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Why Do Cats Like to Slap and Swat at Things?

Mental Floss logo Mental Floss 6/18/2021 Ellen Gutoskey

a cat with its mouth open © Alexandra Draghici/iStock via Getty Images After years of watching your cat knock things off tables, slap other cats, and swat at every swat-able object, you might think you know why: Because cats, as much as you love them, are adorable little jerks.

We’re not necessarily saying we disagree with that assessment—but there are some other reasons cats might seem so slap-happy. As AnimalPath.org explains, cats’ paws have nerve receptors that help them process sensory information. When they swat at something, they’re using those receptors to figure out what it is. If you’re thinking a slower, more prolonged movement would be more effective in avoiding being swatted at, ask yourself this: Would you rest your whole hand on a foreign object that might hit back?

Cats also like to play with their food, so it’s natural for them to swat at things that could end up being prey. As veterinarian Dr. H. Ellen Whiteley wrote for HowStuffWorks, "Your cat's instincts tell her that paperweight or knickknack could turn out to be a mouse. Her poking paw would send it scurrying, giving her a good game (and possibly a good lunch)."

Speaking of games, cats swatting at other cats (or you) is their idea of a good time. It can also be a cat’s way of asserting itself as the dominant feline. As long as there’s no hissing, clawing, or other aggressive behavior, you don’t really have to worry about it.

While your cat might not be as much of a jerk as you previously thought, it still might be a massive attention-seeker. Cats with a tendency to push objects off surfaces may be capitalizing on your tendency to come running as soon as it happens. Swatting right at you probably commands your full attention, too—a trend that isn’t lost on your wily pet.

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