Why Do Cats Knock Everything Over? Science Explains

Mystery solved.

Cats are both feared and loved by their humans and the entire internet, mostly because of their bizarre behaviors. One of their favorite activities is knocking over every object in their field of view, leaving humans to pick up the mess as usual. It doesn’t make any sense, but cat logic isn’t concerned with our human conventions of “right” and “wrong.”

A feline researcher tells Inverse that though the behavior is definitely mysterious, scientists have some ideas about why cats love to shove our stuff off tables and shelves.

“A lot of cats knock things over because they have learned it is a quick and easy way to get their human’s attention,” cat researcher Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, tells Inverse. “This behavior typically stems from boredom and/or a failure of the owner to acknowledge cats for ‘good behavior.’”

Joffrey, 5, about to knock over an innocent bread loaf.

Shaunna Murphy

It’s possible that cats’ impulse to knock things over is just part of their hardwiring as hunters. We often forget that cats in the wild are fierce predators and that the ones in our apartments still have that drive inside of them, even if they’re just hunting for hair ties and ankles.

“Your cat’s instincts tell her that paperweight or knickknack could turn out to be a mouse,” Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley tells HowStuffWorks. “Her poking paw would send it scurrying, giving her a good game (and possibly a good lunch).”

No one knows what’s going on inside a cat’s curious little mind. But Delgado says owners should try to spend a little more time each day playing with their cats. An occupied kitty is less likely to knock over your cherished items, or so we think.

“Use clicker training to reward behaviors [cats] like, and if people have fragile valuables, use museum putty to secure them to surfaces so they can’t be knocked over,” she recommends.

Maybe cats aren’t the sadistic masterminds they’re supposed to be. Maybe there’s a reasonable, scientific explanation for each of their odd behaviors.

Or maybe that’s exactly what they want us to think.