You have most likely come across a small surprise when putting on your slippers or your sneakers—whether it’s your cat’s favorite jingle ball, or a less-than-pleasant dead rodent. This can be more than a little puzzling at first because you wonder how on earth it got there, and then, once you’ve determined that this is your cat’s doing, you begin to wonder again what exactly your pet’s intentions are behind hiding their ‘treasures’ in your shoes.
So, why does my cat put stuff in my shoes? The most likely reason is because your cat is a predator, and has excellent hunting instincts. They like to stalk and then discover their toys, and your shoes make an excellent hiding place for their imaginary prey.
Here, you can read more about your cat’s instincts in regard to hunting and ‘prey’, why your cat seems to enjoy cuddling with items like your shoes, and what to do about cats who can’t seem to stop themselves from stealing and hiding items which don’t belong to them.
Hunters at Home
Your cat, no matter how cute it may be, enjoys hunting small animals. This behavior appears in your pet because the housecat has never been completely domesticated out of their predator instincts, and still possesses all the skills and the drive it needs to stalk and kill small animals—it just happens that for your cat, their prey now takes the shape of a jingle ball or a feathered mouse toy.
Your housecat, as fluffy and cute as it is, is an incredibly efficient and effective hunter. Just a glance at their adorable little paws can confirm that: their pillow-like toes and the fur between them are perfect for muffling sound while they’re stalking a squirrel or a bird, and their retractable, incredibly sharp claws are ideal for gripping their prey for the killing bite.
You have likely had your cat ‘stalk’ your toes or a toy right in front of you, and you may have been surprised by just how quick and quiet your cat can be when in ‘hunt mode’– and by how shockingly sharp their claws and teeth are! Your cat is of course playing when they do this, but their play is also representative how they hunt.
Hide and Seek
So why does your little hunter like to hide their toys? One possibility is that your cat is hiding their ‘kill’ for enjoyment later like a big cat such as a leopard would do in the wild, but it’s more likely that your cat is playing a game of imagination.
The space under your sofa is, to your cat, a hidey-hole for their favorite toy mouse, and the rug in your living room is the perfect stand-in for the leaf matter that a chipmunk might hide under in the wild. Your cat is essentially making up a game for itself by hiding its toys and then pretending to ‘discover’ and then stalk them.
This is partially instinct at work, but also the mark of a very creative, but perhaps a bit bored, cat! It could be a sign that spending a little more time playing games with your cat is in order, particularly if you’re getting tired of finding cold, wet dead things hidden in weird places throughout your house.
Alternatively, you could take some time to hide little treats around your house or apartment for your cat to find: this is fun for both you and them, as it keeps both of you entertained and busy.
Why the Shoes
It may be very strange to you that your cat seems to enjoy hiding its toys in your shoes specifically. Hiding them under the sofa or the dresser might make sense, but why your favorite pair of slippers? Wouldn’t your cat dislike the smell of sweaty feet, especially since their sense of smell is so much better than ours?
Surprisingly, the converse is actually true: because your cat has such well-developed olfactory organs, they can pick up on nuances in smell far better than we can, and so where we just get a wave of sweaty BO from our shoes after a long day, your cat enjoys a refined bouquet of all the different smells that make you, you.
To them, your sweaty shoes or dirty laundry is just a highly concentrated dose of one of their favorite smells in the world, and they find it very comforting to have it near them. As for why your cat enjoys stuffing their toys into the toes of your favorite loafers, this is because the openings in the tops of shoes look like the little holes that small rodents might hide in.
Therefore, when your cat plays hide and seek with your footwear, it gets the best of both worlds: effectively ‘stalking’ their hidden prey, and also getting to spend time with your smell. Strange, but it makes your cat happy!
This scenario might sound familiar to you: your cat has become so obsessed with your shoes that your clothes have suddenly become their clothes, and it’s an uphill battle to get them away from your pet.
You get bitten, hissed at, or scratched if you reach for the item in question, and you obviously want this behavior to stop. At this point, your cat is no longer cute: its behavior has escalated to a point that is not acceptable. You have a few options to deter your cat and rescue your shoes:
Scent Deterrents: smells like citrus, rosemary, or even pepper are excellent cat deterrents. Putting a sachet of cat-proof herbs into your shoes may help discourage your cat from protecting your shoes. Anti-cat sprays can also be purchased online if simple herbs aren’t doing the trick.
Water Spritzing: cats don’t like water or surprises, so a quick squirt from a spray bottle may get them off your shoes. This is a temporary fix, but with persistence, your cat will learn that guarding your shoes or belongings is not acceptable, and it will stop.
Loud Noises: shaking a can full of pennies at your cat is often an effective deterrent and might scare them off, just like a spray of water. Of course, this is also unpleasant for other animals and people living in your home, so this may not be the best solution.
Separation: if you are able, put your shoes in a closet and close the door. Keeping your cat physically away from your shoes will eliminate the problem entirely, and your cat will have to find something else to do that will not result in you being bitten.
You may have found things other than just cat toys in your shoes. Sometimes a pen or a pencil will show up, or a balled-up sock that you’ve been looking for. It may seem odd that your cat seems to be drawn to things that are not even a little bit toy-like, but this may be a key to why your cat seems drawn to them: their usual toys are a bit boring, and so they’re looking for new ‘prey’ to hunt down.
A pencil is perfect, because it’s easily picked up and carried to a hiding place under the bed or in your slipper. It may be annoying to find a sock you lost weeks ago crammed into your boots, but it’s not the end of the world.
If you’d like your cat to stop stealing things from your desk or countertop, laying down foil, sticky tape, or anti-cat mats on these surfaces will prevent them from jumping up and taking off with your belongings.
Making certain places ‘off-limits’ is good for both you and your cats, as it lowers the risk of them getting into trouble. In addition to this, giving your cat a few new toys or more play time may also regain your cat’s attention and reduce ‘thieving’ behavior. Making sure your cat is entertained is always a good idea, as it also strengthens the bond between you and your pet!
Hiding or hoarding behavior in cats is fairly common and is just an expression of their hunting instincts at work. Your shoes happen to be one of their favorite hiding locations because they smell like you, and are also the exact shape and depth as a small rodent burrow.
Keeping your shoes in a closet or cubby away from your cat can reduce this behavior, and also keep your cat from becoming territorial over your belongings. In addition to this, you can also try playing more with your cat, or hiding little treats around your house to keep your cat entertained and active.
A bored cat is a mischievous cat, and keeping them thinking is a great way to prevent them from getting into things while you aren’t looking. In short, the reason behind your cat’s strange fixation on your shoes is it ultimately wants to spend more time with you, hanging out and playing, and spending more time with your cat will result in both of you having a better pet-owner friendship.