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Ask A Vet: Why Does My Cat Stalk Me?

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My cat makes me laugh darting out from under things to land with paws wrapped around my leg. He inevitably catches me off guard and seems to delight in my squeal of surprise. Clearly my cat does not want to eat prey as large as me, but why does he stalk me?

The answer seems intuitive if we think about who our cats really are. They are not very far removed genetically from their ancestors. Other domestic species have evolved into the modern pets that they are today, but cats have not really changed very much. Cats are still carnivorous hunters like their ancestors before them.

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Felines are all built to hunt. A day in the life of a wild feline involves stalking, apprehending and eating many small prey items a day. However, in our homes, the closest thing to prey is a stuffed mouse or toy. Apprehension consists of chasing whatever humans are willing to drag around and eating is an anticlimactic affair, in which the bowl just sits there and seems to fill itself.

It takes all the fun out of hunting for your cat. Your cat’s very nature compels him to lurk and pounce. His wild relatives hide near watering holes or hang in the trees watching and waiting for an unsuspecting meal to wander by. In our house, we are the ones that wander by (much to our cat’s instinctive delight). Since we are usually the only thing moving in our home, we attract our cats’ attention. Additionally, when our cats stalk us and finally catch up, we respond in an entertaining way. I know that I act startled and make a noise or I stop to play with my cat when he stalks and catches me. Your cat is responding to both his instinct to stalk and his desire for interaction with you. It is fun for you both if you can join in his game. Sometimes, you can stalk him too. If you do not enjoy it when he grabs at you when you pass, try to redirect the behavior onto appropriate toys.

Appreciate that your cat needs this outlet for his frustrated hunting tendencies. Cats tend to like things that move and it does not always have to be you. Find toys that roll or require him to chase them. Rotate the toys (put some away out of sight) so that they seem novel and interesting when you bring them out. He needs to move his body and use his brain and he needs time to bond with you. Find ways to meet both his physical and emotional needs and you may find that you have a little fun too!

 

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