Why Do Cats Get the Zoomies?


All is quiet around the house and kitty is snoozing in their favorie nap spot. Suddenly, her head lifts and eyes get alert. Kitty’s pupils dilate, the ears airplane, and with only the barest warning wriggle, he is off! Your cat has just succumbed to an unexplained yet ubiquitous pet phenomenon: the zoomies!


What are the zoomies?

We’ve all seen videos of both dogs and cats who suddenly just need to run around! Where only seconds earlier was a placid feline napping, sunbathing, or half-heartedly tail-swishing, now is a speed demon pulling along the base of furniture or careening around corners, limbs akimbo, tail ruddering frantically to avoid obstacles.

You may have heard that the average housecat can reach speeds of 30 mph without even trying, and when the zoomies strike, your kitty is suddenly a gold medal contender in a race you didn’t know was about to begin.

With an acceleration from loaf to lickety-split that any carmaker envies, your kitty suddenly and without warning goes from cool, calm, and composed to MUST. RUN. NOW. These quick and inexplicable bursts of energy are known affectionately as the zoomies, and they are a rite of passage of pet parenthood.

Why does my cat run around like crazy?

Why do cats do anything? Part of the charm of our feline furbabies is their mystery. Are cats with the zoomies happy? Scared? Bored? Yes?????

As much as we try, the zen-like nonchalance and fantastic feats of flexibility and speed that felines effortlessly flip between are both unattainable and inscrutable for most humans. Why DO cats get the zoomies? We can only speculate what’s going on behind that crazed look, flattened ears, and frenetic pace of a cat in the throes of a zoom-fest. Here are a few theories:

  1. Pent-up energy. You’ve had cabin fever before, and perhaps felt the urge to just burn off some steam? You’ve seen toddlers shake their heads or jump up and down randomly? Same idea here. Kitty simply feels the need to get moving.
  2. Vagus nerve stimulation. If your kitty tends to get the zoomies after using the litter box, there may be a connection to the vagus nerve that goes from brain to colon. Kitty may be feeling a bit lightheaded or relieved or even euphoric after using the litter box.
  3. Instinct. Cats in the wild are both predator and in some cases, prey, so their habits and behavior are in place to help them both catch their next meal and evade capture. The zigzagging running and indirect routes back to their “base” may be kitty making sure they are harder to follow or catch.
  4. It’s fun and you seem to enjoy it? Cats are playful by nature and the zoomies are both fun and funny. Even when the zoomies make their appearance in the wee hours of the morning when you’re trying to sleep, kitty’s antics are endearing and make for great stories and memes.

Zoomies tend to arise quickly and generally are not a result of your cat being frightened or surprised or angry. Those feelings tend to lead to hisses and hiding not sudden declarations of “I am speed!” or “Must imitate a pinball!” or “Time to relocate to a random room, go!”

So while we may not know precisely what is going on in that kitty brain, most times a cat with the zoomies is not in distress. However, there are a few times you should check in with your vet when your usually docile cat suddenly develops a need for speed.

When the zoomies might be a cause for concern

Usually, the zoomies are just part of pet parenthood. Kittens and younger cats tend to be more prone to fits of the zooms than older cats, but the urge to surge can strike a kitty of any age. Just as the zoomies typically appear suddenly and without cause, the blaze craze tends to subside quickly and inexplicably.

However, if your normally languorous and leisurely kitty suddenly begins zooming about – especially if they seem anxious or unable to calm down from the burst – there could be an underlying medical cause that needs checking out. Here are few possible, if unlikely, culprits:

  • Hyperthyroidism. Older kitties are more prone to developing this overactive thyroid disorder, which can cause increased energy levels as well as weight loss or high blood pressure.
  • Anxiety. In rare cases, the zoomies might indicate your cat is anxious, especially if they are displaying other signs of sudden skittishness or there has been a change in their lives such as a move or a new family member.
  • Sight or hearing loss. Sight or hearing loss. As cats age, they may lose their sight or hearing, which can cause them to be spooked more easily or to become disoriented.
  • Fleas. A cat that is infested with fleas may try to outrun the uncomfortable feeling of the bugs crawling on and biting them.
  • Allergies or skin conditions. Similar to the discomfort from flea bites, a cat with itchy skin may try to outrun the irritating feeling.

Help! It’s 3 a.m. and my cat is going crazy!

Cat zoomies on couch

Cats are crepuscular, meaning they tend to be more active at dawn and dusk, but it may seem like your cat is nocturnal – most active at night. To help keep kitty from deciding that 3 a.m. is the bestest time for pounces and playtime, be sure to play with your cat before you head to bed. This will help tire them out for sleeping at night – and provide moments of fun and bonding for you and kitty.

You may need to play with your cat earlier in the day for several days in a row to help reset their internal clocks and teach them that exercise time is not 3 a.m., but with patience you can help channel the zoomies into a structure and schedule that better suits your sleep needs. Also, like HIIT in humans, it’s better to play with kitty 3 times a day for short periods than a single, longer period.

Zooming Away from the Litter Box

If the only time your cat gets the zoomies is after they’ve used the litter box, they may be trying to tell you something is up. If the litter box is especially stinky and needs attention, kitty may be trying desperately to get away from it. Consider yourself lucky she is using it at all, and get ye to the box for a proper scooping.

A cat fleeing the litter box may also be experiencing tummy upset or bowel issues, with constipation or its opposite, diarrhea. In that case, kitty may be zooming away from the smell or the pain. If this behavior is new or unusual, have a look to see if your cat’s feces is normal.

Peeing and pooping provide predators and rivals with a scent to track. Cats tend to be wary about toileting, seeking privacy while using the box. Kitty may simply be zooming away from the litter box to leave that vulnerability behind and put distance between their scented dookie and themselves.

Lastly, your cat might be hurrying away from the litter box because they don’t like the litter, the box, or the location so they are minimizing their time there. Some cats dislike the texture or smell of certain cat litters, some prefer a covered or uncovered litter box, and some are frightened of the litter box location if it’s near equipment that makes noise or doesn’t feel safe to kitty.

Review our tips for how to set up a litter box for success and consider whether it might be a good idea to try a different litter that does a better job at odor control or has a texture more to your cat’s liking.

Tips for Helping Deal with the Zoomies

If you’re worried that your kitty’s zoomies are a sign of understimulation or boredom, try some of these tactics to help feed kitty’s need for puzzle-solving and prey-catching.

  • Use puzzle-feeders to help kitty “catch” their food.
  • Provide interesting and changing places to explore and sleep, such as new cardboard boxes, tunnels, or shelves and perches.
  • Play with your cat with a variety of interactive toys throughout the day, making sure kitty gets the satisfaction of the catch and kill at the end of a play session.
  • Provide cat grass or cat-friendly plants kitty can explore.

The zoomies are the origin of many a cat meme, so when the evening crazies or mad half-hour begins, get ready to capture and caption kitty’s special faces as they release energy in these frentic bursts of exercise and activity. Soon the blur of fur and whiskers will be back to making biscuits in your lap and napping to save the universe. It’s all in a day in the life of your feline friend.

Tips to freshen things up

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