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Cats and Stalking: Why Do They Do It? 4 Common Reasons

Written by: Misty Layne

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

bengal cat hiding in a drawer

Cats and Stalking: Why Do They Do It? 4 Common Reasons

It’s happened to all cat parents—you’re walking through the house, minding your own business, when you notice your kitty is stalking you intently before they suddenly strike, attacking your ankles! You’ve also seen your feline stalking its toys, bugs, and even mice. But why do cats stalk things?

Turns out there are a few reasons, but a big part of it is that it’s just in their nature. Want to learn more about cat stalking and why it happens? We’ll share the reasons felines are prone to this behavior and how you can discourage it if it’s leading to your ankles being constantly attacked.

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Top 4 Reasons Why Cats Stalk

Your cat has a few reasons for its stalking behavior, but a big chunk of the cause is that it’s in your pet’s DNA, and instincts are hard to ignore.

1. Natural Instinct

Did you know that your kitty shares 95.6% of its DNA with tigers1? It’s true! It’s theorized that domesticated and big wild cats came from the same ancestor, but house cats diverged from the family tree roughly 10.8 million years ago. But that shared DNA means your cute little kitty still has the instincts of a wild predator.

You’d think that since your cat doesn’t need to stalk and hunt down prey to be fed, it would have lost the urge for the behavior, but it’s not that simple. Your cat’s body is built to be a stealthy predator, and their brain is naturally hardwired toward stalking, hunting, and pouncing. So, when your kitty stalks you or one of their toys, it’s because that ancient instinct has kicked in.

2. Frustration

Felines can get frustrated just like us2. But unlike us, they don’t have many outlets to express that frustration. Whereas we would punch a pillow, hit the gym, or even yell, your cat is much more limited in its options for releasing frustration. So, sometimes when you see the kitty stalking an object, your pet is frustrated over something and needs to let out that pent-up energy.

Cat hiding behind curtain
Photo Credit: llaszlo, Shutterstock

2. Learned Behavior

Our feline friends are quite intelligent, and they learn from watching us. So, if your cat routinely stalks and attacks your ankles, take a look at your response to this behavior. If you give your kitty attention after they do this (positive or negative) or start playing with them, that’s positive reinforcement, and your pet will continue to stalk you. And the same goes for any encouragement your cat receives while stalking their toys or a flying insect.

3. Boredom

Sometimes your kitty goes into stalking mode because they’re simply bored. If your cat isn’t getting enough mental and physical stimulation, it can easily lead to you or other things being stalked. You might think your cat doesn’t need a lot of exercise—after all, felines spend the majority of the day sleeping—but that isn’t true.

Our feline friends need daily activity and require mental stimulation too. And if they don’t get enough of either, they can get up to mischief. So, ensure you’re playing with your cat for at least 15 minutes every day so they get the stimulation they crave.

cat in a hiding
Photo Credit:
Chris Yang, Unsplash

cat paw dividerHow to Discourage Your Cat From Stalking

Remember that stalking is a natural instinct for our cats, so you don’t want to prevent it entirely. But if your kitty has taken to stalking your ankles every time you move, you can discourage them from doing that.

The best ways to do this are by:

Any (or all) of these tips will help your cat learn that stalking and attacking ankles isn’t acceptable behavior and that they need to save that for toys, insects, and mice.

Cat staring on laser
Photo Credit: Laurav1984, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

While there are a few reasons that cats like stalking, the biggest reason is that it’s simply a part of their DNA. Since our domesticated kitties share so much DNA with big wild cats, stalking is an instinctive behavior they need to engage in. Your cat might also be practicing the fine art of stalking for other reasons, such as boredom, frustration, or because they want your attention.

No matter the reason, though, this is natural feline behavior. While you don’t want to prevent it, you may want to discourage your pet from stalking you while you move through the house if that has become a problem. The best ways to do this are by redirection, plenty of exercise for kitty, and not giving your cat positive reinforcement.

Otherwise, sit back and enjoy watching your cat stalk their “prey.”

Featured Photo Credit: Svetlana Rey, Shutterstock

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