marly, who also flew in from the UK to start their new Adriatic island life together.