Why do cats steal things?

The good news is your cat’s behaviour is not unusual! In fact, it is quite common for our feline friends to steal things. After all, they are very well equipped with their excellent night vision, ability to walk silently and mischievous ways! All of this makes them the perfect ‘cat’ burglar.

Although it may be a pain sometimes when your favourite pair of socks goes missing, it isn’t really a huge problem if it doesn’t happen very often. You may just need to play with your cat a bit more or mix up their living space to try and get them out of the habit.

Here are some possible reasons why your cat steals things and how to help prevent it:

Lack of entertainment:

Your cat may be stealing things because they’re a bit bored. They do this to occupy themselves by playing with the things they steal, they don’t care if it’s your expensive diamond necklace - they’re just looking for something to entertain themselves!

How do I remedy this?

  • Try playing with your cat more. Cats love to play and it helps satisfy their hunting instinct too! It’s also an excellent opportunity for you to bond with your cat and spend more time with them.

Attention seeking:

Your cat may use his light ‘pawed’ ways as a method to grab your attention. If your cat has stolen something before and you’ve given them attention, it will encourage them to do it again. Even negative attention like shouting or telling your cat off can also lead to the behaviour being repeated.

How do I remedy this?

  • Try giving your cat attention only when they do positive things like being cuddly, purring, butting their head against you etc., this will reinforce the behaviour and it will show them that if they do something good they will have your attention. There will of course be times when you’re busy, but try and avoid pushing your cat away when they’re asking for attention in a positive way. As again being negative toward this behaviour can encourage them to try other, more vindictive, methods!
  • When they do steal something, although it is really difficult to do, completely ignore your cat (while keeping an eye on where they stash it!). This will teach them that they won’t get a reaction from you.

Hunting instinct

Your cat is trying to be like their ancestors by simulating hunting. It’s only natural for them and nicking your things could act as a substitute to their prey. If this is the reason, they’re more likely to move your things around, rather than stealing and hiding them away.

How do I remedy this?

  • Play more games with your cat, especially those involving chasing a toy around. This could be a toy bird dangling on a string or a laser light on the floor (hours of entertainment for both parties with this one!). This will simulate hunting for your cat and they won’t have to steal your things to keep themselves entertained!

Stealing food

Your cat could be hungry as they have quite small stomachs. Normally cats are only fed twice a day, when actually if they lived in the wild they would hunt a few small meals.

How do I remedy this?

  • Obviously it’s not always practical for you to feed your cat small meals throughout the day as you may be out at work. So the most logical solution would be to make sure your cat eats both of their meals slowly, rather than all at once. Puzzle feeders for cats can help slow your cats eating down and it also gives them a challenge, keeps them entertained and most importantly can stop them from nicking your food!

Another reason could be that they’re used to being given human food at the table (yes we’ve all been guilty of it at some point; those big eyes are far too difficult to resist!). Doing this, however, tells the cat it’s ok to eat your food and even encourages them to take it if it’s just lying around.

How do I remedy this?

  • An easy way to stop this behaviour is to simply not give into their cute little faces and not leave food out on any surfaces; they should eventually give up and stop pestering.

If your cat is a bit of a Robin Hood in the making and you think their stealing habits are becoming obsessive; it may be worth seeing your vet as your cats thieving ways may be a symptom of anxiety. Your vet will be able to advise you on whether treatment is needed, which could consist of: behavioural therapy, change of environment or medication.