Why Does My Cat Knock Things Off the Table?



The internet is full of videos of cats knocking items off tables, which can be entertaining to watch. But, this behavior can be incredibly frustrating if your cat chooses to spend their day knocking over all your items.

Cats bat objects off furniture because it is something fun for them to do! They like to use their paws to engage with and manipulate their environment.

Cats are prey driven and as the object falls off the table, it is moving. This may simulate a prey animal “jumping,” which can be interesting to chase or observe.

Cure for boredom

This may be even more apparent in cats who are bored. If the cat doesn’t have enough interaction with you or activities to keep them busy, they may search for creative ways to find their own fun.

It’s Reinforcing!

Cats may engage in this behavior more frequently if it is reinforced. Reinforcement is something that increases the behavior, the challenge is that the cat deems what is reinforcing to them.

Laughing while your cat knocks something off may be reinforcing to your cat because you are giving them attention.

Your cat may enjoy the outcome of this game. If the item that they push off is edible, they may be directly rewarding themselves for this action.

If your cat spills a glass of milk and then laps it up, they have just given themselves a treat for pushing the glass off the table. The more treats your cat gets while doing this, the more likely they are to continue.

Not every object that the cat pushes off will contain food. Unfortunately, this makes this behavior even more reinforcing because they are getting treats only some of the time. This is called intermittent reinforcement, which is like gambling. Most of the time you don’t get anything when you gamble, but sometimes you get a jackpot, and the uncertainty of reward makes you keep trying.  

Even verbally punishing the cat for this may increase their behavior. Cats may knock items off to get your attention. When you scold them for their actions, you are still giving them the attention that they are looking for.

Negative attention is still attention.

What to do

Since the cat is creating their own fun, it can be hard for them to stop initiating this behavior. After all, they are self-rewarding themselves with a fun game! To combat this, you will need to make sure that you remove any object that they can knock off and clear the area. They will be unable to practice this behavior.

If you simply get rid of this game, however, they will continue to find their own fun with something else that you may not enjoy. It is important to give your cat attention with play or training sessions to give them mental and physical exercise.

In addition to attention, your cat will need enrichment opportunities that they can stay busy with on their own.

Each cat has their own preferences, but here are a few favorites:

  • Food puzzle toys so they can use their paws to engage with the toy to slowly release treats

  • Interactive toys, such as HexBug Mice or Bugs for cats

  • Toys that have pieces that dangle or roll so they can bat at them

  • Wheat grass or catnip plants for your cat to munch on and play with

  • Bird feeder outside of your window or birds on TV for the cat to watch

To see more enrichment ideas, click here.

Don’t punish!

Verbally or physically punishing your cat will do more harm than good. Your cat will likely continue to knock things off the table because they find your scolding reinforcing, especially if they are doing this behavior for attention. Remember, negative attention is still attention.

The other consequence of punishment is that your cat becomes fearful of you. The damage to the bond with your cat will make handling and stressful situations much more difficult if your cat doesn’t trust you. Once the bond is damaged, it can be difficult to regain trust.