My Cat Won’t Leave Me Alone in the Bathroom. The Curious Clinginess of Cats

Cats are naturally curious animals

Cats have an innate sense of curiosity and like to observe and understand their environment. According to Rover, kittens tend to be more curious as they are constantly encountering new things, but adult cats maintain their curious nature as well. Cats see their owners as family and companions and will follow them around to inspect new spaces that they don’t normally have access to, like the bathroom.

As experts at Nutrish explain, a cat’s curiosity comes from an instinct to assess their surroundings for potential prey or predators. So when their human companion enters a new room and closes the door, it triggers the cat’s natural curiosity about what might be on the other side. The bathroom is an unfamiliar space that cats don’t often get to explore, so their inquisitive nature compels them to investigate it.

Cats see their owners as family

Cats are very social animals that tend to form strong bonds and attachments, especially with their human families. According to research from Oregon State University, cats view their owners as a source of security and comfort, much like a young child views their parents. 1 This is why cats often follow their owners from room to room, including into the bathroom.

For cats, their human family is their social group and “colony.” Following an owner to the bathroom is a sign of affection, as the cat wants to spend time together and not be left alone. Cats perceive quality time, like a bathroom trip, as an opportunity to strengthen their social bond through proximity and companionship. Many cat owners report their cats waiting right outside the bathroom door during their bathroom visits. This further indicates the cat sees their human as family and wants to maintain that closeness.

The bathroom provides security

Small enclosed spaces appeal to cats’ natural instincts. According to the MeowBox article “If It Fits, I Sits: The Truth Behind Why Cats Love Small Spaces”, cats seek out small spaces because it makes them feel safe and secure The bathroom is usually a quiet and peaceful room compared to the rest of the home. Being in close proximity to their owner in the bathroom makes cats feel protected.

The toilet water is appealing

Cats are often fascinated by running water and may be attracted to the toilet because of this. The flowing water in the toilet bowl triggers their natural hunting instincts, and they can’t resist pawing at or drinking from the stream. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), “Cats prefer running water to standing water, as running water is perceived to be fresher” (ASPCA). The constantly refilling water in the toilet mimics the appeal of fresh running water to cats.

In addition, some cats may actually prefer the taste of toilet water. Even though the toilet water has been contaminated by waste products, sometimes the water reservoir contains fresher water than what sits stagnant in the cat’s water bowl. Cats have a strong sense of smell and taste, and they rely on these senses to detect impurities in water sources. If the toilet water smells and tastes cleaner to your cat than the water in their bowl, they may opt to drink from the toilet instead (Ultimate Pet Nutrition). The appeal of fresh running water is a key factor that draws cats to toilets and motivates them to play with, drink, or just observe the water inside.

Bathrooms have interesting smells

Cats have a remarkably strong sense of smell that is far superior to humans. Their sense of smell is 14 times stronger than dogs and they have up to 200 million scent receptors compared to only 5 million in humans. This allows them to detect odors unnoticeable to us (Source). As a result, bathrooms contain many intriguing new scents for a curious cat to investigate.

When we use the toilet, take a shower, apply lotions and perfumes, and clean, we introduce a myriad of interesting smells to the bathroom environment. Cats want to explore these new scents to gather information about their home and family members. The smells give cats novel stimuli and satisfaction when they identify and categorize the various odors. Additionally, litter boxes are often kept in bathrooms. The scents from the litter box, both their own and those of other cats in the home, are another draw for investigate kitties.

Cats want affection and treats

Cats are very social animals and crave affection and attention from their owners. Even though cats are often characterized as aloof or independent, research shows that cats form secure attachments to their owners and families. They enjoy being petted, cuddled, talked to, and played with.

When a cat follows their owner into the bathroom, they likely associate this with receiving positive attention and interaction. Bathroom visits may mean their owner will provide pets, treats or playtime. By tagging along during this daily routine, the cat is ensuring they get some quality bonding time.

According to a Modkat study, cats experience positive emotions like contentment and joy when interacting with their owners. So to your cat, joining you in the bathroom may be a pleasurable experience they eagerly anticipate. Satisfying a cat’s need for affection strengthens the bond between pet and owner.

They don’t want to be left alone

Cats can experience separation anxiety, just like dogs. Research supports the fact that cats display signs of distress when left alone, such as excessive vocalization, not eating, and inappropriate urination [1]. Separation anxiety happens because the cat sees their owner as a source of security. When that person leaves, the cat feels vulnerable and anxious.

Following owners from room to room allows the cat to keep their ‘security blanket’ close by. The bathroom trip signals to the cat that the owner will return shortly. By accompanying the owner, the cat maintains the comfort and safety they feel in their presence. Staying close gives reassurance that the owner is not abandoning them.

The cat’s routine and environment changed

Major changes in a cat’s home or routine can cause feelings of anxiety and uncertainty. In response, the cat may start following their owner closely as a source of comfort and security.

Cats are creatures of habit who like their daily routines. When something suddenly changes in their environment, whether it’s moving to a new home or even rearranging furniture, it can be very disruptive for a cat. They thrive on regular schedules and familiar surroundings.

By following their owner closely, especially to private spots like the bathroom, the cat is attempting to cope with the changes and stick to their normal habits. Even if their food bowls, litter box, and bed are in new places, the owner remains a constant source of care and affection.

The cat may spend extra time shadowing their owner to help ease the transition period and readjust to all the new sights, sounds, and smells in their home. With time, patience, and reassurance from their owner, the anxious cat should gradually grow accustomed to the changes.

Medical Causes

Certain medical conditions can cause cats to become more clingy and attention-seeking. According to this article, conditions like hyperthyroidism or dental disease may prompt clingy behavior in cats. Cats often increase vocalizations and affection when they are not feeling well as a plea for help. It’s a good idea to schedule a veterinarian checkup for your cat if they suddenly become clingy to rule out any underlying illness.

How to reduce bathroom followings

One way to reduce your cat’s bathroom followings is to give it attention before you go to the bathroom. Pet your cat, play with it, or give it a treat when you first get up. This will satisfy its need for affection before you disappear into the bathroom. As PetMD suggests, “Shift the timing of rewards and attention to before you walk away” (source).

You can also provide your cat with stimulating toys to keep it occupied while you’re gone. Food puzzle toys that require effort to extract treats and toys that mimic prey, like feather wands and toy mice, can engage your cat’s natural hunting instincts. Rotate different toys to prevent boredom. The Kitty Convos recommends interactive play before leaving your cat alone (source).

Finally, designating a spot for your cat to wait while you’re in the bathroom can deter it from waiting right outside the door. Place a cat bed, blanket, or cardboard box with some of your worn clothing in an area visible from the bathroom. Sprinkle the area with catnip to make it more appealing. With a designated spot, your cat may feel less inclined to follow you into the bathroom.

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