Cats are among the most divisive pets that a person can own. Cat haters tend to cite their temperamental behavior and misanthropy, while cat lovers claim they are as capable of love as any other animal (or they agree with the haters’ assessment and just choose to ignore those traits).

But those familiar with cats can attest that, intentional, spiteful, or otherwise, felines have a proclivity to bat things over with seemingly no provocation or regard. Are they just being jerks?

Not really, claims Katherine Houpt, a Cornell University professor of veterinary behavior. She says, “This tends to happen a lot in the middle of the night—when you’re trying to get some sleep.”

The reasons for this wanton disregard for their owners’ breakables is two-fold. First of all, they are attempting (and succeeding) in getting their owners’ attention. Just about the only thing a cat can’t do in the confines of a house or apartment is feed itself, so it’s likely trying to say it’s hungry. Sure, they could approach their owner and purr, but why be subtle when it comes to matters of hunger?

Secondly, they bat things around in the apartment because they’re instilled with the predatory instinct to hit something with their paws. Obviously, they’re not hunting a cereal bowl on your kitchen counter, but they might be doing something else – practicing. House cats use scratching posts to keep their claws sharp and exercise because they are natural predators, even in a domestic environment, so it stands to reason that they would be eager to practice their swiping skills as well with the objects at hand.

So while this doesn’t give you the tools necessary to trump a cat’s hunger or millennia of genetic behavior, you might not be so inclined to take it as an act of meanness. However, you should know that whatever the cause, deaf cats are far more likely to engage in this type of behavior since they can’t get startled by the sound of their actions.

So, know it can be worse. Unless you have a deaf cat. That’s as bad as it gets.

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