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Why Do Cats Follow Strangers? 7 Possible Reasons

Cats are mysterious creatures, and sometimes their behavior is hard to understand. One behavior that often baffles pedestrians is being followed. The baffling behavior makes more sense if you look at possible reasons why a cat would follow you and decide if their behavior makes sense for the situation. For example, a hungry cat will act differently than a cat concerned about you being a trespasser.

Here are seven of the most common reasons cats follow humans.


The 7 Reasons Cats Follow Strangers

1. The Cat Wants Attention

One of the most common reasons for cats to follow strangers is because they are friendly and want attention. Cats who want attention are often outgoing and friendly, approaching you to beg for pets and cuddles. These cats usually have a good sense of which humans are safe to be around and likely to hurt them. If a strange cat begs you for pets, you probably passed the test.

Young girl playing with cats
Image Credit: LuidmilaKot, Pixabay
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2. They’re In Trouble

Cats also approach humans if they are in trouble. Many stray cats have a fond opinion of humans and will seek out help if they are sick or injured. Mother cats might also try to bring a human back to their kittens to give their kittens help. If you see a cat injured or has symptoms of sickness, she might be asking for help and looking for someone to treat her injuries.

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3. Hunger or Thirst

Cats can also beg with the best of them. A cat that doesn’t have a regular food source (or one that just got put on a diet by their owner) might approach strangers to beg for food, especially if they can smell something tasty on you. If they are meowing, sniffing at your pockets or bag, and giving you their best puppy-dog eyes, they might want food or water. On hot days, dehydration is a serious problem for cats outdoors, and many don’t have access to a regular water supply, so begging for water can be especially serious.

grey domestic hungry cat_Valeri Vatel_shutterstock
Credit: Valeri Vatel, Shutterstock
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4. You Arouse Curiosity

They say that curiosity killed the cat, but so far, the cats haven’t learned their lesson. Many cats will follow strange humans because they want to get a better look at us. It’s hard to know what catches a cat’s fancy, but the result is pretty easy to detect. If a cat is following to satisfy curiosity, he will probably stay at a distance and not approach you. Once his curiosity is satisfied, he’ll stop following you and return to familiar territory.

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5. The Cat Wants a New Home

You should be careful to assume that a cat is lost or stray—many cats with outdoor access will regularly venture several streets away from home with no problem. But if a cat follows you to your home and keeps begging for attention, he might be looking for a new home. Unlike feral cats, most stray cats have had owners in the past and trust humans to help them. If you feed a cat and it returns regularly, you might have adopted a stray without realizing it.

Gray cat following person with camera
Image Credit: dimitrisvetsikas1969, Pixabay
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6. Unusual Smells

Cats have strong senses of smell, and sometimes the smell of someone passing by catches their attention. You might smell like food to them, or if you are a pet owner, they might be intrigued by the smell of other animals on your body and clothing. A cat who is intrigued by your smell will probably be cautious and avoid your attention as much as possible, but he’ll approach you more closely than if you’d just aroused his curiosity.

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7. You’re In Their Territory

A final reason why a strange cat might follow you is to keep an eye on her territory. Although cats can share space with other cats and animals, they are generally territorial towards strange cats, and sometimes that extends to humans. Cats spray, scratch, and rub up against things in their territory to tell other cats about their presence in an area. A cat who escorts you at a distance for a few hundred yards and then waits for you to leave might be watching to make sure that you’ve moved on from her territory.

American Polydactyl cat walking outside
Image Credit: Jenny Margarette, Shutterstock

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What to Do When a Cat Follows You

Of course, you’re not obligated to take any action when a cat’s following you, but you might wonder what the best way to handle the situation is. First, don’t assume that the cat is a stray, even if she doesn’t have a collar. Many cats range more widely than owners realize, and many pet owners don’t collar their cats. However, a cat that looks dirty or emaciated—or a cat outside in harsh weather—is more likely to be a stray.

Most of the time, the best course of action is to watch and determine what the cat wants. If the cat stays at a distance and doesn’t approach you, it’s best to ignore her. If she appears to be begging for something, you might be able to determine if she needs help or if she is just being friendly.

Once you know why a cat is following you, you can decide the best course of action. In most cases, a cat following you isn’t a cause for alarm.

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Last Thoughts

As you can see, once you look at things from the cat’s point of view, it isn’t so mysterious at all. A final dimension is that some people are bigger “cat magnets” than others. If you feel like cats are always drawn to you, be flattered! It means they probably feel safe around you and are sure you won’t hurt them.

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Featured Image: StockSnap, Pixabay