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Cat Zoomies: What They Are and Why They Happen

cat with the zoomies
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It always seems to happen just as you’re winding down for the night. Everything is quiet and calm. And then … zoom, zoom, zoom! The cat is tearing around the house like she’s on a sugar high. Cat zoomies strike again!

Zoomies are common, cute, and generally harmless – but not always. Turns out, there’s a lot more to it than crazy kitty behavior, and too much of the zoomies could signal a problem requiring a visit to the vet.

You may have wondered: why do cats get the zoomies? What can I do to minimize zoomies and keep my cat safe? And what actually are cat zoomies?

Read on to find out all this and much more as we zoom in for a closer look at zoomies. 

What are Cat Zoomies?

The technical name for the zoomies is “frenetic random activity periods,” or “frapping.”

Zoomies are sudden bursts of high energy that tend to happen at three points in the day – dawn, dusk, and after using the litter box. They also follow long periods of sleep, when a freshly recharged kitty is ready to hunt.

What Do Zoomies Look Like?

Unlike standard cat play, like chasing a feather toy, zoomies look more like your cat is reacting to an annoying, invisible little brother who’s teasing her just out of view. She’ll pounce on nothing in particular, chirp, or yowl – and if your feet are on the floor, she might ambush your socks. Her pupils will dilate, her ears will sweep back, and her head and tail will flicker and jerk like she’s trying to find something she can’t quite catch. 

In most cases, again, these bouts of frenetic random activity are harmless – and usually hilarious to watch. But they’re definitely not quite as random as you might think. Zoomies only seem random to us because we might not know what’s causing them.  

Why Do Cats Get the Zoomies?

Two cats running around the house

On the whole, it’s typically indoor cats who get the zoomies. The key reason for this has to do with the fact that all cats, domestic or not, are hunters.

Predators without prey. At its simplest, with domesticated cats, we’ve taken the tiger out of the jungle, but not the jungle out of the tiger. “Cats have to hunt,” says Linda Hall, a certified cat behaviorist in Ohio. And outdoor cats get to do that. For them, “dinner is not served on a platter,” Hall says. “And they don’t run around looking for dead birds. They hunt.”

Indoor cats, Hall says, are predators with no prey. There’s nothing to chase, nothing to pounce on, but the instinct to do so is as sharp as that of any feral cat or tiger in the jungle.

“Cats are ambush predators,” says Marilyn Krieger, a.k.a. The Cat Coach, a certified cat behaviorist in California. “[Outdoor cats] use short bursts of energy [that] our little indoor guys don’t get the opportunity to release.” Except as zoomies, of course.

Age matters. Age can also play a factor when it comes to the zoomies. Older cats can get them sometimes for medical reasons, which we’ll discuss in a moment – but those bouts of erratic racing around tend to be much more common in kittens and younger cats.

“Age does affect the zoomies,” says Rita Reimers, a certified cat behaviorist in the Charlotte area. For one thing, age slows down cats as much as anyone, but “cats over 10 may have arthritis,” Reimers says, which would certainly put a damper on too much zooming.

Time of day matters too. Contrary to common belief (and to those zoomie sessions in the overnight hours), cats are not actually nocturnal. They are crepuscular, which means they’re most active during the twilight hours of dawn and dusk, when their natural prey are most active.

The main reason cats sleep so much, Krieger says, is to store up energy for those short bursts of blinding speed needed to catch darting rodents and fleeing birds when the sun comes up or goes down. So when indoor cats wake up from a long nap with “a bundle or neurotransmitters” firing, but nothing to hunt, that energy gets released as sudden, frenetic activity. 

Why Do Cats Get the Zoomies at Night? 

Generally, cats get the zoomies after they wake up. Indoor cats often adjust their sleeping habits around their feeding schedules, but also around your schedule.

In other words, your cat might be sleeping during the day so that she can spend more time around you when you’re home. But that might mean she wakes up in the wee hours of the morning, looking to find something to pounce on that isn’t there.

Why Does My Cat Get the Zoomies After Pooping? 

