Behavior
An excited cat playing with a toy, about to pounce.

Understanding the Stalking Cat

Ever thought, “What’s up with a stalking cat?” The key is to utilize this natural cat behavior to make her indoor life more satisfying. Here’s how.

Elizabeth Vecsi  |  May 2nd 2019


Kittens stalk. Young cats stalk. Old cats stalk. No matter what age, a stalking cat is a pretty natural sight. It’s simply an integral part of a kitty’s feline nature, and by encouraging this behavior in the right way through interactive play, you can add endless amounts of delight to the daily routine of your pet. This environmental enrichment is especially important if you keep her safely indoors.

What’s behind that stalking-cat behavior?

A tabby cat stalking and about to pounce.

A tabby cat stalking and about to pounce. Photography ©Daniel Rodriguez Tirad | Thinkstock.

It all begins with the innate part of your stalking cat as a skilled hunter. While she gazes at you with her sea-green eyes, lazily lulling off to sleep on your lap, remember that her ancestors were wild cats and they weren’t dependent on a bowl brimming full of tasty kibble.

With their stealthy and silent movement, keen senses and gymnastic-like flexibility, all cats are born with the basic drive and skills to stalk and hunt. When possible, they learn the nuances from their mothers during kittenhood.

How a stalking cat likes to play

In a litter of kittens, you’ll likely observe endless amounts of play, which will include cat stalking, pouncing and wrestling. And with adults in a multicat home, you’ll likely notice cat stalking, chasing, ambushing and wrestling — usually it’s all in good fun. Moves like the stalking cat are a good way for kittens to get exercise, and as long as they aren’t causing any damage to one another, you shouldn’t be concerned. 

The key is that the play needs to be reciprocal; if it’s a situation where a young cat is persistently stalking and pestering an older pet who wants no part of it, it’s time to intervene and find ways to redirect the stalking cat into different ways to have fun. Be prepared to give the stalking cat some daily one-on-one attention with a play session that brings out her stalking and pouncing side. Using a feather toy or mouse toy on a wand is a favorite for a stalking cat. A laser pointer — used appropriately — is a good choice, too.

You should throw the small toy away from your cat, but in her field of vision, and make the toy move and act like prey. Small movements will likely intrigue your cat more than wide sweeping ones, especially at first. You can also create an environment that’s conducive to hunting by providing a few props in the room for her to hide behind (like a box) or run through (like a special cat tunnel).

Keeping those stalking-cat behaviors positive

These regular play sessions with your stalking cat are a great way to strengthen your bond and give her the exercise and stimulation that her body and mind needs. If this urge isn’t satisfied, cats may become depressed, frustrated or lethargic. Or a bored cat may even set her sights — and claws — on human body parts (like your feet!) to fulfill her innate desire to stalk.

You may find that you’re unable to walk through your home without being ambushed by a playful predator. (Note: This is not a behavior to encourage with kittens because they are likely to grow into adults thinking that this “game” is still acceptable. Be sure to provide gentle behavior guidance to your kittens to shape them into adult cats you’ll want to live with.)

“Indoor-only cats are prone to being more sedentary than indoor-outdoor felines. Without sufficient and appropriate stimulation, indoor cats can easily become bored,” says Stephanie Borns-Weil, DVM, head of the Animal Behavior Clinic at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. “As instinctive predators, they require an outlet for their hunting instinct. Without appropriate stimulation, indoor-only cats can easily become nervous and cranky and will look for negative ways to release their tension.”

Thumbnail: Photography ©sjallenphotography | Thinkstock.

About the author

Writer Elizabeth Vecsi lives in the Hudson Valley with her five cats. Over the past two decades, she has been an editor and writer for The Whole Cat Journal, Cornell’s CatWatch and Tufts’ Catnip.

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