Zoomies. Midnight crazies. Fur and blur. Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAPs). These are but a few of the names I’ve heard describing those inexplicable bursts of intense energy from our companion animals. In addition to generating loads of hilarious Internet videos and shocking you from a late-night slumber, why do cats and dogs get the “zoomies”?
There can be several medical or physiological origins of the midnight crazies. The first, and perhaps most serious, medical cause is feline hyperthyroidism. If you have a middle-aged to older cat who suddenly begins staying up late, losing weight, acting jittery or behaving oddly, have her checked by your vet.
Dogs can get a condition known as Cushing’s disease, or hyperadrenocorticism, which can lead to sleep alterations and unusual behaviors. Arthritic pain, flea and tick bites, kidney and liver disease, toxins and brain tumors can also cause strange behaviors. Finally, age-related dementia and cognitive dysfunction syndrome (CDS) should be considered whenever a senior pet begins bolting or acting abnormally.
Changes in sight, hearing and smelling may also contribute to bizarre behavior. I’ve seen dogs with failing eyesight or hearing snap at imaginary flies, bark at invisible enemies and flee fantasy foes.
The bottom line is if your dog or cat suddenly starts darting about, springing awake when they usually rest or acting abnormally, seek veterinary advice.
Zooming in response to the unseen may be rooted in a behavior issue. Anxiety and stress can heighten senses to the point where an animal reacts to the slightest stimulus. Depression or emotional strife can produce sleep-wake imbalances and unusual social responses. Whenever a pet parent tells me their pet is “suddenly doing this weird thing,” I instantly begin exploring if a behavioral problem is the explanation.
Of course, most fur and blur events are completely normal. For cats, this is how they engage their inner predator. Most of a cat’s time is spent in relative comfort with little opportunity to test their survival instincts. These play periods allow them to hone stalking, pouncing and pursuing skills.
Dogs are also tapping into their hidden hunter. Yes, even petite Pomeranians and bitsy Chihuahuas hunger for the chase. Though breeding may have changed their appearance from their ancestors, when you see a Shih Tzu streak by, you know a predator is on the prowl.
In addition to predation, I think my pets like to ambush me for fun. My cat, Itty Bitty, loves laying low around corners and silently springing onto an unprotected leg during a late-night bathroom visit. Sandy, my 13-year-old beach mutt, reminds me and everyone within earshot that 5:00 a.m. is time to wake up. She also heralds a window-shaking warning to any wicked squirrels or lurking lizards.
Not all animals act out in this way. Harry, my Border Terrier, thinks zooming and booming about is wasted energy. He refuses to be a part of the sillies. He saves his outbursts for tug-of-war, running on the beach, paddle-boarding and surfing. Maybe it’s his refined British heritage, but I’m pretty sure he glances over at a blurred Bitty and sprinting Sandy and yawns. Save it for later.
I personally love watching the zoomies. Not so much the leg latching, more the running wildly. For the vast majority, it’s a healthy expression of what makes our companion animals such a special part of our lives. So the next time your pet does something really crazy and cool, don’t forget to upload it for the world to see. I’ll be sure to tell Harry all about it. If I can wake him up.