Every cat parent knows the pattern: your kitty visits the litter box, scratches to bury her business, and then rips through the house as if she’s been set free from jail.

It might be simple relief that causes cats to run after using the litter box, but it also could be a digestive issue, such as irritation or infection. Constipation, going outside the litter box, or vomiting could be signs of an infection in the colon, rectum, or urinary tract. (This might also be true for cats that zoom around before pooping.) If you see any of these signs, call your veterinarian.

Additionally, while you’re cleaning your cat’s litter box, Krieger says, it’s always smart to inspect what’s in there. “You want to make sure to check the feces,” she says. “Make sure [your cats] are not constipated,” and make sure there is nothing out-of-the-ordinary about the droppings. Look for changes of color, spots of blood, and the size of droppings compared to what is normal.

Are Cat Zoomies Normal?

Short bouts of the zoomies, lasting for five or ten minutes, once or twice a day, are not uncommon and generally aren’t cause for concern. But like any otherwise normal pet behaviors, too much of the zoomies could be a sign of distress in cats.

Pain. “They may have a little pain or are itchy,” Krieger says. “If you see [excessive scratching or licking accompanying zoomies] you have to get the cat to a vet.”

Hyperthyroidism. Unusual bouts of frapping could be stemming from feline hyperthyroidism. This is especially common in middle-aged cats. If your cat is acting strangely or losing weight, take her to the veterinarian.

Feline cognitive dysfunction. Another condition affecting older cats is feline cognitive dysfunction, which is often accompanied by disorientation and long bouts of staring at nothing in particular. Cats with cognitive dysfunction might wake up startled and start bolting around the room. If you see this behavior, it’s time to see a vet.

Less medically serious and much more correctible (and probably more likely) is that your cat isn’t getting enough exercise. More on that in a moment. First, let’s look at ways to keep zooming cats from hurting themselves.

Keeping Cats Safe During Zoomies

For the most part, a healthy cat zooming around the place is pretty safe. But there is still potential for your cat to get hurt, especially on things like throw rugs or slippery floors. It’s best to keep small rugs and other slippery things secured if you have a cat who likes to bolt around the room.

Reimers also cautions against leaving bags out. Cats love playing with and hiding inside of bags, but looped handles can find their way around their necks or legs, which could lead to injury. For that same reason, try to keep strings on blinds out of kitty’s reach too.

And don’t forget to tuck away loose items and toxic foods cats can swallow when they’re keyed up:

  • Raisins or grapes
  • Sugar-free gums or candies
  • Prescription pills

“Be really careful not to leave that stuff around,” says Hall. “Cats don’t stop to investigate. If they’re in hunting mode and they’re zooming, we don’t know what they’re going to get into.”

Krieger says that it helps to think of zoomie-proofing as baby-proofing. Try to keep sharp, breakable, and loose things protected, secured, covered, or better yet, out of the way. 

How to Stop Cat Zoomies

cat on exercise wheel

There are a few things you can do to stop, or at least lessen, the zoomies.

As mentioned, a big reason your cat might get the zoomies is because she’s bored and under-exercised. So the first thing cat parents can do is play with their fur baby to help burn off some of that energy.

Feather or pole toys, or anything cats can chase work great, says Hall. But if you utilize a laser pointer, Hall has some advice. Cats don’t just need to hunt, she says, they need to catch what they’re hunting. But a cat can’t catch a laser, and that could affect her self-confidence. If you do use a laser pointer, Hall recommends pointing it at something she can chase or catch.

Krieger says a great way to head off the zoomies is to “have your cat hunt more for their food. Roll a treat and let them chase and catch it.”

Another option is a “treasure hunt,” which is also great for getting cats to spend zoomie energy constructively (and at more convenient times). These hunts also mentally stimulate cats by getting them to find solutions. Put some food inside boxes or couch cushions or someplace where she will have to seek it out. 

Hall adds that treat balls and food puzzle toys also mentally stimulate cats and get them expending would-be-zoomie energy.

Bottom line? “Make them work for their food,” advises Krieger.