Cats tend to get stereotyped as being “aloof” and acting like they couldn’t care less about what their humans are doing. But swaths of cat owners the world over know this couldn’t be further from the truth. There are cats that, like dogs, follow their humans everywhere. And we mean everywhere – especially the bathroom.
If you haven't trained your cat to use the toilet - yes, that's a thing - a cat following you to the bathroom is a confusing behavior, considering that most cats are private creatures that like to have their alone time. So why don’t they give us the same in return? Why do some cats follow their people into the bathroom?
As per usual, vets and cat behaviorists have no definitive conclusions, but a multitude of theories that could explain why some cats are so determined to invade their humans’ privacy in the Oval Office.
They feel vulnerable.
While cats might get the reputation for being highly skilled predators who will happily swat at bears and big dogs, housecats are also prey animals – and they know it. Veterinarian Dr. Kathryn Primm writes that without you, your cat might suddenly feel vulnerable and susceptible to attack from an unknown predator. Your cat likely views you, the Almighty Can Opener, as a source of safety and comfort (as well as food). So when you disappear behind a closed door, they might feel less safe than normal and as such seek you out to continue to take advantage of the comfort and safety you provide them.
We all know the adage about curious cats. But their curiosity likely stems from a cat's territorial nature (a common cause of furniture scratching). “Felines are territorial animals”, writes Dr. Marty Becker for Vet Street. “Cats always want to know what’s going on in their territory, and they probably want to make sure you don’t do anything that might attract predators.” As smaller predators, housecats instinctively bury their feces so it does not attract the attention of predators. They might just be making sure their humans do the same.
After all, your home is the cat’s territory, and that includes the bathroom. Dr. Primm writes that the bathroom is within your cat’s sphere of influence. “How dare you shut him away from his own territory?" she says, from the cat’s perspective. "You might be hoarding resources or making friends with other cats. He can only know if he checks."
Animals must place value on resources in order to prioritize their actions. High-value resources are ones that are immediately desired and strong enough to motivate action. Animal behaviorists utilize this trait to motivate animals for training purposes, using reward systems.
When there is competition for a resource, its value increases. That is what you do every time you close the bathroom door. You elevate the value of the space by choosing it for yourself and denying your cat access.
You’re stuck there.
Cats are quick learners. They know that when a human is doin’ their business in that strange, small room, they can’t go anywhere. The humans are a captive audience that must then give them pets.
Of course, it could simply be that your cat is trying to find the warmest spot in the house ... which might explain the various photos of cats curled up in their humans’ undies!
Whether it's because of curiosity or vulnerability or your cat simply playing its role as a furry, heat-seeking missile, the fact of the matter is that cats do respect privacy. They respect their privacy, so don't stare at them when they use the litter box, okay? They'll see you in the bathroom, though.