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Why Do Cats Walk In Front Of You?

If you’ve ever almost tripped over a cat because it walked into your path, you’re not alone. More times a day than I care to remember, one of our four cats seems to wander in front of me causing me to slam on my brakes. It feels like a deliberate act on the part of the cat … and it might well be! Why do cats have to walk right in front of us?

Cats are excellent herders. As a general rule, a cat will instinctively walk in front of you in an attempt to guide you in a specific direction, often toward its food supply! But hunger is just one of several reasons why a cat purposefully walks in our way, as we have discovered over the years.

We reveal different motivations that drive cats to walk in front of people. And because this habit can be a little frustrating and hazardous at times, we offer a few tips to minimize such behavior or at least the risks associated with it.

A tabby cat in a bow tie, standing between its owners feet and looking up.

Cats Walk In Front Of You When They Want To Lead You Somewhere

Have you ever heard of the expression herding cats? It is used to describe a task that is excessively difficult and even impossible. Herding cats is not easy but cats are natural-born herders

If your cat is hungry, it will walk in front of you, expertly directing you to its food bowl. If you are carrying your cat’s full food bowl, it may continue leading you, just in case you forgot where their regular feeding spot is.

If you have accidentally closed the door leading to their litter box, or the window that they usually use to go outside has been shut, a cat may walk in front of you to lead you to the problem.

Occasionally your cat may try to herd you as an act of dominance. It has no other purpose than proving it can get you to go where it wants. This isn’t malicious or tyrannical behavior; it’s just part of a cat’s nature.

Cats Walk In Front Of You As A Greeting

Cats have a reputation of being independent, aloof, and quite happy without human companionship. Thankfully, this reputation is fading away in light of all the evidence to the contrary. Yes, individual cats can be independent, aloof, and quite happy without human companionship, but so can individual dogs and even people. It comes down to personality and upbringing.

Cats demonstrate their affection for us in many ways. One of these ways is greeting us at the door when we come home. As you try to get past the threshold and make your way to the kitchen or bedroom, your cat will walk in front of you, looking back frequently and sometimes even chatting happily. It’s almost like they are trying to tell you how their day went.

Cats Walk In Front Of You As A Sign Of Affection

Another affection-linked reason for your cat walking in front of you is that it is trying to rub itself on your legs and bump you with its head. Head bumping is known as bunting. Rubbing and bunting is a behavior that can be traced all the way back to kittenhood. Kittens would do this with their mothers as an expression of affection and affiliation.

Additionally, cats have scent glands in their cheeks and chins. By bunting or rubbing against your legs as you are walking, they are marking you with their scent, creating an olfactory bond. They put their scent on you, and your smell gets onto them, affirming that you belong to each other. 

Cats Walk In Front Of You When They Want Something

In certain situations, the root of why cats walk in front of their owners is actually manipulation. Not malicious manipulation, but simply a way of letting you know what they want.

A typical response to your cat weaving in and out of your legs is to stop and direct your attention towards them. This is not always a stroke and kind word.

Sometimes, it is a frustration exclamation or a frantic attempt to rebalance yourself. Still, you have stopped and are at least looking at them. This teaches your cat that when they want attention, they should come to walk around in front of you.

A cat getting in its owner's way for attention.

Cats Walk In Front Of You When They Are Being Playful

Sometimes cats are just full of beans. They will dart across your path because they are burning off excess energy, but they still want to be near you and involved in whatever you are doing. They might also be trying to get you to join in with their game.

How To Counter The Trip-Hazard Behavior Of Your Cat

Even if your cat is walking in front of you to display their excitement at your return or their affection for you, it can be frustrating. It can also be dangerous when you are weighed down by parcels and bags after a trip to the store, or you are carrying something hot or fragile.

Perhaps your child has just started walking, and you don’t want them to be tripped up while they are still gaining their confidence on their feet. Some homes have elderly or injured persons living there who can be seriously hurt if the cat tries to walk in front of them.

Regardless of the reason, you might be looking for a way to stop this behavior. It is one of the more challenging habits to address, but below are a few tips that you can try. If you are very concerned for your safety or the safety of a loved one, you can speak to a professional animal behaviorist.

When you arrive home, try stopping just inside the door and purposefully focus on your cat. Put down what you are carrying and give them an affectionate return greeting with lots of love and attention but avoid anything that will increase their excitement.

This acknowledgment of their greeting might be enough to calm them down. You can also consider keeping a toy in the entryway. After greeting your cat, you can give them the toy to play with. This can distract your cat and allow you to walk safely. 

You should try to give them this attention before they start walking in front of you so that they don’t associate the trip-hazard behavior with a positive or reward outcome.

If your cat primarily walks in front of you around food time, you can try carrying them to the food bowl instead. Some cats really do not like to be picked up, so this might not work. If your cat is happy to be carried, ensure that you pick them up before they start walking in front of you.

If your cat keeps getting underfoot while you are preparing meals in the kitchen, either you can close them out, or you can try bringing a cat tree into the kitchen. This will give them a comfortable and high vantage point from which they can watch you cooking and will keep them from getting in the way.

Another tip is to put a bell on your cat’s collar. This won’t stop them from walking in front of you, but at least you will know where they are and if they are coming closer.

A blue-eyed cat looking up at teh camera lens.

Conclusion

Cats often walk in front of their humans. This behavior demonstrates a cat’s affection for its owner and can also be a non-malicious manipulative tactic to communicate with us. Cats can’t use words, so they have to rely on other forms of communication.

Once or twice is funny; every now and then is manageable. But after a point, this behavior can become frustrating and even dangerous. It is difficult to stop this behavior, but you can try to minimize it through appropriate and well-timed affection or a small change in your own routine. Otherwise, a bell will at least let you know when your cat is there.

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