May I ask you a personal question? Does your cat follow you into the bathroom? Do you leave your door slightly ajar so your cat can come in after you? And what happens if you close the door behind you and leave your cat out? Do you see paws reaching under the door? Does your cat scratch or leap at the door? This may be one of the quirkiest, funniest and most baffling things our cats do.
Even my docile Ragdoll would stick her paw under the door and rattle it if I left her out when using the loo. Our cat Sophie comes in and walks right back out. But Maddie solicits petting from me or my husband and sometimes plays in the bathtub when one of us is in there.
I talked with my longtime friend, pet lifestyle expert and fellow cat writer Sandy Robins, about this puzzling feline behavior. Sandy’s cat, Fudge, even followed houseguests into the bathroom. I was one of those guests privileged enough to know Fudge before her passing. Today Sandy has two adorable cats, Ziggy and Tory, who, not surprisingly, engage in this same type of behavior.
Although I didn’t find studies or scholarly articles that explained why cats follow people into the bathroom, I do think this funny quirk reinforces several behaviors we attribute to cats.
Cats Can’t Stand a Closed Door
Cats are territorial and so are passionately interested in everything that goes on in their territory. Their survival depends on it. They can spend hours observing it, and they know where the safe places are to eat, drink, sleep and do their business.
Once they learn a door opens and that there is territory behind it to explore, they want in. If there is unexplored space in your home, it almost kills them to not be able to go inside.
“It’s as though they want to know what are you doing in there and ‘May I help,’” Sandy says. She and her family don’t lock the bathroom door, but they close it completely. Yet somehow the cats are still able to push open the door and barge right in, Sandy says. When her son, who has a dog, was staying with them, Ziggy, Tory and the dog all came in. “We wanted to put up a sign that said ‘one at a time please,’” Sandy says.
My cat Sophie has figured out how to open the closet door in our guest bedroom and goes in there at night when she believes no one is looking. We’ve heard her open it. We find her in there the next morning. If cats had opposable thumbs, we’re pretty sure they would open every unlocked cabinet and door in your home.
Cats Love It When You’re Still
Cats like it when you don’t (or can’t) move and somehow instinctively know that you can’t move when on the toilet.
Have you noticed that when you’re still, your cats like to come and hang out? Whether you’re sitting at your computer, relaxing on the couch or lying in bed, most cats will either sit on your lap or near you, plop down on your keyboard or paperwork, or curl up next to you. Take this as a huge compliment that your cat wants to be where ever you are, feels safe with you and likes being the center of your attention.
Why Do Cats Follow You Into the Bathroom? Maybe They Just Like Bathrooms
Bathrooms and closets are usually the smallest rooms in the house. A room where they can see all boundaries provides the sense of security they crave. “Cats like small spaces and boxes,” Sandy says. “Perhaps they see the bathroom as our version of a box.”
The bathroom also contains some other exciting things — running water, for instance, which some cats find irresistible. Many cats like running water and will even drink from a running faucet or fountain.
Other bathroom fixtures cats like are the smooth, cool surfaces of sinks and bathtubs. Just Google “cats in sinks” some time. There’s an entire website called catsinsinks.com. A sink fulfills many feline desires: It’s cat-sized, enclosed and smooth, and provides running water.
Cats also like tubs for similar reasons. But a tub’s size makes it an ideal playground. Many people discover their cats’ toys in the tub. My cat Maddie likes to spin around and chase her tail in the tub. Sandy’s cat Tory plays in the tub, and Ziggy carries his wand toy into the bathroom.
Another feline favorite: the toilet paper roll. “Ziggy pulls the toilet paper and insists on getting the first three squares,” Sandy says. At the beginning of COVID, when we had a toilet paper shortage, Sandy thought she would have to ration toilet paper for Ziggy.
Google “cats and toilet paper” and prepare to be entertained.
If You Feel Safe, It Must Be Safe
Cats look to their favorite people for many of their needs — food, water, shelter, a clean litter box and more. But they also look to their people for their safety and security. My cats like it when either my husband or I watch them eat. Why? Because cats feel vulnerable when they eat. Cats also feel vulnerable when they’re using the potty.
Cats get a lot of their information from observing us. In the world of psychology, it’s called social referencing. Human children and animals look to their parents and guardians for how they should react to something. If something startles us, it will startle them. If we’re calm and relaxed, they feel safe, too. If you feel safe enough to do your business in the bathroom, they’re confident that both you and they are in a safe space.
Author and editor Susan Logan-McCracken shares her home with her husband, Mark, and two red tabby domestic longhair cats, Maddie and Sophie.