Why do cats get the zoomies?
Out of nowhere, your cat goes from zero to 60 mph, like he’s being chased by an invisible demon. One minute he’s snoozing, and the next he’s dashing madcap around the house like a fool.
Chances are, this is happening just when you are trying to sleep. Otherwise, you’d be thoroughly charmed. Zoomies are incredibly cute, when they’re not keeping you up at night.
Why do cats get the zoomies?
I’ll elaborate more in this post, but you should know that nobody really knows why cats get the zoomies. Dozens of websites claim to have answers, but science has not yet studied this weird behavior.
But that doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn about cats and zoomies. Read on.
Science calls the zoomies something else
You might call the zoomies the midnight crazies or midnight madness, turbo mode, crazy racing, crazy eights, or scrumbling, but scientists call them Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or FRAPs.
FRAP is actually a pretty good description of the behavior. It means, literally, “those times when your cat just randomly goes wild.”
Unfortunately, naming this behavior is as far as science has gotten when it comes to the zoomies. No serious scientist has actually studied and explained the behavior, which, interestingly, has been observed in many different animal species.
Lots of animals get the zoomies
Guinea pigs “popcorn” and rabbits “binky” and all manner of other animal species seem to participate in FRAPing.
There’s at least one subreddit devoted to animal zoomies, and I highly recommend you check it out.
There are dogs, of course. Here is the silliest greyhound I've ever seen:
Here’s a goat, and a pig, and even a rooster:
Here are some baby giraffe zoomies, too.
The point is, that a lot of animals FRAP or zoom.
Why do cats get the zoomies at night?
You may have read somewhere that cats are nocturnal, meaning that they are most active at night. But this is a myth. Cats are crepuscular, which means that their peak hours of activity are at dusk and dawn.
Cats have survived the ages by being crepuscular
Becoming crepuscular is a terrific adaption for cats. Sunrise and twilight are typically light enough for them to see and hunt (with their incredible eyesight), but dark enough for them to avoid being caught by another predator.
You must read, “Can cats see in the dark?” to learn about cats’ incredible vision.
Zoomies aren’t the only thing that can annoy otherwise-loving cat guardians when they’re winding down for the night. Some cats get very vocal at this time of day, too. Read, “Why does my cat yowl at night?” if your cat does.
Also, cats are hardwired to sleep during the day
Cats sleep a LOT during the day. Housecats evolved from African wildcats who live in hot climates. Wildcats adapted to their sweltering environment by resting and conserving energy during the hottest part of the day.
Our own cats might have fans and central air conditioning, but their bodies and brains are hardwired to behave like they’re still living on a scorching savannah. You can read more about why cats sleep so much in this post.
But the point is, that cats are programmed to rest during the day and get busy during the early morning and evening hours, just when we’d like them to chill.
Cats are supposed to zoomCats may sleep a lot, even wild cats, who have to make their own living, but they’re designed to work really, really hard for very short periods of time.
Cats are ambush hunters, meaning that they hide, waiting patiently for their prey to come within striking distance. And then all at once, POW! They pounce.
Hunting is a very energy-intensive, exhausting endeavor.
The urge to hunt has nothing to do with how hungry a cat is. Cats in the wild hunt whenever the opportunity arises because they never know where their next meal is coming from. They can’t wait until they are really hungry to hunt because by then, they could be too weak to catch prey.
So, even if you just fed your kitty lunch, she still has the need to hunt.
It’s possible that cats get the zoomies as a way to fulfill their very catness: sleep, sleep, sleep during the hot desert days, like their ancestors, and then, when the sun goes down, burn all that accumulated energy in a few minutes of crazy.
Is getting the zoomies normal behavior for a cat?
Yes. Running around like a maniac is perfectly normal behavior, even for an otherwise dignified kitty.
The only thing “dangerous” about zoomies is the risk that your cat could injure himself mid-mania. Try to keep obstacles and breakables up and out of the way. Direct a zooming cat to a room without slippery floors.
Is getting the zoomies ever a sign that my cat is sick?
If your cat is sick, the behavior is unlikely to truly look like the zoomies.
Cats who are zooming tend to look playful, silly, and excited. Cats who are being overactive due to a medical condition often look disturbed and anxious.
Nevertheless, there are many illnesses, like hyperthyroidism and diabetes, that can cause restlessness or jittery behavior, which might include licking, overgrooming, weight loss, and vocalizing. Feline hyperesthesia syndrome, for example, can make a cat look positively frantic. Even biting fleas can make a cat behave in crazy ways. (Read about how to get rid of fleas here.)
Read this post, “How do you know if your cat is sick?” But if you’re the least bit unsure about what you’re looking at, contact your veterinarian. Try to take video of the behavior you’re witnessing and bring it to your appointment.
Should I play with my cat when he’s zooming?
I think you should play with your cat when she’s zooming and also when she’s not zooming.
If, as some believe, and as wildcat behaviors suggest, cats need short bursts of intense activity, you should absolutely provide it.
Your indoor cat might not get the kind of stimulation he needs from his tidy home environment. Unless you plan on releasing a half-dozen mice into the living room, your cat needs you to provide the kind of mental and physical thrills he would otherwise get outdoors.
Consider playing with toys that allow cats to finish the hunting sequence with a “kill.” While many cats love to chase a laser pointer, make sure that your cat can physically catch the toy at the end of a play session.
Read about why cats love laser pointers here.
Why do cats get the zoomies after pooping?
Some cats get a little frisky after a trip to the litterbox for a bowel movement.
Interestingly, many dogs get a little zoom-y after a potty trip, too.
Could they be celebrating a job well done? Proclaiming joy at the sense of relief?
In the absence of science, your guess is as good as mine.
What you shouldn't do when your cat is zoomingDon’t chase your cat. A chase can turn a silly zoom into something more frantic, that could ultimately lead to injury.
Don’t yell at your cat. It doesn’t work. Period. It’s unkind and it’s beneath you.
Don’t punish your cat. There is no behavior that any cat can ever do that justifies punishment of any kind. Best case, punishment can make anxious cat behaviors worse than they were to begin with. Worst case, you could damage the most precious thing that your cat has to offer you: her trust.
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.
 “What Are Zoomies?” Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine, 28 July 2022, https://www.vet.cornell.edu/departments-centers-and-institutes/riney-canine-health-center/health-info/what-are-zoomies.
 Dove, Laurie L. “There's a Name for When Your Dog Zooms around like a Joy-Crazed Maniac.” HowStuffWorks, HowStuffWorks, 23 Sept. 2016, https://animals.howstuffworks.com/pets/dog-zoomies-frap-frenetic-random-activity-period.htm.
 “Frenetic Random Activity Periods.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 14 Nov. 2022, https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frenetic_random_activity_periods.