Cat sitting on table

Why do cats knock things over?

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Why do cats like to push objects off surfaces?

By Zoë Monk Content Writer

Published on the

Cats are well known for deliberately pushing objects off surfaces and don't seem to mind that it upsets their owners. But why do cats knock things over?

Most cat owners will have likely seen their feline friend knocking objects off a shelf or table. In fact, this cat behaviour is so common that there are numerous videos of cats doing it all over the internet. 

But while it might be funny to watch (especially if it's not your possessions they are knocking over), it can be frustrating to watch your favourite vase smash into a million pieces on the floor. So why do cats do it?

Do cats knock things over on purpose?

Unfortunately, it's true. Cats do knock things over on purpose. But when they deliberately push an object over, they aren't doing it to be a jerk or upset you. In most cases, a cat will knock items off a surface to either play with the object or to get attention.

Why do cats like knocking things off tables?

Here are three common reasons why cats like knocking things off tables:

Attention seeking behaviour

Don't underestimate your cat. It only needs to knock something off the table a few times to realise that they get your attention when they do. So, if your cat wants your attention, it may begin knocking things over to get your attention. To not reinforce this behaviour, try to avoid immediately running over to your cat when they knock something off. Of course, if they knock over a vase or something containing food, make sure that they cannot hurt themselves. You can pick up other things later.

Predatory instincts

All felines, even indoor cats, have a deeply ingrained prey drive. Playing with cat toys like laser pointers and wand toys is a fun way for your cat to release these instincts. By poking and pushing objects, even if it's just a pen, they are trying to determine if the object is potential prey. Cats also use their paws to explore objects and their environment, so even items that may not remotely look like a bird or a mouse might get an intuitive nudge from your cat.


Cats are a lot cleverer than many people give them credit for. If they don't get the mental and physical stimulation they need, they can soon get bored. Many cat behaviours that may be considered naughty usually arise because a cat needs more stimulation. If your feline friend isn't getting enough stimulation through active play, it might start getting itself into trouble, such as playing with things that aren't cat toys!

How to stop cats from knocking things over

Since much of this behaviour is a cat's instinct, you should avoid the temptation to scold or tell them off for knocking things over. However, you can do a few things to help minimise your feline's temptation to knock things over. For example:

Planned playtime

Have scheduled play times with your cat that include toys that use their predatory instincts, such as wand toys, to help relieve their boredom. These toys will provide an outlet for your cat's instincts and physical and mental enrichment. Regularly playing with your cat can help break their fascination with knocking things off surfaces. But make sure this playtime lasts longer than just a few minutes. Cats usually benefit from around 20 minutes of active play every day.

Redirection and distraction

Redirection can also help to stop your cat from pushing objects over. If you see your feline friend getting ready to jump onto a surface that has things on that they are likely to want to knock over, try to distract them with an impromptu play session

Rotate toys

Some owners find that to keep their cats interested in their own toys, not stray cups or pens around the house, is to rotate their toys. Cats should have a range of toys to play with. However, by rotating their toys, they are less likely to get bored with their toys. All you need to do is keep half of their toys in a container with some dried catnip sprinkled over them. Then every week, collect up the cat toys and swap them for the toys in storage.

Puzzle feeders

If your cat is prone to deliberately pushing things off your surfaces, puzzle feeds can help. There are some great puzzle feeders cats can knock around to get the kibble out which can be a good outlet for them. 

Out of reach

Ultimately, you can reduce the chances of your cat knocking things over by minimising their access to them. Keep your knickknacks high enough that they can't reach or jump to or inside a closed cabinet.

You won't be able to stop your feline friend's instincts to paw at things, but by understanding why they feel compelled to do so, you can give them the outlets they need for this behaviour and, at the same time, help to avoid your possessions from getting broken.

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Frequently asked questions

Why do cats knock cups over?

Why do cats knock over water?

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Do cats knock stuff over for attention?

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