You might think your cat is going insane. With a wild look in her eyes, she’s zooming around the house at a speed you didn’t know she was capable of. If you have stairs, she runs up and down several times. She jumps on and off furniture and over other pets. She can spin in circles and follow her tail. Even the most docile lap cat can radiate this explosive energy.
The scientific name for this common behavior in cats is frenetic Random Periods of Activity (FRAP), commonly known as cat zoomies. It usually only lasts a few minutes and can happen around the same time each day. As the cats get older, these bursts of energy can become shorter and less frequent.
“Zoom, not to be confused with the main communication method of the COVID-19 era, is most likely to only occur indoors in young cats and cats,” says Dr. Gary D. Norsworthy, owner of the Alamo Feline Health Center in San Antonio, Texas.
Why cats zoom
For kittens and cats that only live indoors, zooming is a form of exercise. “Like young people, young cats have a lot of energy that needs to be released,” says Dr. Norsworthy. “Zooming is one way of doing this, and it should be viewed in a positive light.”
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Dr. Norsworthy notes that indoor-only cats often live in relatively small houses and often with several other cats. “You just need an opportunity to move and move.”
Aerobic vs. anaerobic activity
Cats tend to do more anaerobic than aerobic exercise. Anaerobic training requires explosive bursts of energy for a short period of time. For example, a cheetah can sprint from zero to 60 mph in three seconds, but maintains that speed for less than a minute. Cats, from lions to house cats, use bursts of energy to hunt for a short time. Whether or not they catch their prey, their activity slows down after just a few minutes. Domestic cats go from zero to about 30 mph and then routinely back to zero. And then they sleep about 16 hours every day.
In general, people have more aerobic activity. During exercise, we tend to choose activities that we can maintain for 20, 30, or 60 minutes. And our activities during the day generally do not require explosive bursts of energy, but values that we can withstand for most of the day. We take a transition period when we wake up and usually relax with relaxing activities before going to sleep. Humans sleep roughly half the time cats sleep.
Exercise, whether aerobic or anaerobic, is vital to human and pet health and is a great way to reduce stress and burn off excess energy. If cats zoom in frequently, they may simply need more exercise. Daily playtime with interactive toys is a great way to meet the need for exercise and can prevent excessive zooming. If the zoomies strike at night and disturb your sleep, increase play time during the day.
Other reasons for cat zoomies
If the zooming is still too big and regular playtime doesn’t help, take your cat to the veterinarian to check for an underlying health condition.
“Zooming can also be caused by a skin condition known as hyperesthesia,” says Dr. Norsworthy. “The cause of this is unknown, but it does lead to a tingling sensation in the skin. There may be a sudden tingling sensation along the spine. Hence it is often referred to as “ripple back”. When these sensations occur, the cat gets frightened and tries to run away from them. This can lead to a similar behavior that we call zooming. “
If your cat zooms out of the litter box, take him to the veterinarian to rule out any health issues that cause pain when urinating or defecating. Also make sure that the box is clean and scooped every day.
Featured image: Getty Images
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