Why Do Cats Like to Knock Things Over?

A behaviorist explains this quirky tendency of batting objects off the table, counter, or shelves as a deep-seated needed to toy with their prey.

Cats have a reputation for knocking things off the table, the countertops, and even shelves. In fact, you can search the Internet and find countless videos of cats all doing the same thing—using their paws to bat everything from mugs to expensive vases off the edge to the floor. But why do they do it?

cat knocking napkin off table
Carlina Teteris / Getty Images

The reason behind it is surprisingly simple: "Most cats knock items off the tables and counters to get attention or to simply play with the item," explains Cathy Bosley, certified feline training and behavior specialist at the Best Friends Animal Society.

Ask yourself, are you meeting your cat's needs?

If the behavior is frequent, make sure that your cat's needs are being met. Maybe you slept in late one morning and your cat wants to remind you that it is your job to feed her. Maybe you have been working from home for a few hours and haven't given her the amount of attention that she wants. So, Kitty will do what she can to make you notice her. And that may involve pushing your favorite coffee mug to the floor or rolling a pen off the top of your desk.

Cats use their paws to test and explore objects in the world around them. To help with boredom, keep your cat's toys in rotation so she consistently has new playthings. Try puzzle toys and games that contain treats hidden inside.

Try these techniques to stop the behavior.

Still, there are a few things that you can do to curb this attention-seeking behavior. "The first thing you want to do is to make the counter or table unappealing," suggests Bosley. "Make sure there are no items on the table or counter that will attract his or her attention." That translates to any number of things from dangling items in a centerpiece to napkins fluttering in the breeze to serving platters full of food.

Then, if you're trying to do something on the table and she still pushes it off the table, add a deterrent. "There are some deterrents that will emit either a sound or a puff of air when there is the motion of the cat jumping on the counter or table," explains Bosley. "This will be unpleasant and automatic so that the cat will not associate that with you." Another option is to use Sticky Paws on a Roll ($8, chewy.com), which you can find in pet stores, to discourage her from being on the table.

Deterrents aren't the only way, though. You can redirect her attention when you see that she is about to jump onto the table or knock something off. "She is most likely doing this to get your attention and if you notice her getting ready to jump, distract her with a toy. Play with her for about five minutes or so to redirect her thoughts," explains Bosley. "If she's already on the counter, simply leave the room. Do not pick her up and put her on the floor, do not say anything to her; both of these will be giving her the desired reaction, even if it's not a positive reaction."

Of course, if your cat is playing with an item on your table that could hurt her, remove the item from her paws and get your cat to safety.

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