Cats have a reputation of being aloof and more introverted than dogs. However, that doesn’t mean cats can’t be and aren’t affectionate, especially towards their caregivers. In fact, some cat owners would argue their cats are borderline clingy, following them around the home. Why would a cat follow their owner around so much?
A cat can follow their owner around for a few different reasons, some of the most common are listed below.
To Show Affection
Most folks have a solid understanding of dog behavior and body language. It’s easy for us to know when our dog is happy to see us. Only in recent years have researchers started to look at cat behavior and body language. Cats show affection toward their owners differently than dogs do. This, compounded with a general lack of understanding of cat behavior and body language, leads to the popular misconception that cats simply aren’t affectionate. However, even the most unsocialized feral cat can show affection to a caregiver in their own subtle way.
Cats exhibit bunting, a behavior where they will rub their face and sometimes even their body up against not just objects within their home/territory, but someone they are excited to see and be around. It’s often why cats will run in between your legs and be underfoot so much. So, no, your cat isn’t try to trip you on the stairs. They’re just happy to see you! Even if they’re a little misguided in their attempts at showing it.
Kittens that are handled by people starting as young as two weeks of age and ranging up to seven and a half weeks of age tend to be more friendly and trusting of people in general. This is in contrast to kittens that aren’t as exposed to human interaction during this age range. However, even cats that are less socialized to human interaction are capable of affection. Truly feral cats will avoid people, having little socialization to them. However, a feral cat may become familiar and comfortable with people that routinely volunteer to feed and care for the colony that feral cat is a part of. They may come out of hiding more and more with each subsequent visit by that person, allowing themselves to be seen. It’s not the bunting your cat at home may do, but it’s still a way to show affection.
To Seek Attention
Cats enjoy playtime as much as dogs. Oftentimes, though, cats play differently than dogs do. While dogs may be content to squeak their favorite squeaky toy, shred their favorite rope toy, or chew on their favorite bone, cats enjoy interactive play as well as predatory play.
While there are some battery-operated toys that utilize this predatory instinct, toys that tap into predatory play are often interactive. Wand/feather toys and laser pointers are some classic interactive, predatory behavior toys that most cats thoroughly enjoy playing with, but they require the owner to be involved. A cat may be following their owner around because they want them to play "Catch the Bird Feather" with them.
There are some toys that dangle off doors and will chirp when bumped, which can be great for off-hands predatory play, but it is still recommended to only let your cat play with those under supervision. When you aren’t around to watch your cat play, those should be taken down or pulled up so that your cat can’t inadvertently get tangled up in the string.
To Prompt You to Feed Them
Cats are creatures of habit. They live on a schedule when it comes to things like breakfast and dinner time. It’s why cats don’t let their owners sleep in on their days off, and it might be why a cat follows their owner around. Cats also are no dummies. They utilize classical conditioning just like any basic dog trainer. So, if you give your cat treats or more food when they meow or vocalize, this reinforces the begging behavior of meowing for food.
This, among other reasons, is why feeding your cat on a set schedule is recommended over leaving food out for your cat to pick at throughout the day. If your cat expects food only at certain times of the day, they are less apt to beg for food throughout the day. Automatic feeders can also prevent begging behavior because your cat may not even associate you with mealtime. Of course, the downside of this is less of a bond with your cat because they may not look to you for their source of food.
Just to Be Near You
Although cats are touted to be solitary, as opposed to dogs, this can be misleading. Cats aren’t hermits in the woods that don’t need human interaction. They absolutely do! Cats can bond with their owners and even other cats in the home. Even colonies of feral cats are called colonies because there’s multiple cats living near each other. Your cat might just be following you around because they like it when you’re around and they like being near you.
Cats follow their owners around for a variety of reasons. Most of them stem from the bond the cat has with their owner. So if your cat likes to be your own personal shadow, take comfort in the fact that they are bonded to you.
Lowe SE, Bradshaw JWS. Responses of pet cats to being held by an unfamiliar person, from weaning to three years of age. Anthrozoös. 2002;15(1):69-79.
Delgado M, Dantas LMS. Feeding cats for optimal mental and behavioral well-being. Vet Clin North Am Small Anim Pract. 2020;50(5):939-953.