Picture this: It’s 1 AM, the crickets are chirping just outside your bedroom window, and you’re trying to catch up on some much-needed shut-eye. When suddenly, the sound of a cup crashing to the hardwood floor beside you jolts you awake and sends your heart rate through the roof. Your cat—again—decided the middle of the night was the perfect time to knock something over, and you can’t figure out why!
Cats knock things over at night to wake you up and get your attention. Your cat may be letting you know that she’s hungry, wants to play, or is craving some quality time. Sometimes, cats knock objects over to fulfill their hunting instincts. A cat may paw at an item, just like she’d bat at a rodent.
Many cat behaviors don’t make much sense to us humans, with knocking things over at night being one of the most annoying and downright frightening. To learn about why cats enjoy knocking things over as you sleep, read on.
Cat Knocks Things Over to Wake Me Up
Cats are a nocturnal and crepuscular species, which loosely translates into cats being most active at dusk, dawn, and under cover of night. The problem here is that, as a diurnal human, you and your cat share mostly opposite sleep schedules. So while your cat is fully-energized and ready to spend some quality time with you at 3 AM, you’re fast asleep snuggled up in bed.
To answer the question, “Why do cats knock things over at night?” you first have to ask yourself an entirely different question: What happens when your cat knocks something over at night?
Unless you’re an incredibly deep sleeper, you wake up.
And now that you’re up and your cat has your full attention, she can probably get you to do what she’s been asking for all along as you’re half-asleep. She may be yearning for you to feed her, play with her, or merely get you to pay attention to her.
If you get out of bed to give your cat what she wants, you end up in a pickle. You can convince your cat to stop knocking things over for a little while as you fulfill her demands so that you can catch a few extra hours of sleep before morning. But you’re also teaching her that knocking things over at night to wake you up is a foolproof way to get what she wants out of you.
Congratulations! Your cat officially owns you!
Many cat owners leave a bowl of dry food out during the day to allow their cats to graze as they get hungry—though many vets strongly recommend against this. Other cat owners feed kitty twice a day on a set feeding schedule, sometimes treating their cat to a tasty bowl of tuna-flavored wet food for dinner!
Cats generally feel full for a good few hours after snacking and get genuinely “hungry” 8-10 hours after eating a meal. As such, she may get hungry at 4 AM if you last fed her at 8 PM.
If you’re underfeeding your cat, feeding her too early in the day, or not refilling her grazing bowl before going to bed, there’s a good chance that she’s knocking things over at night to let you know she’s hungry.
Cats Are Always On the Hunt
Even the laziest cats like to play every once in a while. Your four-legged friend may enjoy chasing a laser toy, swatting at a mouse hanging from a wand, or even wrestling with another cat in your household.
Cats have the instinct to hunt at night-time, and sometimes your kitty will make do with whatever “toys” she has access to at the moment. Sometimes, that means stalking the cup on your nightstand and pawing at it as she’d do to a rodent in the wild, sending your mug crashing down to the floor beside you and giving your cat the “thrill of the chase.”
If your cat is knocking things off the table at night, her hunting instinct may have kicked in, albeit not at the best time in your schedule. She’s hoping that pawing at this mysterious object enough will get it to squirm and give chase as a mouse would in the wild with the mindset of “you never know unless you try!”
Why Cats Do Many Things: Because They Can
Cats are intentional about many things they do, but sometimes, there’s no rhyme or reason! Maybe kitty likes to watch things fall to the floor, is curious about the sound an object will make after it falls, or merely wants to grab your attention if she feels unappreciated.
It’s also crucial to remember that cats are most active at night, and she may be looking for some form of entertainment. A bored and under-stimulated cat will do anything to keep entertained, even if it means waking you out of a dead sleep in the process.
Cats Knocking Things Off of Tables: How to Stop This Behavior
There’s nothing more frightening than having the sound of night-time silence interrupted by an item unexpectedly falling to the ground.
By figuring out why your cat knocks things over at night in the first place, you can install interventions to train your cat not to continue this behavior altogether.
Let’s review a few ways to leave this annoying behavior in the rear-view.
Get Your Cat More Toys
If your cat is knocking things over as a response to boredom or a desire to hunt, getting your cat more toys is the only logical solution. Mouse toys can help your cat fulfill her instinct to bat prey around, and leaving these toys out at night can give her something to play with as you sleep! Scheduling playtime during the day can also tire your cat out so that she’s not as energetic come night-time.
Limit the Items On Your Home’s Surfaces
Sometimes, your cat will knock things off the shelf purely because it’s there and because she can! It’s a great idea to remove as many items as possible from the surfaces in your home to give your cat far fewer objects to knock off out of boredom. The things that should go into cabinets or drawers include glass, pill bottles, and family heirlooms that you don’t want to break.
Start Your Cat On a Regular Feeding Schedule
A hungry cat is a needy cat. If you don’t feed your cat after she knocks over an object, she’ll either continue knocking items over or begin begging for food more directly (like pawing at your face). Always make sure to feed your cat before you hit the hay, keep her on a regular feeding schedule with 8-10 hours between meals, or ensure there’s food in her bowl at all times.
Stop Reacting When Your Cat Knocks Things Over
The biggest reason your cat knocks things over is that she gets what she wants out of her naughty behavior: Your attention. Every time you jump up to see what your cat tossed to the floor, she learns that this behavior gets you to pay more attention to her. The less you respond, the quicker your cat will realize that this isn’t how to get your attention.
Here’s a video of cats intentionally knocking items off of surfaces. As you’ll see in the video, many owners make the mistake of responding when their cats knock things over, unintentionally encouraging this annoying behavior!
Keep Your Cat Off the Counters
Cats are quite agile creatures and can jump onto your counters and shelves with ease. Keeping your cat off high surfaces where you store your knick-knacks is a surefire way to keep your objects upright. Laying down a strip of double-sided tape on countertops and giving your cat a cat tree to fulfill her desire to be up high can reduce this behavior.
Cats often do things that we don’t understand, but your cat’s knack for knocking things over at night has a likely reason behind it. Take the time to examine your cat’s behavior after she knocks something over at night.
If she guides you to her food bowl, she may be hungry, and a new bedtime routine may be in order. If she immediately darts away, she’s probably hunting and needs some more playtime with you before bed. If she immediately meows or begins rubbing her behind against you, she may just need more attention from you during the day.
- Wikipedia: Nocturnality
- Wikipedia: Crepuscular Animal
- VCA Hospitals: Feeding Times and Frequency for Your Cat
- Pets WebMD: Keeping Your Cat off Countertops and Tables
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.