Weird & Wacky: Cat Bathroom Buddies

Our cats sometimes challenge the most insightful among us to figure out what’s behind their weird and wacky behavior. Felines always have a good reason for doing what they do, but a given behavior doesn’t always mean what you think.

One common behavior many readers have related involves their cat following them to the toilet. Dogs do this, too, but the toilet terrorist behavior seems even more universal among cats. Cat owners tell funny stories about being ambushed on the (ahem) facilities, stalked with paw-pats under the bathroom door, and persistent potty buddies demanding lap-time or napping in unmentionables dropped to half-mast.

What’s Different About Toilets?

Human bathrooms are often the coolest place in the home because of the tile, small space, and fewer windows. Cats tend to be furry heat-seeking missiles that relish lounging in warm places, but a few—my Seren is one—enjoy cool spots. These kitties seem to appreciate spending time on cool tile, damp towels, or other slick or cool surfaces. For older cats suffering from the health condition called hyperthyroidism, the metabolism goes into overdrive and heats up their body, leading them to seek out cool resting places.

Cats also are instinctively drawn to high perches like countertops that they associate as safe. They chain behaviors that link one action to another in a particular routine. And cats LOVE routine, so once a behavior sequence becomes a habit (especially if there’s a benefit), your pet will repeat the routine over and over again. Cats never do anything unless it’s of benefit to them, and they are rewarded in some form or fashion. For instance, when you awake in the morning and run to brush your teeth (before filling the cat food bowl), it only takes a couple of days for cats to remember the routine and race you to the bathroom first. So let’s put all this together, and answer the question: why are cats avid potty buddies?

5 Reasons Cats Love Bathrooms

  1. People visit the bathroom on a predictable schedule, and they perform predictable behaviors while in the room. Cats know what to expect and won’t be surprised.
  2. Bathrooms offer convenient sinks with running water that many cats relish. Moving water simply tastes better, and people persuaded to run the tap for the cat reward this interaction with attention.
  3. The sink vanity provides a great perch or lookout for cats. Sitting on the sink or vanity positions a cat for a convenient face-to-face interaction when you are perched on the throne. That’s ideal from the cat’s perspective for controlling the interaction—the human can’t easily escape, so kitty can approach or stay out of reach, as she prefers.
  4. Cats that insist on lap-sitting time may be frustrated in other parts of the house if you often give attention to a magazine, book or laptop instead. The felines that snuggle in your unmentionables rumpled around your ankles offer another type of compliment—basking in your most personal aroma to be as near their beloved human as possible.
  5. Felines appreciate the rewards they get by spending private one-on-one time with owners. Even the kitties that only paw-play under the door get attention in terms of you talking to them, or rewarding the behavior by FINALLY coming back out the door. The longer you spend inside the room before emerging, the more powerful lesson cats learn that paw-pat persistence and kitty complaints eventually will garner success. Let's face it; YOUR behavior has "taught" the cat the benefits of potty stalking!

If you don't mind the toilet time attention, find ways to make the visit less intrusive for you but rewarding to the cat. For instance, I place a cat drinking fountain next to the sink so that Seren-kitty can sip while I'm otherwise engaged. Once your cat grows fond of potty bonding, though, the behavior can be tough to stop. To persuade cats to give you privacy, practice tough kitty love by closing the door and ignoring them despite paw-pounding demands. I suggest earplugs.