Why do cats knock things off tables?

Is your cat knocking things off the table? We know the frustration, a cat jumps on a table and pushes a crystal ashtray on the floor. YouTube is full of videos of cats knocking things off the table, and likely you have seen “live” version performed by your furry ball of cuteness.

a cat knocking a phone off table
Photo by Alexey Koldunov.

What is going on? Are cats mean creatures that want to destroy things valuable to you? Obviously, they appear to understand what they are doing, right? In this article, you are going to learn why do cats knock things off tables and how to make them stop.

Why cats paw and bat at objects?

The problem is that cats often paw objects, in a seemingly intentional manner. This leaves little doubt about the consciousness in this action. And from one perspective—it is true.

Pawing and pushing objects is in the cat’s nature. From the age of 12 days, kittens start to bat at moving and non-moving objects. Playing is an innate behavior, meaning that cats do it without being taught. It helps to learn hunting skills and understand the world around them—especially the laws of physics.

Under such circumstances, it is only a matter of time when a household cat jumps on a table—even if he is not allowed to—and will bat at an object of interest. By a strong chance, one beautiful day that object will fall off and shatter in small pieces. Often we observe that cats seem to enjoy the process. It is fun to watch the object fall, and the sound is pleasing, too.

But there’s something else going on, as well. What was your reaction the first time it occurred? Probably not the calmest one. This is when your cat first learned that the shattering part wasn’t left unnoticed. You might have been yelling at your cat, running after him, making a video or even showing an amusement. In any case, it brought your cat some attention.

Attention seeking is a common behavior in indoor cats, which, ironically enough, can make a cat prefer negative attention as a replacement of the dull lack of attention at all.

That’s right: bored cats may enjoy negative attention from their owners. They are likely to knock things off tables to get the attention. Or entertainment.

Once your cat discovers the connection between dropping things off shelves and your attention, a cat might be hard to stop. Not all of them do it that way (there are several other ways how cats can draw attention from their owners), but, if you read this, yours probably does.

So, to sum up:

  1. Cats love batting objects
  2. Sometimes those objects are on a table, and they fall off
  3. A cat possibly finds it fun to watch
  4. Owner becomes angry
  5. Cat learns that knocking objects off tables is a good attention magnet
  6. The cat keeps knocking objects off tables
  7. Owner gets madder and madder
  8. The cat enjoys it

The list might continue a little more, but you got the point. What starts as an accident becomes self-reinforcing as time passes.

How to stop a cat from knocking things off tables

Once you understand the pattern, you are likely to figure out a plan to stop it.

  • cat napping on an empty shelfKeep your stuff safe. The behavior is hard to control, so it might be easier to re-organizing your life. Anything fragile, such as vases, photo frames, smartphones, etc. are better on shelves that are not accessible to cats. Better lock everything up to be sure.
  • Provide your cat attention and activities. There are plenty of ways to do it with and without your involvement. You can play with your cat, set up puzzle feeders, use solo play toys, electronic toys, put cat trees in your house and other. The more activity and attention your cat gets, the less likely he is to do nasty things.
  • Ignore incidents. Since your cat knocks things off to get attention, your biggest revenge, instead of getting back at him, is to ignore it. We know the frustration, but keep quiet, clean everything up without a word, and you will be the one who will have the last laugh. Eventually, he will stop doing this pointless act, though in practice it takes time and many shattered things, and give result only in combination with other strategies mentioned here.
  • Protect your surfaces. Prevent your cat from jumping on tables. The best way is to use a cat repellent that sprays air on motion, such as SSSCat, but there are other ways to keep cats off tables, too. In parallel, think of ways how to expand your cat’s vertical territory by placing cat trees, shelves, and other cat-appropriate surfaces; the more there are, the more likely you are to prevent counter surfing.

Even though cats appear to knock objects off tables consciously, to frustrate you, you must understand that in the majority of cases it is done not to be mean, but to get your attention.

Once you get this, you can change your strategy. Instead of going into a brutal war with your cat, you can play wiser turns. If, besides your cat knocking things off the table, the cute devil also displays other behavior problems, check our solution to the most common ones here.

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