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Cat Zoomies, Explained

By September 9, 2021 No Comments

Your cat bolts up from his nap like he was shot out of a cannon and starts racing around like crazy. He might make a mad dash up and down stairs, take laps at warp speed through the house, or jump to the top of your refrigerator in a single bound like Superman. There’s a clinical term for these wild bursts of energy called Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or FRAPS.  But you know them better as the zoomies.

There actually are explanations for this seemingly inexplicable hyperactivity that ends as suddenly as it starts. Usually it has to do with cats’ sleep habits and innate hunting instincts. If you slept 12 to 16 hours a day like felines do to conserve energy for stalking prey, you’d be ready for some frisky business too.

Domestic cats don’t need to hunt for their food, of course, so they find other ways to channel their inner predator. Because cats are crepuscular, they are most active at dawn and dusk. Hence zoomies often occur at those times. They are more common in kittens and younger cats as they burn off excess energy, akin to children running and playing.

Joining in the fun when your cat has the zoomies is a good way to bond with your kitty. According to International Cat Care, playtime is most beneficial when it occurs relatively frequently in short energetic bursts. 

When the zoomies strike when you’re trying to sleep, though, it can be challenging. To discourage early-morning rowdiness or late-night disturbances, play with your cat before bedtime to tire her out so that she is more likely to sleep through the night. Because cats usually sleep after they eat, you can also try feeding them late at night. Additionally, leave interactive toys and food puzzles out during the day while you’re gone so she has something to do instead of sleep all day and is less likely to have so much pent-up energy to burn off during the wee hours.

Although the zoomies are usually just a matter of “a cat’s gonna cat,” there are medical reasons for the behavior as well, particularly in older cats. For example, cats with hyperthyroidism frequently become hyperactive. If the increased activity is in conjunction with symptoms like weight loss, increased vocalization and restlessness, your cat is more likely to have this condition than just too much energy.

Although the zoomies are usually just a matter of “a cat’s gonna cat,” there are medical reasons for the behavior as well, particularly in older cats.

If your cat runs around like crazy after using the litter box, it could indicate he has an infection or inflammation in the urinary tract, colon or rectum; is constipated; or has passed an uncomfortably large bowel movement. If you see your cat sprinting away from the litter box as quickly as he can, take a look in the box and make sure you don’t see any diarrhea, an abnormally hard stool, or blood in the stool or urine. 

Zoomies also could be a reaction to a dirty litter box, where the cat just wants to go and get out of there as quickly as possible, the same way you probably do when using a porta-potty. Another clue that they might be just trying to avoid a nasty box is if they perch on the edge of the litter box instead of going into it. 

And believe it or not, there’s actually something called “poo-phoria”–a euphoric feeling after passing a large stool–and there’s a biological reason for it. Like humans, cats have a vagus nerve, which runs from the brainstem to the colon. Dr. Anish Sheth, a gastroenterologist, says the distension that comes with the passing of a large stool causes the vagus nerve to fire, resulting in a drop in the heart rate and blood pressure which in turn decreases blood flow to the brain. The resulting mild lightheadedness can lead to a high and hence cat zoomies. 

Just take note of when and under what circumstances your cat gets the zoomies to know if it’s a case of cats just wanna have fun or whether medical attention or better litter box hygiene is warranted.

Cathy Foster

Cathy Foster

Cathy is a former managing editor of a pet-related trade magazine who has turned her lifelong love for cats into a pet-sitting career.

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