Why do cats unroll toilet paper?
March 24, 2015 5:18 AM   Subscribe

I searched google and saw only hits talking about how to stop the behavior, but that doesn't interest me. I'd really like to know if there are people out there who've tried to understand *why* some cats do this?
posted by dancing leaves to Pets & Animals (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Cat like to play with things that move. A toilet roll, once set in motion, rolls and unfurls.
posted by pracowity at 5:22 AM on March 24, 2015 [7 favorites]

It's probably tied to the rodent catching instincts cats have. Same reason they chase string or bat a ball around or whack at my ankles. Moving Thing Triggers Prowling Instincts.

Cats are only barely just domesticated. The prevailing theory is that they domesticated themselves because humans = grains = mice = dinner. Thus humans equal dinner. This is also why house cats share behaviors and characteristics of wild cats. Especially when you compare them to dogs being domesticated from wolves. This is also why it's near impossible to domesticate a feral cat.

Real answer is that cats are weird and do weird things.
posted by royalsong at 5:24 AM on March 24, 2015 [10 favorites]

Cats like to bat at things with their paws. They can make the toilet paper move by batting at it.
posted by Anne Neville at 5:32 AM on March 24, 2015 [2 favorites]

You might find the book Cat Sense interesting - it talks a lot about the scientific research into feline behavior. I don't remember whether they talk about toilet paper specifically, but there was a section I thought was interesting on play behavior. In particular, there was a study that seemed to indicate toys kept a cat's interest much longer if they visibly change or disintegrate in some way as the cats play with them, versus something like a ball that pretty much stays the same. The theory was that this mimics hunting behaviors - if your cat's toy is falling apart while he plays with it, it may provide some sort of "you're an awesome hunter, dismembering your prey!" positive feedback. It occurs to me that in addition to movement satisfying hunting instincts, there could also be some of that "I am destroying a thing" feedback.
posted by Stacey at 5:36 AM on March 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

Stacey's comment! Although the "Cat Sense" book seemed somewhat random on the sciencey spectrum. The author would talk about some credible-sounding research he'd done, and then soon after make wild surmises on the loosest of reasoning based on the most unsupported suppositions. Still, it was interesting.

My own response to your "Why do they do this" question is, essentially, why not? Cats have a lot of free time and they need to do _something_.
posted by amtho at 6:08 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

I think there's also a component of it being somewhat like their scratching behavior. My cats like to get up on their hindquarters and reach up to unfurl the toilet paper not unlike the way they like to get up on their hindquarters to scratch on the sofa (another aggravating behavior) or a vertical scratching post (when they had one).
posted by briank at 6:10 AM on March 24, 2015

Cats have a lot of free time and they need to do _something_.

My cats seem really booked up with their sleeping and bathing schedules.

Cats seem to like it because it's fun and it moves and it's deliciously bitable and responds well to that disembowelment back paw thing they like to do. (My cats are actually not fond of toilet paper but have been known to eat through paper towels. I don't know what they see as the distinction.)
posted by jeather at 6:26 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

And they seem fascinated by anything "bathroom" in general. I have one that will ONLY drink running bathroom sink water, one who loves to watch the toilet flush, and one that seems to enjoy the reverb of howling his fool head off in there. There are many days I take a bath carefully monitored by three of the beasts. Might as well kick the crap out of some TP while you're in there.
posted by thebrokedown at 6:31 AM on March 24, 2015 [9 favorites]

The long answer is: I don't know.
Why does my stupid cat chase his tail and eat plastic and shoelaces but show ZERO interest in actual cat toys? Why does he go ballistic for one brush but hate another? Why does he prowl around the house yowling immediately after breakfast? Why does he love sitting in the sink?

The short answer is: Cats are weird
posted by JenThePro at 8:00 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Another hypothesis: the only toy my older cat cares about is a crocheted blob thingy with a long crocheted tail, and she only likes the tail part, and she only likes that when I sort of flick it with my wrist in a certain way. I suspect toilet paper makes sort of the same movement when a cat unrolls it and bats it a little, only it doesn't need a stupid human on the other end to make it fun -- she can do it herself.
posted by holborne at 8:15 AM on March 24, 2015

Just as another anecdote, I'm pretty sure my cat does this because she is an asshole.
posted by LightMayo at 9:19 AM on March 24, 2015 [4 favorites]

In addition to movement and texture, cats tend to gravitate toward soft rustling sounds*, which TP and paper towels provide.

*Test this theory: spread a sheet of tissue paper on the floor and over something small tied to a string. As quietly as you can, slowly pull the thing out from under the paper. It's a rare cat that can keep themselves from investigating and destroying this setup.
posted by jamaro at 9:36 AM on March 24, 2015 [1 favorite]

Based on my extensive cat research, I offer these theories:

1) It is something to eat -- that is not cat food.

2) It is something to sit on -- that is not the floor (which is lava).

3) It is something to fight with -- that does not fight back.

4) It is something to sharpen claws on -- that was not purchased by humans for that purpose.

5) It annoys you -- and annoyed humans are funny.
posted by kythuen at 11:43 AM on March 24, 2015 [3 favorites]

Because predator play is primarily focused on chasing, catching, and disembowling skills.

TP rolls certainly satisfy the latter two.
posted by IAmBroom at 12:24 PM on March 24, 2015

Puppies and toddlers do this too. Why? It's fun. Spin that sucker and you got a big pile of fluffy stuff to play in. Solution: Don't use the wall-mounted roller.
posted by Mr. Yuck at 1:28 PM on March 24, 2015

Response by poster: I love all these answers! Clearly most of them were written by cat lovers and/or cat subjugates.

BTW, if you hang the roll the wrong way (i.e., under), the cat batting at it won't unroll it. If they have claws and enjoy using them (and what cat wouldn't?), then shredding Will Happen.

Anyway, thanks so far for the theories, resources, and most of all, laughs.
posted by dancing leaves at 1:58 AM on March 26, 2015

Someone here once said that they were just weird furry goddamned terrorists.

I have not been able to look at either of my cats in another way since.
posted by Thistledown at 3:57 PM on March 26, 2015

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