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Why does my pet follow me to the bathroom (and other things)?

Being a pet parent is never boring, especially when they behave in ways that are cute or quirky! This can provide great photo opportunities, but what’s behind some of your pet’s interesting behaviours? Read on to learn about some of the more common curious pet behaviours and what they may mean.

Dogs who follow you to the bathroom

Many dogs like to follow their owners everywhere, including the bathroom, with some going as far as to scratch at the door while we’re using the toilet! In general, dogs follow us because they are social animals and enjoy human company. As their owner, you are the one who meets most of their needs, including for affection, so following is a sign of this attachment. They may also be waiting for routines they enjoy such as a walk or dinner time. Providing your dog has plenty of exercise, enrichment activities and mental stimulation, following behaviour is not a problem. If it becomes annoying, it’s important not to reward your dog through attention or treats.

If your dog suddenly follows you more, this may be a sign they are feeling insecure due to some change (including ageing), afraid (such as of a thunderstorm) or unwell. Your veterinarian can help you with all these situations. Another reason to see your veterinarian is if your dog shows signs of anxiety when separated from you, such as toileting inside, destructiveness or excessive barking. Separation anxiety is a distressing condition for dogs and requires management.

Dogs eating grass

It’s often assumed that dogs only eat grass when they feel sick and need to vomit, but this is not always the case. More commonly, dogs eat grass because it tastes good or because their instinct tells them they need more fibre in their diets.

Dogs chasing their tails

Dogs sometimes chase their tails for fun, and puppies may do this as they are learning about their bodies. Some dogs who chase their tails are bored and need more stimulation. Others may be trying to bite at their tails due to a medical problem that needs attention (such as skin disease, parasites, trauma or neurological issues). Occasional tail chasing should be no cause for concern, providing you can distract your dog easily. Habitual tail chasing, particularly if this includes biting of the tail, requires veterinary assessment as it indicates either an underlying medical cause or compulsive behaviour due to anxiety, similar to obsessive compulsive disorder in humans.

Dogs twitching in their sleep

Research has shown that dogs (and other animals) dream as a way of processing information from their day. When dogs sleep, they have similar dream stages to us, and this includes brief periods of sudden and involuntary muscle ‘twitching’. This is what is happening when your dog’s eyes move rapidly and when they appear to be ‘paddling’ their legs or feet, as if they are dreaming of running! Sometimes this is accompanied by small vocal sounds such as whimpering.

This is a normal part of the dream cycle and is more likely to occur if your dog sleeps in a stretched-out position, as their muscles will be most relaxed. Dogs can also have nightmares, so if they wake up frightened it’s best to call their name and reassure them. Seek veterinary attention if the twitching interferes with your dog’s sleep or if the movements progress to a full body tremor and your dog becomes rigid; although rare during sleep, this could indicate a seizure.

Dogs kicking their hind legs after doing their business

If you’ve ever felt embarrassed when your dog kicks their hind legs after doing their business, you’re not alone! This normal behaviour can involve either kicking each leg once or vigorously kicking both legs and sending dirt and grass flying. So why do dogs kick after pooping? Research on free ranging dogs has identified this as a form of communication that is also used by domestic dogs to mark their territory by leaving scent from the glands in their feet, and to visually display their presence to unfamiliar dogs.

Cats hiding in small places

If you share your home with a cat, chances are you’ve found yourself wondering why your furry friend prefers to hide and even curl up and sleep in the most enclosed of spaces, regardless of the comfy cat bed you’ve provided. Favourite spots for many cats can include cardboard boxes, laundry baskets, shelves, cupboards and bathroom sinks.

This is evolutionary, as cats in the wild are not only predatory but also prey animals to larger species, so they slept in enclosed dens. All cats need resting and hiding places where they feel safe and secure, so let them find their own spots and provide them with soft bedding. If your cat suddenly hides more than usual, this could be a sign he or she is stressed by some change in the household. Hiding in cats can also be the first sign of illness, including painful conditions such as urinary blockage, so it’s important to seek veterinary attention if your cat is hiding more than usual.

Cats head butting their owners

If your cat ‘head butts’ you, especially as a greeting, you’d be right to interpret this as a sign of bonding. They do this when they are happy and relaxed and may also rub their heads against your body. Cats have many unique ways of showing affection! Free ranging cats use head butting (correctly referred to as ‘head bunting’) to spread their scent to others in the colony so that everyone smells the same. In multi-cat households, the most dominant cat head butts the others. This behaviour should not be confused with head pressing, where cats press their heads against a hard surface – this would indicate a serious and painful condition (such as a brain tumour) that needs urgent veterinary attention.

Cats kneading

You may be familiar with ‘kneading’, which is when your cat works their paws on a soft surface like a mat or even on your legs, as if they are making dough! This is another sign that your cat is happy and content and is a remnant from their kittenhood when they massaged their mother’s teats to encourage milk flow.

Cats chirping

Feline body language and vocalisations are fascinating, and one of the cutest sounds is cat ‘chirping’. This is a sign of pleasure, and they may use it to greet you as a high-pitched way of saying hello. Cats also chirp at birds or other prey they can see through the window and at toys. Mother cats use chirping to tell their kittens to follow them, so this is how the behaviour originated. If you have more than one cat, you may hear them chirping to each other!

Our furry friends can behave in weird but wonderful ways!

The behaviour of our dogs and cats is not only interesting – it’s their only way of communicating with us. This is why we need to tell the difference between normal self-expression and signs of an underlying problem. If in doubt, your veterinarian is the first point of call.

Pet insurance could help you access the recommended treatments for your pet, whether you are facing an emergency, a common health problem or managing a chronic condition.

You can’t always avoid a trip to the veterinarian, but you can be prepared and protect your back pocket against potentially huge bills with a pet insurance policy.

Image of Dr Rosemary Elliot

Dr Rosemary Elliot 

Dr Rosemary studied veterinary science at the University of Sydney after having established her career as a clinical psychologist, and has qualifications of BVSc (Hons), MANZCVS (Animal Welfare), MPsych (Clin), BA (Hons) as well as previously establishing her career as a clinical psychologist. Her experiences during veterinary training fostered an ambition to focus directly on animal welfare and ethics, with a particular interest in animal sentience and the human-animal bond. Currently working in small animal practice, Dr Rosemary combines her psychology background and veterinary skills to contribute to and promote animal welfare, and regularly contributes quality content to RSPCA Pet Insurance's Pet Care blog.