Is Your New Cat Stalking You?
Yes, they are right behind you.
Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)
Ever have that feeling you’re being watched? Wake to a furry figure towering over you? Do you have a mini-voyeur outside your shower or a judgmental little supervisor staring you down on every work call? Of course you do, if you have a cat.
Maybe you’ve always wanted a cat, you finally adopted one, and now you’re realizing just how much alone time you don’t have anymore. Yes, your cat is a stalker and the call is coming from inside the house. But it’s just your cat being your cat.
So, why is my cat following me?
Cats aren’t creeps — well, they sort of are, but not in a nefarious way — they’re simply misunderstood. Cats shadow us for a number of logical cat reasons: to get attention, register a complaint about an unacceptably full litter box, because they love us, or because they’re hungry. Your cat may be living the cushy life at home, but inside beats the heart and lingering ancestral memory of a hunter, out in the wild sneaking up to pounce on prey, a.k.a. dinner. In real life, your cat recognizes you as the main food source, which explains why you’re the lucky recipient of your cat’s stealth attention. And they have no issue sending word that the service at their most frequented restaurant is slower than they’d like.
Here’s another note on understanding your hungry cat, who likely follows you around nonstop, rubbing against your legs and talking at you with a determined, high-pitched meow. Cats’ natural dining rhythm is five small meals throughout the day, but instead, cats follow our feeding schedules, which are behaviorally and psychologically unnatural for cats. This is the reason why some cats have even trained their humans to wake up earlier to feed them by biting their toes in bed or sitting on top of them and meowing in their faces. They’re frustrated by not having their innate meal patterns met and not shy about popping up anywhere, anytime to let you know.
They want your attention.
If you don’t have a hungry cat, and your cat is still lurking around or checking up on you constantly, your cat is likely trying to get your attention. Hey, “aloof” cats get lonely, too. Because they’re super clever and persistent creatures, they will resort to multiple creative tricks beyond the classic stalk mode, including:
Pawing at you
Knocking things off tables, couches, or counters
Stealing or playing with objects (including ones your are presently using!)
Jumping up to be at your level
Inhibited bites (typically a nibble, not a full-on bite)
Side, but important, note: If your cat shows an increase in attention-seeking behaviors or any sudden changes in their typical behavior, you should first take your cat to the veterinarian, because it could be an indicator of an underlying medical condition. Your cat could be following you around more than usual, seeking reassurance and comfort from pain. The hard part with attention-seeking behaviors is that any interaction we have with our cats — positive (like trying to reassure them with petting) or negative (such as reprimanding) — will only reinforce the behavior, as with all attention. Even a glance in your cat’s direction will reinforce and keep the stalking coming. So, what to do?
How do I stop my cat from stalking me?
Provide appropriate outlets for that behavior.
You are the source of your cat’s attention. Walk away and reward your cat when they’re calmer. If you can’t walk away because you have a Velcro cat, then provide them with training alternatives like a fun game.
Make sure you have enough scratching posts.
Check your cat’s litter boxes.
Your cat might want you to know that their full litter boxes aren’t passing inspection.
Check your cat’s water.
Maybe the water spilled or is empty. Or they’re having problems accessing it (due to another cat or dog guarding it).
Schedule daily play time.
Once a day book some private fun time with your cat with interactive toys and cat wands. Embrace your inner cat parent. Cats are addicted to habit and feel more secure and confident with a consistent routine. To help your cat decrease attention-seeking behaviors, combine the security of a schedule with positive reinforcement training and playtime. It’s a common myth that cats are independent, standoffish characters — any cat person will call nonsense on that claim. In fact, cats think of us as part of their family group, which is why they rub around our legs, greet us when we come back home, lick us, and stay by our side when we’re having a bad day.
So, yes, your cat is a stalker, but the most charming kind. Relax and enjoy your little creeper (but keep the food coming, just to be safe).
Ruby Leslie, CPDT-FF
Ruby Leslie is a certified positive reinforcement force-free trainer and Dogly Training Advocate. She has consulted, worked with, and volunteered at animal shelters across the world including China, Thailand, the UK, and Canada where she now resides with her cats.