Is your cat stealing things from you? Why does he do this?

Do you have a furry four-legged burglar in your house? Has a pen you just left on a table suddenly disappeared? Or maybe some food has been blown off your plate? Your keys? A sock?

If something similar happens to you, do you know that you are not alone. Many people share their lives with cats that seem to have very “nimble” fingers or rather, paws. The good news is that your cat’s behavior is not unusual. In fact, it is quite common for our feline friends to steal things. After all, cats enjoy the ideal physical characteristics to become the perfect “cat thief.”

Although it may make you uncomfortable if your favorite shirt disappears, it is not a big problem if this does not happen very often. You may just need to play with your cat a little more or improve his “space” to try to get him out of the habit.

Here are some reasons why your cat is stealing things from you,  and how to help you avoid it.

1. He wants to get your attention

Some cats may steal as a way to get attention . At times we have been able to reinforce that habit with our reactions to that behavior. For example, if you have seen your cat play with the object and you have not said anything or even participated in the game before taking it off, what do you know that you have reinforced that inappropriate behavior . 

Cats are very intelligent animals and if your cat sees that stealing is getting your attention, he will most likely repeat the behavior, will encourage him to do it again. Even your negative response , such as yelling or dissuading your cat, can also cause the stealing behavior to repeat itself.

To avoid this, try to pay attention to your cat only when it does positive things like being cuddly, purring, banging its head against you, etc. This will reinforce appropriate behavior and show him that if he does something good, he will have your attention.

When he steals something, although it will be difficult to do so, completely ignore your cat . This will teach him that he will not have a reaction from you.

2. Your cat gets bored and wants to play

Your cat may be stealing things because he is a little bored . He takes things from you to play with, he doesn’t care if it’s your expensive diamond necklace, he’s just looking for something to entertain himself!

To avoid boredom, try to play more with your cat. Cats love to play and you help satisfy their hunting instincts too! It is also a way for you to interact with your cat and spend more time with him.


3. He takes things from you because he is stressed

Your cat may be stealing your items because they provide comfort if he’s feeling stressed .

Some cats suffer from a behavioral disorder known as sucking on wool and fabrics , in this case, the stolen items can be socks or other fabric items. This behavior is the variant of a behavior disorder known as malacia or pica.

Your cat may also steal an object that contains the scent of a family member as a way to calm down .

If you suspect the behavior is stress-related, check with your vet first to make sure there is no underlying disease, especially if your cat suffers from the wool-sucking behavior. Then try to figure out what may be causing the stress.

Keep in mind that the factors causing stress in a cat can be very small from our perspective. Even something like a change in your work schedule, or the fact that your older son just went to college could be a possible trigger.

Try to relieve stress and increase environmental enrichment to give your cat other alternatives to his behavior. Playtime and environmental enrichment are also trust builders, because they allow the cat to perform natural and normal behaviors, such as hunting, climbing, jumping, stalking and running.


4. Fulfill your hunting instinct

Your cat is trying to simulate hunting like its ancestors would. It comes naturally to them and stealing your items could be a substitute for their prey.  In this case, he is more likely to just move things, rather than steal and hide them.

In these cases, your cat is likely to steal the objects and carry them with his mouth as if carrying prey, and may even growl while walking through the house with his “prey.”

If your cat is aggressive toward a family member or other household pet due to its obsession with objects, you may want to see a behavioral veterinarian.

You could entertain your cat with a toy bird or mouse to simulate hunting and keep him busy.

5. Your cat steals food from you

Cats are predators so they are highly motivated by food . You have so many tempting food scents passing past your cat’s nose multiple times a day that it’s hard for her to resist.

You have been able to facilitate the behavior of stealing food if you have accustomed him to being fed from the table. If you have offered him pieces of your own food while eating it or have rewarded him with food when he asks for it during family meals, you have created a bad habit for your cat.

Food theft can also happen if you leave leftovers on a table or on the kitchen counter. If you know you have a “feline thief” of food, eliminate the temptation by making sure you don’t leave any leftovers.

To reduce and hopefully eliminate food-stealing behavior, you can incorporate puzzle-type feeders into your cat’s food routine. If you feed him both wet or dry food, you can buy or build puzzle feeders to get your cat to eat slowly and enjoy a form of play while eating.


When is theft a problem?

If your cat only tends to steal things from time to time, don’t think of it as a big problem that needs to be addressed. For example, lack of stimulation can be addressed by making changes to your environment, and thereby fixing it.

However, if you find that your cat’s thefts are becoming somewhat obsessive, you may need to speak to a vet about treatment possibilities. If anxiety is a potential underlying factor, this can be treated through behavioral therapy, changes in your cat’s environment, and medications.


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