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Cat zoomies: what are they and why do they happen?

Your cat may get a burst of the zoomies to get out some extra energy throughout the day or night.

Has your cat spontaneously raced around the house or in frantic circles before coming to a halt? Then you may be familiar with the zoomies, or the scientific name for zoomies, frenetic random activity periods (FRAPs). 

Unlike with dogs, cat zoomies aren’t necessarily caused by bursts of excitement. So just what are cat zoomies, and what should pet parents do when pets get these bursts of energy? 

What are the zoomies?

When cats experience inexplicable bursts of intense energy, the “zoomies” are often the outcome. Although these frequently happen at night, cats can experience the zoomies at any time of day. Each cat experiences the zoomies differently, but the high energy is universal. Some pets may climb or jump on furniture, while others sprint around your home. 

‍Why do cats get the zoomies? 

“We think zoomies happen because kitties love to nap during the day while most pet parents are at work or otherwise occupied,” Dr. Shannon Barrett, DVM, owner and veterinarian at Island Veterinary Care in Charleston, South Carolina, says. “Therefore, they’re wide awake at night and full of energy.  They’ll walk around and be struck by the inevitable zoomies, which causes them to race through your house and inevitably wake you up.”

While the zoomies are normal, there are several medical and behavioral reasons every pet parent should be aware of. Some diseases can lead to sleep alterations and, in return, unusual behaviors in our pets. Arthritic pain, flea and tick bites, kidney and liver disease, toxins and brain tumors can also cause unusual behaviors. 

“Although it’s perfectly normal for cats of any age to get the zoomies, if your cat’s zoomie behavior does start to increase in frequency or intensity, please tell your veterinarian,” Dr. Barrett says. “This is especially true if this behavior is accompanied by vocalizing or weight loss. These can be signs of hyperthyroidism or diabetes, which can cause restlessness in cats that looks very similar to zoomies.”

Perhaps the most serious medical cause of the zoomies is feline hyperthyroidism. If you have a middle-aged to an older cat who suddenly begins staying up late, losing weight, acting jittery or behaving oddly, have them checked by your vet. 

“Also, if your cat has never had zoomies and suddenly starts to have them, consider their history,” Dr. Barrett says. “Have you added in any new medications or supplements? Have you recently changed their diet? Perhaps added in a new treat? I’m often surprised when I look at the ingredients of some pet treats and see they’ve added lots of essential oils, sugar or other ingredients that could cause strange behaviors. So even though we consider zoomies a natural behavior in most cats, when it starts to happen suddenly or increases in frequency, contact your veterinarian.” 

How long do the zoomies last?

Most cats can’t sustain this zooming behavior for more than a minute or so. As cats age, the FRAPs often get shorter and less frequent. 

“It’s such a high-intensity expulsion of energy and cats are nappers, not sprinters,” Dr. Barrett says. “It most commonly (and annoyingly) happens at night. They usually don’t last longer than 1-2 minutes, but they leave a lasting impression.” 

RELATED: Dog zoomies: what are they and why do they happen?

When is my cat most likely to get zoomies? 

Certain times of day may elicit the zoomies more than others. Evenings are most common for cats to zoom if they don’t get enough exercise throughout the day or are eager to play when you come home from work. 

Stressful triggers, like bath time or lifestyle changes, can also warrant a race around the living room. It’s your pet’s way of calming their nerves or showing relief when an uncomfortable situation is finally over.  

Cats, for instance, may zoom after visiting the litter box if it’s not clean or if they’re uncomfortable in some way. While some cats are simply celebrating a job well done, it’s best to check for abnormalities in the stool and urine and speak with your vet to rule out constipation and anal gland infection. 

How to stop cat zoomies 

While entertaining to watch, our zooming pets and their unpredictable paths can result in injuries or household damage, so it’s important to know how to handle them. 

Most of the zooming danger lies in your pet being unaware of their surroundings. Keep your home free from breakables and obstructions, including older pets or children. Hardwood floors can cause your pet to slip, so direct them to a carpeted room if needed. 

How to prevent cat zoomies 

The zoomies aren’t something you can necessarily prevent, and they shouldn’t be discouraged as long as your pet is in a safe space. Instead of trying to control your cat’s zoomies, be sure they get plenty of stimulation during the day, so they have less need to get out extra energy at night.

There are numerous benefits to socializing and exercising with your pet. A tired pet is one that’s less likely to zoom inside. By providing plenty of exercise and mental stimulation throughout the day, you can lower the likelihood or frequency of your pet’s zooms. You may also want to consider ways to help your pet relax.  

“You can consider pheromone products that calm kitties that are stressed or hyperactive. They come in diffusers, sprays and collars,” Dr. Barrett says. “There are also some non-prescription probiotics that, with your vet's permission, you can sprinkle over your cats’ food to help with gastrointestinal issues and also provide calming properties.” 

If your cat tends to get the zoomies at night, you can also provide toys that dispense treats for them to play with and even play music or videos geared toward relaxing cats.  

“Providing enrichment and stimulation to your feline friend can help a lot,” Dr. Barrett says. “These tricks aren’t just for nighttime. If you can decrease their pent-up energy, it may not manifest as a zoomie that keeps you awake at night.”

Zooming behavior is often how cats engage their inner predator. These play periods allow our furry companions to hone their survival instincts — think stalking, pouncing and pursuing. For the vast majority, zoomies are a healthy expression of excitement. But the bottom line is, if your cat suddenly starts darting about, springing awake when they usually rest or acting abnormally, seek veterinary advice.

The Dig, Fetch Pet Insurance's expert-backed editorial, answers all of the questions you forget to ask your vet or are too embarrassed to ask at the dog park. We help make sure you and your best friend have more good days, but we’re there on bad days, too.

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