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Is Your Cat a Thief?


Put a fuzzy mouse inside an empty tissue box

Leave out some open paper bags with toys or treats inside

Place toys on cat trees

Put some furry mice (fake ones, of course) under furniture so just their tails peek out

Use food-dispensing balls and other puzzle feeders

Place a cat tree near a window

Set up some cat tunnels (make some with open paper bags)

Install some cat shelves

Get a great sisal-covered scratching post

Put a bird feeder outside the window for your cat’s viewing pleasure

Rotate toys on a weekly basis to keep them interesting

Use catnip once a week

Set up a pet water fountain

Play a cat entertainment video that showcases prey

Cats Who Steal for Attention

Some cats may steal as an attention-getting behavior. Cat parents may reinforce this by their reactions to the behavior. Even if you reprimand the cat it’s a form of attention. If you’ve watched the cat play with the object or even participated in the game before taking it away, you’ve also reinforced the behavior. Cats are very smart animals and if your cat sees that stealing results in receiving attention, she’ll most likely repeat the behavior.

quote from georgia spca


If you think your cat is stealing as an attention-getting behavior, be sure you don’t interact with her when you retrieve the object. Additionally, incorporate the behavior modification mentioned previously about playtime. Give your cat an acceptable alternative to attention-seeking behavior in the form of appropriate and adequate play opportunities.

Cats Who Steal for Stress Relief

black cat with sock

Photo: Pam Johnson-Bennett

Your cat may be stealing particular objects because they provide some comfort to her if she’s feeling stressed. Some cats engage in wool sucking behavior as a self-soothing mechanism so the objects stolen may include socks or other cloth items. Your cat may also steal an object that contains a family member’s scent as a way to self soothe. If you suspect the behavior is stress related, talk to your veterinarian to first make sure there isn’t an underlying medical condition, especially if your cat is engaging in wool sucking behavior. Then, use your detective skills to figure out what could be causing the stress. Keep in mind that stress triggers for a cat can seem very minor from the human’s perspective. Even something such as a change in your work schedule or the fact your oldest child just went off to college could be a potential trigger. Work on relieving the stress and increasing environmental enrichment to give your cat appropriate alternatives for her behavior. Playtime and environmental enrichment are also confidence builders because they allow the cat to engage in natural, normal behaviors such as hunting, climbing, jumping, stalking and running. The more enrichment a cat has in the environment, the more constructive outlets she has for her energy and the more positive associations she makes with her surroundings.