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Hunting instincts and sheer curiosity explain a lot about cat behavior

Hunting instincts and sheer curiosity explain a lot about cat behavior

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I picked the few remaining red tomatoes from my garden the other morning and set them on the kitchen table. After which I proceeded toward the sink to tackle a few dishes during my busy morning ritual.

Our cat, Sunnie (affectionately named Sunnie Girl) sat patiently on the table watching the world outside. I thought the tomatoes were safe … until she saddled up next to them. Mind you, I am still washing dishes when I hear a few thuds upon the wooden floor. I watch while she examines and knocks another tomato to its sad floor fate. Then she saunters off, as if nothing noteworthy happened.

Mind you, this is also the cat who is drawn to cups half full of water. She is quite often the culprit of tipping the cups over to get to the water. She is not thirsty — there are three water bowls scattered throughout our house specifically for the pets.

I think she likes to be the boss of the cup of water. It does what she wants it to. It’s especially fun for her to watch the trail of water quicken as it cascades over the counter or table from where it was left.

So, why do cats to this? “It depends,” said Amy Shojai, certified animal behavior consultant (CABC) with the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and the author of several books about cat antics. “There could be multiple reasons why cats knock things over.”

Could cats knocking things off tables and shelves have something to do with a cat’s prey drive? “Probably,” says Adi Hovav, senior feline behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center. “Cats are hardwired to hunt for their food, so knocking things over may be a manifestation of this instinct.”

Shojai continues to explain, “Cats use their paws to test and explore objects, and the movement, sound and touch or feel of the object helps them understand what might be safe or not.”

Your cat’s paw pads are very sensitive, so when they pat, swat, and knock something down, it helps them better explore the objects around them. How you react after something is knocked down can also influence whether the behavior continues.

“Humans make great audiences,” Hovav said. “Who doesn’t jump up when that glass starts to go over the edge of the table?”

When cats want attention, they learn very quickly what gets your eyes on them.

“Cats are incredibly adept at finding ways to manipulate what they want,” Shojai said. “Which often comes down to: Look at me, feed me, play with me.”

Shojai explains that since even bad attention is better than being ignored, knocking over objects provides another way for cats to get a reaction out of their owners. So as hard as it may be, if your cat is in the habit of knocking things over to get your attention, the best thing to do is to ignore the behavior (and put away any breakable valuables).

Another explanation? Your cat may knock things over simply because it’s fun.

“A moving paw-patted object combines all of the best aspects of stalking and prey chase with the movement and tactile feel of the patted object, and the final escape rush of the falling item,” explains Shojai.

To prevent accidents, make sure your cat has plenty of appropriate toys around and rotate them in and out of service to keep them exciting and new. And schedule play and exercise time with your cat every day. The combination of boredom and pent up energy will always send cats searching for “trouble.”

MHS Pets of the Week are brought to you by Urgent Pet Care:

TeMoune is a handsome 4-year-old neutered male domestic shorthair.

Desperado is just one of several kittens we currently have at the shelter. He is a 3-month-old neutered male domestic shorthair.

Stache is a 2-year-old neutered male domestic shorthair who might look a little like Charlie Chaplin.

Baby Girl is a 2-year-old spayed female Cattle Dog mix who is very shy and looking for a laid-back home. She needs a patient owner who can let her acclimate and get out of her own shell. Baby Girl is quite skittish, especially with new situations, loud noises, and fast movements.

She will need more time than most other dogs to decompress and will most likely need to spend the first few weeks on leash, both inside and outside, so she learns to look to her people for guidance.

This girl will be happiest as your only pet and in an adult-only home. Because of some of her behaviors, she is not suitable for apartment living.

To visit her and schedule an appointment, contact Rachael at or 712-396-2265.

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