Why Do Cats Follow You to the Bathroom? We Asked Scientists

One of life's most pressing mysteries.

Cats are fluffy enigmas intent on prying love right out of their owners’ hearts — after they’ve fed them, of course. Though there are so many unsolved feline mysteries, one of the strangest is their obsession with the bathroom — specifically, why cats seem hell-bent on following their humans to the toilet. A cat scientist and wildlife biologist tell Inverse the only way to understand this strange behavior might be to peer right into a cat’s cunning little mind — and you might not find answers there, either.

If you’re not a cat owner, it’s hard to explain the situation, but here’s the gist: You go to the bathroom, and your cat rushes in next to you. It then proceeds to watch you pee, like a fluffy little gargoyle. If you try to lock the kitty out, it wails and scratches the door like a maniac. It’s a phenomenon science has produced little to no explanation for.

“I have two cats, and if I don’t keep the door open when I use the bathroom one will yowl like her entire heart is broken,” cat owner Phoebe Seiders tells Inverse. “The other I can only assume tries to free me because she, like, flings herself against the door as high up as she can jump. When I do keep the door open they like to come in and jump in the tub (as long as it’s dry).”

Image courtesy of Denise Warner

Denise Warner

There are tons of stories like Phoebe’s, but no concrete evidence to explain them. According to cat researcher Mikel Delgado, a postdoctoral fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine at UC Davis, scientists don’t have answers but certainly some ideas.

“There might be various reasons cats like to join people in the bathroom,” she tells Inverse. “Their litter box might be in there, so it could be a room that smells very familiar. Cats also probably know that when we are on the toilet, we are a captive audience — nowadays we are so busy and distracted that many cats are probably looking for an opportunity to have our undivided attention!”

Cats also might enjoy the “cool, smooth surfaces of sinks and tiles,” or even water, Delgado adds. This can make for some seriously priceless photo ops.

Kitties lounging in the bathroom. (Left to Right: Luna, Olivia. Images courtesy of Jennifer Gunter and @ktm12xu)

Jennifer Gunter and @ktm12xu

Since cats in the wild are pretty solitary creatures, wildlife biologist Imogene Cancellare says domestic cats’ bathroom obsessions are pretty obscure.

“Lap sitting is really popular in the loo — I assume this is characteristic opportunist behavior to find the warmest spot in the house and exploit the attention of their human servants,” Cancellare tells Inverse. “I think they want to be the center of the universe and have learned that humans don’t do much when sitting in the small room with the strange water chair.”

My cat, Artemis, atop her throne.

We may never fully understand why cats do the things they do. But we do know they make our lives complete, in mildly terrifying, infinitely inexplicable ways.

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