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Why Do Cats Seek Attention In Bathrooms?

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Cats Are Often

Cats Are Often "Bathroom Buddies" With Their Humans

Photo of Drake, Credit: © Jennifer Van Dyne

Question: “Why do cats seek affection in bathrooms?”

“Dear, wise, cat whisperer, I have a very burning question that has never been answered to any form of satisfaction. Why do all my cats (and my friends report theirs, too) love to be in the bathroom with me? I can sit for hours in the living room, bedroom and office and no one even shows up to say "meow." I mean they are around but don't interact with me. But, if I walk into the bathroom and sit down, even if I am not using the facilities, they literally line up to come visit me. They bring their brushes and toys and leg wrap and 'talk'. They want to be petted and, if God forbid, I close the door and they are on the other side of it, they meow and stick their arms under the door and scratch at the door. I simply do not understand it. They don't really do this with anyone else in the house. I mean at this stage in my life, I just want to be able to close the bathroom door without sending out the 'Apocalypse Now' message to all three cats. Also I'd like a more comfortable chair for brushing and playing with my 'four legged daughters.' 

If you can stop laughing long enough to respond to this, I would certainly appreciate it. If there was some dire burning need on their behalf or if this is some major tribute to the Alpha Cat (me) then I can deal with it (I mean look at all those lovely pieces of jewelry we wore to establish our children's self esteem over the years). I just want to understand it as would my two friends that experience similar displays of affection in the loo. 

Thank you for your time, I hope you have an answer for me but, more importantly, I hope you have enough time to answer me and still have a little time left over to go out for some indulgence of your own. Best regards, Marie” 

Amy’s Answer

What a great question! And I am giggling a bit, but that’s because my own cat does the same thing. A cat’s interaction can be impacted by both health, instinct and environment, so I’ll get serious and put this in terms of the H.I.S.S. Test, which stands for health, instinct, stress, and symptom solvers.  

H=Health

Human bathrooms tend to be one of the coolest places in the home, because of the tile, small space, and typically 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 hyperthyroidism, the metabolism goes into overdrive and heats up the kitty so hyperthyroid cats often seek out cool resting places.

I=Instinct

Cats are drawn to high perches, safe places, and neat familiar hidey-holes where they know what to expect. They are creatures of habit, and once they develop a routine, prefer to stick to it. Cats perform what’s referred to as chaining behaviors that link one action to another, in a particular routine. 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--and then pester you to move on to their bowl. They get quite irate if you miss an important step in the chain.

S=Stress

Certainly any change in routine could prompt a behavior change. That could be enough to cause cats to seek out a hiding place like the bathroom.

S=Symptom, Signs & Solutions

Let’s get down to the nitty-kitty, what’s up with the cats’ bathroom behavior. Several things are going on. Cats never do anything unless it’s of benefit to them, and they are rewarded in some form or fashion. 

First, the bathroom is a unique location in most homes. A perch on the vanity places a cat at human face-height when the owner is (ahem) seated. 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. She has a captive audience!

Second, the bathroom also is a predictable location that’s very much part of established routines. Cats often chain behavior that includes a bathroom visit—drinking from the faucet, or tail-twining around ankles, playing in the bath water with paw-swipes and more. Cats also quickly learn about what amount of time owners spend in the bathroom during these visits. 

And finally, kitties that spend time in the bathroom, and actually do receive special attention—brushing, or petting, or talking—are rewarded for the visit. That ensures they’ll repeat the positive experience! Even the paw-swipes under the door that are ignored for many minutes end up being rewarded when the door finally opens (cats may assume that their meows or paw-swipes magically opened-sesame). And actually, the longer the cat complains and paws the door and then ultimately is rewarded, the more it teaches the cat that persistence (purr-sistence?) pays off!

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