cat knocking and playing with carved wooden chess pieces on a chessboard

One thing cats are known for—even among non-cat owners—is the tendency to knock things off of tables, countertops, and shelves. This funny trait has made its way into movies, cartoons, and numerous internet videos, but does anyone know why?

The answer is simple: because they want to. But there are more nuanced reasons that cats may engage in this behavior, such as having fun, seeking attention, or just to play.

Decoding This Quirky Cat Behavior

Cats are curious, intelligent animals that know how to entertain themselves or find a way to meet their own needs.

When cats knock something off a table, it could be for a few different reasons. The main one is prey drive since cats are hardwired to hunt for food. Swatting at objects—knocking them over—could be a sign of that.

Cats also use their paws to explore the world. Knocking things down gives clues to their weight, sound, or feel, so cats can determine if objects around them present a threat.

It may also just be fun to knock things over. Wild cats stalk and chase prey, which is similar to maneuvering around an unstable or falling object and watching it hit the floor.

The next reason has everything to do with the cat’s human—the reaction. If you jump when your stuff starts falling off countertops or shelves, your cat will learn quickly that this behavior gets them attention. You may also laugh and talk to your cat when they start with these antics, giving them attention that way.

These are just a few reasons behaviorists think cats like to knock objects over, but there could be more to learn in the future.

Cat knocked over a trash can and got tangled up in trash bag
Image courtesy of Shutterstock

How to Stop This Behavior

Cats will probably never stop knocking things over for fun or attention, but you can curb the behavior—and make it safer—with a few corrections.

The first step is making the counters, shelves, and tables as unappealing as possible. Dangling objects, such as hanging utensils or a potted climbing plant, food platters, or shiny objects, can be exciting to a cat, so it’s best to keep them off your surfaces while you work on redirecting.

Always remove any objects that are valuable or could be dangerous to your cat, such as an expensive vase or a platter with loose knives.

To curb the behavior, try redirecting your cat with a toy or playtime. Do it as soon as your cat is about to jump on the table or counter or the moment it begins to play with something that can fall and replace the behavior with an appropriate one. Each time, play for a few minutes.

If your cat does knock something over, do your best to ignore it. Of course, you can’t control a startled reaction if you hear something fall but try not to react in any way. Once your cat learns that you won’t give it attention of any kind, it will stop knocking things down as a way to get attention.

Domestic Medium Hair Cat Playin WIth Toy_Cavan Images_Shutterstock
Image courtesy of Shutterstock


Knocking things down is a funny—and sometimes frustrating—cat behavior. It could be a sign of the natural hunter, a way to get attention, or simply a type of play. Whether you want to curb the behavior or not, it’s important to remove valuables and ensure your cat can’t get hurt.

Featured courtesy of Shutterstock