Why Do Pets Steal Our Stuff?

April 1, 2010

By Linda Cole

Are your pets pack rats? Do you find things that belong to you in odd, out of the way places? Does your cat store things under the bed, or does your dog steal socks and you find the tattered remains scattered around the scene of the crime? Do they like the smell of our dirty laundry? Why do pets steal our stuff?

I have a dog who loves to spend the frosty days of winter under a cozy blanket in bed. Her chosen snuggle item is a slipper. Sometimes, she opts for both which makes it easier to find when I want them. Sure, I could put the slippers where she couldn’t get them, but having them around her makes her feel secure, and she has no desire to chew them. Of course she takes the slipper because it has a comforting and familiar smell on it. Sometimes pets steal our stuff because it makes them feel good to have a piece of clothing with our smell on it next to them when we aren’t there. If the pet stealing your clothing is a dog, it could indicate the dog has a mild case of separation anxiety. Stealing something with a familiar smell on it helps keep them calm by reducing their level of anxiety. Our dirty laundry or a slipper works best because that’s where our smell is the strongest, and a sock or slipper is easier to move than the couch.

Unfortunately, there is a problem with a dog who steals clothes if they also enjoy shredding the clothing and chewing up the slipper. That can get expensive! If your dog likes to eat clothes and your dirty laundry is piled on the floor till laundry day, a simple change in habit and using that empty hamper can help save your clothes from destruction. You may need to hide the hamper from the dog, though. A dog who is chewing on clothes is also likely to ingest a certain amount of fabric and that’s not good for them. A better choice to help your pooch deal with a low level of separation anxiety is to give them a chew toy they can’t destroy while you are gone. A treat toy can provide them with hours of entertainment as they work to get the treat out of the toy. Soft chew toys are also good, but make sure your dog isn’t one who likes to eat them as well.

Cats are like pack rats who love anything shining, small and fun that they can chase around the floor. I’m always retrieving items my cats have stolen from somewhere in the house. Pens, spoons, paper clips, wadded up balls of discarded paper, the ring or cap from a milk jug, an entire roll of toilet paper killed in a mighty battle on my bed. Cats steal our stuff just because they ARE cats. They don’t need a reason. They are constantly looking for something to bat around the floor and as long as it can be moved, it’s fair game as far as the cat is concerned.

Cats are like dogs as far as smells go. They like feeling safe and secure, and our smells are everywhere in the home. Cats will steal pieces of clothing just like dogs, although they don’t usually chew them up and spit the pieces out for us to find later. I have found dirty towels and T-shirts hauled up onto my bed or the couch. Of course, the cat is usually still sleeping in the middle of the pile. I had a cat that once emptied my entire laundry basket and arranged all of the clothes on the bed so he could burrow under them and sleep in peace with the smells he loved around him. I’m sure he was tired after rearranging an entire wardrobe.

In the long run, does it really matter why pets steal our stuff? Most pet owners do feel special if they have a pet who steals stuff. In a way, it’s a tribute to how much they want to be with us. If we aren’t there, then anything with our smell on it will do. If my dog feels comfortable sleeping with one of my slippers, or my cat wants to drag a dirty T-shirt on the bed to sleep on, that’s fine with me. It’s just another way they let us know we belong to them.

Read more articles by Linda Cole

The personal opinions and/or use of trade, corporate or brand names, is for information and convenience only. Such use does not constitute an endorsement by CANIDAE® Pet Foods of any product or service. Opinions are those of the individual authors and not necessarily of CANIDAE® Pet Foods.

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  1. Kirsty rankin says:

    We’ve had our little chihuahua pup for 18 months and he has always taken either my slipper or a piece of my clothing to bed with him. He doesn’t chew and at night if I have my slippers on and he is ready for bed he will ask for one by touching his paw to my foot and then scoots off to bed. I think it’s comforting for him.

  2. Angel says:

    I have been trying to understand this with more than one of my pets for so long! My husbands dog when we first started living together , would pee on my side of the bed. I thought it was because I “took” his place , or he didn’t like me. My husband did not believe me until I woke him up to hear it for him self. He did eventually stop that behavior. Then Shortly after he then began taking my clothes , making a pile and sleeping on them. I decided that was much than peeing and have just let him take 1 or 2 things. He is since been attached to my hip, and VERY protective of me. He gets very upset when my husband when my husband just reaches out to touch me. He will not allow any type of play between my husband and I, he will immediately jump on my husband and bark frantically. He is a big purebred Polarbear Lab , but I call him a Rott in disguise haha. He will not listen to my husband with any command and ONLY listens to mine. He lays by my feet where ever I am sitting in the house as well. The clothes taking still continues. I have a male cat, he is an F1 jungle cat who ONLY likes me. He runs from my kids and husband. He also takes my clothes, he takes my bra’s and underpants and runs off with them. Clean or in the dirty hamper it makes no difference. He does not always put them in 1 place just as long as he has them somewhere. I have a Female cat we just adopted about 7 months ago. At that time she was about a 1 1/2 yrs old. Starting about a week after we brought her home she started following me EVERYWHERE, so much so she would tire herself and then sleep for 2 hours on the area I usually sit on the couch. She is always making sure she knows where I am. She now steals EVERYTHING that is mine, anything there is not one specific thing or type of item. If it is mine she wants it and will take it. She too does not have only 1place she takes these things to. Many times she will meow VERY LOUDLY at night until I answer her, then she will bring something she took and put it either on me in bed or pile multiple things on my side of the bed on the floor. We do have other pets as well, these are the most extreme three fur babies with the stealing inssues. It’s seems they all fall into 1 or more different categories. But I am def. still confused , all EVERTHING not one of the things to try I am doing. I even have sensory calming outlet plug ins thru out our house as well as the calming collars. Every pet we have is healthy fixed UTD on vacs , and always great vet checks. They all get along, not fighting or dislike of each other displayed ever. I spoil all of them , they all get individual attation as well as all together play and attention. They all have more than enough of special places of their own they will claim. Even thou I am just not understand why the behavior continues?

  3. Anonymous says:

    I lived upstairs from a guy in his 90’s who had a cat. When he accused me of stealing his gold watch and then later money off his table I thought dimentia was just setting in. He always threw out the whole tray of kitty liter every week instead of sifting it. I always doubted his story of the thefts because if someone had broken into his aartment they would have stolen his 18th. century paintings. The old man struck back by vandalizing my car to the tune of over $2,000. Clothes worth over $2,500 were stolen or slashed. Tools worth over $3,000 were stolen. I finally moved. I should have moved out as soon as he claimed I stole his watch. Allstate wouldn’t pay a dime on my claim. Maybe I could sue the cat in court. I’ll bet he hid the watch and the envelope of money in the liter box.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for the article. I just adopted a dog from the local shelter, he had been returned twice by two other families. Your article made it very clear that he has some anxiety and just wants to be around me. Very cute in a sad kind of way. But thanks and nowme and my dog can come to an understanding about my slippers and socks.

  5. Wonderful post!!!! Every time I come home from work my Doberman will be sleeping on my robe or my pajamas. It always brings a big smile to my face knowing he loves me and my small!

  6. Great and interesting post! One of our cats has particular toys that she squirrels away in the back of her sleeping area. 🙂