Surprise: They’re not JUST being jerks. (They are a little bit, though.)
You might think your kitty has reached peak “cattiness” level when she refuses to stop batting objects off your tables and countertops—but it’s not all malice on her part. Cats like to knock things over for several reasons, starting with the deep-seated need to toy with their prey. Meow!
Why do cats knock things off tables?
Your pudgy domesticated housecat has the same behavioral drive to hunt small, bothersome creatures as the feral running through your neighborhood—only hers is likely pent-up. Well, she’s got to get her kicks somehow! As Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley from HowStuffWorks explains, “Your cat’s instincts tell her that paperweight or knick-knack could turn out to be a mouse. Her poking paw would send it scurrying, giving her a good game (and possibly a good lunch).”
Because cats use their sensitive paw pads to explore objects in their environment, you could say your cat is hardwired to “test” the motives of your chapstick, pen, car keys, and other suspicious tabletop items by giving them a good prod.
This is where the jerk part comes in, because cats can be very manipulative. But, when you consider she just wants your attention, it’s kind of sweet too.
If your cat is mobile and in the same room as you, she probably feels that she is deserving of your undivided adoration. Simply put, she has you trained to jump up and run over to her the moment you see her start to bat at an object. And because she’s found a way to snatch up your attention for at least thirty seconds, she’s not going to stop this behavior.
Finally, there’s always the probability that your cat is turning tabletop items into impromptu toys. She may be bored of her usual passive toys. A good rule of thumb for cat parents is to participate in exercising play with your cat for at least 15 minutes per day, whether with feather wands, laser pointers, or a toy mouse dragged along the floor. If she’s properly stimulated every day, she might lose the desire to make play things out of your breakable knick-knacks!
How can I make my cat stop doing this?
Beyond wanting to keep your precious paperweights intact, you should consider the unsanitary hazards of Kitty hanging out on your counters and dinner table. Remember, folks, where those paws have been and what they are trampling over on a daily basis. “Because of the risk of bacteria or toxoplasmosis spread through fecal-oral contact, it’s best to keep her paws off counters, stovetops, and tables,” says Dr. Justine Lee, DVM, DACVECC, DABT.
Although you can somewhat mitigate these icky effects with a self-cleaning litter box like Litter-Robot (which leaves a clean bed of litter for your cat after every use), you might still want to curb this behavior.
If you suspect your cat is knocking things over to get your attention, the best thing to do is to ignore her (and put away any breakable items). Jumping to her beck and call is a way of reinforcing the behavior. Even if you’re yelling, she might feel as though your attention is a reward in and of itself.
Play with her
Leave complex toys around for her to play with throughout the day, such as a puzzle feeder. And as we mentioned earlier, make sure you give your cat playtime every day so she’s less likely to invent new ways of amusing herself.
Finally, you could pull out the big guns with double-sided sticky tape. When your cat jumps on the table, her paws will stick a little to the tape. This sensation will deter most cats from jumping back up.
Now that you know a few reasons why cats knock things off tables and countertops, you might be able to pinpoint your cat’s specific motive for doing so. Use these tips to curb her naughty behavior—or just sit back and let Kitty do Kitty. The choice is yours!