Cat owners are all too familiar with the nighttime “zoomies.” While many animals dart around in a display of frenetic energy, it seems that only cats enjoy doing this at 2 a.m. when their owners are asleep. Though the night zoomies can be difficult to understand, a cat researcher tells Inverse there’s actual science behind it.
While most things cats do are inexplicable, 3 a.m. zoomies are a particular kind of bizarre, even to seasoned cat owners.
“They’re so funny and cute,” self-proclaimed “serial cat adopter” Dave Lucas tells Inverse. “My cat, Hennessy, just goes ‘brrrew!’ and zooms out of the room. Then she runs back in, looks at me, and zooms back out.”
Reporter and cat enthusiast s.e. smith agrees that kitty zoomies straddle the line between cuteness and madness.
“My cat runs around at night for no apparent reason but I suspect it’s something mysterious and cat-related,” smith tells Inverse. “Possibly a satanic ritual.”
But according to Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, the zoomies aren’t related to black magic — or so cats would have us think.
“The nighttime ‘zoomies’ or ‘crazy capering’ is common for a few reasons,” she tells Inverse. “One reason is that cats are naturally crepuscular, meaning active at dawn and dusk, which is when their natural prey (rodents) are active. Cats are not really nocturnal (a common misperception). So their internal rhythm just tells them, ‘It’s time to get active and start hunting.’”
Since kitties spend a lot of their day snoozing while their humans are at work, their internal clocks might be a little wonky.
“They tend to be more active when we’re more active, and so since many cat guardians are gone all day, when they get home there’s more going on in the house, and cats have all that energy stored up from lounging all day,” Delgado says. “It’s a good time to blow off some steam!”
Sure, the nighttime zoomies can be charming — but they’re not great for people who already have trouble sleeping. Increasing a cat’s daytime activity by providing them with food puzzles, a bird feeder to watch, or some other kind of enrichment can all help calm a cat down before bedtime, Delgado explains.
“[Cat owners] can also give their cats a nice interactive play session in the early evening with a feather wand or other ‘fishing pole’ style toy, and then feed cats dinner,” she says. “Usually the combination of exercise and a meal will help your cat settle down for the evening.”
We might never know the one true cause of the zoomies, but at least we have some good ideas. In the best case scenario, cats are just expending some pent-up energy. At the very worst, they’re trying to open the portal to the cat dimension. But who knows.