Why do cats follow you?

You might ask, “Why does my cat follow me?”. It depends on the circumstances, the individual cat and of course the relationship between you and your cat. But even the most loyal cat will not follow a person around all day every day.

Cat concern and interest
Cat concern and interest. Picture in the public domain.
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Relationship between caretaker and cat

If you are imprinted on your cat’s mentality as their mother because you raised them since they were newborns then it is likely that they will follow you around as a kitten will follow a mother. And adult domestic cats tend to be kept in a permanent state of kittenhood because of the 100% provision of food and security which reinforces the imprinting.

Even without imprinting, if there is a very close bond it is to be expected that your cat will follow you around from time to time because they want to be near you. They want to interact with you because you are probably their significant other. This begs the question as to how domestic cats perceive their human companions and caretakers. We don’t know but they probably don’t perceive humans as cats or not cats. Humans are just there for them and they don’t question what sort of species humans are. They just know that their owner is a provider and friend (associate). This is provided the relationship is as it should be which is close and supportive.

Modern Siamese
Katherine Middleton’s Roja. Photo: Helmi Flick. Siamese cats are described as liking closeness to their human companion. They are more likely to Part kittenfollow you around the home.

Part kitten

A particularly good reason why adult cat companions follow their owner around is because they act as if they are a kitten and their owner is perceived by them as their mother. And in this relationship the mother leaves the nest i.e. the family home in this instance and the kitten follows because it’s the beginning of training to be independent. This is an inherited behaviour. The fact is that when kittens in the wild arrive at the stage when they are fully mobile and during their development, they will leave the nest with their mother and follow her. So, if a domestic cat owner leaves the house sometimes their cat may follow for a short distance until they are too far from the nest to feel secure when they will stop but their owner carries on.

Circumstances

Although the underlying reason why cats follow their owner around sometimes is to be with them and interact, there are circumstances under which it is more likely to happen. One of these is when a person goes to the toilet. This is a slightly sensitive subject but the scent of the person and the odours that they emit when they are in the toilet are very attractive to a domestic cat and they want to be there. I interpret this as the human at that time emitting a very strong signal that they are who they are, and because their cat wants to be with them they are drawn to this odour. It is as if the human is sending out a signal to come and be with them.

I also think that at a lesser level, but for the same reason, when a person has a shower they also give off a scent which domestic cats find attractive. They want to be immersed in it and therefore they may follow their human guardian into the bathroom when they are showering.

Some domestic cats particularly like water such as the wild cat hybrids. I’m referring to the Bengal and Savannah cats as examples. It is said that they sometimes join their owners in the shower.

Fake lap for clingy cat
Fake lap for clingy cat. Photo: Alex and Rebecca May.

Routines

When the relationship between human caretaker and domestic cat is meshed (fully integrated), because the human is retired and therefore has lots of time on their hands to spend with their cat, routines are set up informally which allow human and cat to integrate their activities. I’ll give an example. I feed the squirrels and foxes where I live. I love wild animals. I do this every evening. My cat knows this and he is ready for me to go out at a similar time every evening and he follows me out like a dog. He wants to participate in this activity. It’s a routine that has been set up by me and which he chooses to participate in.

I’ll provide another example. I buy the paper every morning. I need to walk to the corner shop. My cat follows me, stops somewhere down the road where he waits for my return. This is another integrated routine which shows why cats sometimes follow their owners.

Attention seeking

Some observers confuse feline attention-seeking and a cat’s desire to follow them own around the home. I don’t think following a person around the home is necessarily about attention seeking. I also do not think it is suitable to criticise a cat for being “attention-seeking”. Attention-seeking is simply a cat wanting to be close to their human caretaker. That is a good thing. It should not be portrayed as a negative characteristic of a cat. It is a positive trait. Cat owners want their cat to interact and to like being close with them.

Feeding

Once again, because of routines, and because of the specific circumstances, such as the time of day, domestic cats will follow their human companion into the kitchen for feeding. They will communicate their desire to be fed with a meow and perhaps be underfoot until they are fed.

Individual cat

Each individual cat has their own character. Some cats are described as more loyal than others. They require more than the usual amount of attention from their owner. They like to be with their owner more often than other cats. It is just an individual trait so if they follow their owner around it is an aspect of their character.

Purebred cat

I’m thinking of one cat breed, a well-known one. Gloria Stephens in her book Legacy of the Cat describes the Siamese cat temperament as follows:

Nothing gives them more pleasure than to sit in their owner’s lap, sleep in their owner’s bed, and even share their owner’s pillow. They want to be as close as possible, and their need for closeness verges on the desperate.

The two sentences of the quote emphasises that the Siamese cat is the kind of cat that might follow their human companion around simply because they like to be close to them. Cat breed characteristics are generally bred into the cat over generations of selective breeding which normally focuses on appearance but the character of the cat is also embodied within the selective breeding process and sometimes emphasised.

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