by Barbara George, Tellington Ttouch Behaviourist
Cats are particular about where they walk and what they touch, so why do they delight in knocking things off tables and shelves? Cats are also mysterious, so no-one really know what they think or why they do things, but here are the best reasons suggested by the experts.
Cats are tactile; they learn and observe by feeling. They ‘play’ with their prey in order to get it in exactly the right position for easy killing. This takes experience; experimenting with our ornaments, pens and cell-phones helps them refine motor skills and gives them information on the best way to manipulate objects into different positions on different surfaces, basically helping them learn to be better hunters. There is some though that the speed and way the object falls may help her to judge the distance to the floor; good distance judgement is important for hunting.
Prey animals often freeze and play dead; this sometimes means the cat will leave it alone. Our ornaments ‘play dead’, so the cat taps them to see if they are still alive. The ornament moves, becomes a prey-hunt-game, with double rewards – the sound of crashing porcelain and our full attention! Interestingly, it has been noted that deaf cats are most likely to knock items, apparently as they do not hear the crash and are unaware of the effect.
Light shining on ornaments can make them seem to be moving. Since cats have limited vision, they may not be able to distinguish an item from the background, or not appreciate the contrasting colours.
The sound of tapping the object with paws or claws can attract her too. She may either like or dislike the sound, nevertheless its fun to play with.
Some items may not be safe, in her eyes, and so should be destroyed by knocking them off the table. This can also be because she feels the space is too cluttered and she can’t see around items (in case some enemy or prey is hiding there), or she just needs space to stretch out and sleep.
Cats are curious; they like to know how things work, how they feel, what makes them move, what noise they make, and what can be done with them. It is much safer to use paws to experience new things than putting her face too close, so this could be a safety feature.
Boredom is known to trigger inappropriate behaviour in cats, and what better way to spend the day then tossing items onto the floor – especially if they are replaced for another round.
Cats are intelligent and quickly learn the consequences of their behaviour. If sending your mug of coffee tumbling over the keyboard results in an interaction, the behaviour will be repeated each time she wants attention or food.
Early sterilisation may play a role in this behaviour in adult cats. Hormone development can be diminished, which leads to more playing and kittenish behaviour in adults. Males sterilised later in life may harbour more aggression, and therefore be more destructive. Cats that lead a sheltered or pampered life, never needing to grow up, will display kittenish behaviour too.
With all those possibilities, it’s no wonder we really don’t understand why cats like to knock things off surfaces. And there are cats who can walk along a narrow shelf of precious ornaments and never even bump one accidentally!