Why do cats periodically run around madly as if they were chasing a fire engine?

It is probably more evolutionary than it is anything physiological, and is possibly related to hunting techniques.

It is not usually seen in farm cats, who have to work for a living. Their predatory behavior involves sitting beside a mouse hole for hours, then pouncing.

Instead, the mad dash is often seen among well-fed, secure, happy house cats. Cats are crepuscular animals that hunt at dawn and dusk, and the running around often coincides with the time they would ordinarily be hunting. It may also be a form of play.

Cats often seem to be stimulating themselves, similar to a child on a swing. If all the dashing around is a problem, veterinarians suggest trying interactive play with a pouncing toy. That might reduce the fire-engine behavior.