Although it may feel like it, your cat's goal is not to wake you up at 3 a.m.

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photo of a cat with the zoomies running with a Feline Fine logo in the corner
Credit: Nils Jacobi / Getty

If you're a cat parent, you've likely seen your kitty get the case of the "zoomies." One second, they're sitting peacefully. The next, they're running back and forth across the house, almost as if they're chasing something that's not even there.

While the zoomies is a common behavior found in both cats and dogs, sometimes dealing with a frenzied pet—especially in the middle of the night—can be frustrating. Here's what you need to know about cat zoomies and what causes this erratic behavior.

What Are Cat Zoomies?

As the name suggests, you'll know your cat has the zoomies when they 'zoom' and frantically run around the house. And then, almost as quickly as they started, the zoomies end and your kitty is back to snoozing on the couch.

"The zoomies typically look as if a switch has flipped," says Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC, author and owner of Cat Behavior Associates.

From a cat parent's perspective, the zoomies may look as if the cat has suddenly gone crazy for no obvious reason. But there's a technical term for this behavior: Frenetic Random Activity Periods, or FRAPs. When your cat gets an intense burst of energy, running around the house is a simple way for cats to get that energy out.

Why Do Cats Get the Zoomies?

There are actually a few different reasons, but these are the three most common.

1. Excess Energy 

The most common reason cats experience the zoomies is pent-up energy. Cats rest and sleep for a majority of the day to conserve energy for short, very active periods. Without intentional exercise and activity, your kitty will need to find a way to get that extra energy out, resulting in a case of the zoomies.

"Cats are ambush predators and they conserve energy for multiple short bursts when hunting," Pam Johnson-Bennett, CCBC says. "For indoor cats who don't get enough exercise, they may engage in the zoomies as a much-needed energy release."

Cats of all ages can experience zoomies from pent-up energy, but the behavior may be more common in younger cats and kittens who have more energy to expense.

Make sure to engage your feline with engaging exercise throughout the day. This will allow them to use that pent-up energy without knocking over vases and turning up rugs. Plus, you'll bond with your kitty over playtime and enrichment activities, leading them to have a happier and healthier life.

2. Acute Pain

While this is a far less common reason your cat may get the zoomies, it's important to know when the behavior may indicate your kitty is in pain, so that you can get them to the vet as soon as possible for relief.

If your cat has fleas or itchy skin, racing around may be their way of trying to escape the feeling. Your aging cat may also be losing their eyesight or hearing and get spooked by things easier, causing a frantic run around the house.

How can you know if your cat is in pain or just has some excess energy to burn? Watch for other behaviors of pain, like irritability, scratching, or excess licking. "If a cat engages in licking a particular area repeatedly in addition to the zooming around, it may be an indication of pain or anxiety," Johnson-Bennett says.

Bennett says even if your cat isn't clearly exhibiting signs of pain, if the zoomies are ongoing after regular exercise, it's time for a veterinary appointment.

3. Post-Poop Zoomies

Some cats seem to enjoy a victory lap after a trip to the litter box. If your cat gets the zoomies after pooping, be sure to pay attention to signs of constipation, such as discomfort, vomiting, defecation outside the litter box, or a change in stool. Even if your cat doesn't clearly exhibit these signs, it's never a bad idea to check in with your cat's veterinarian, especially if the post-poop zoomies are a new behavior.

If you can rule out digestive issues, ensure sure your cat's litter box is regularly cleaned. Cats may get the zoomies after pooping in order to run away from an unpleasant smell. Plus, a clean litter box will prevent urinary problems and bacterial infections in your cat, and keep her at the litter box instead of on your favorite rug.

Need More Sleep? Here's How To Prevent Cat Zoomies at Night

Cat parents everywhere know the problem all too well. Cats spend 15–20 hours a day resting or sleeping, but it seems like the only time they're awake and ready to play is when you're trying to get your beauty rest. If your cat is notorious for waking you up with a late night zoom around the house, it's time to find a solution.

"If a cat frequently engages in the zoomies, it's probably an indication that the cat needs more exercise," Johnson-Bennett says. 

Make sure your kitty is getting enough exercise with regular playtime. Break out the feather and string (or your cat's favorite toy), because Johnson-Bennett suggests engaging in at least two 15-minute interactive play sessions per day.

"It's also important to provide mental exercise and satisfaction so don't just exhaust the cat, but instead, play in a way that allows kitty to stalk and plan," Johnson-Bennett says. "Playtime is just as much mental exercise as it is physical."

To help tire your kitty with mental stimulation, test out a few interactive toys that allow cats to play and get a reward for their efforts. Setting out your kitty's favorite interactive toy before bed will help get that extra energy out and hopefully result in a full night's sleep for you.