cat walking in circles and meowing
Cat Health and Wellness

Why Does My Cat Walk in Circles Around Me?

A cat walking in circles around you may want your attention. This is a common feline greeting, especially when followed by bunting or rolling on the floor. There are also medical issues that can lead to circling in cats.

Your cat may be walking in circles around you due to vestibular disease, a condition that affects the inner ear. This condition will clear up after 24 hours. Check for hypertension, hypoglycemia, and inner ear infection. If the cat circles after a head injury, perhaps due to a fall, it could be concussed. Senior cats may circle due to dementia, a condition that leads to significant mental confusion and disorientation.

A cat circling around you may be a sign that your cat is really pleased to see you, or that it is just being playful. However, it’s important to note other unusual behaviors that your cat hadn’t previously displayed.

Why is My Cat Circling Me?

Some cats like to circle their owners as a greeting. If the cat rubs against your legs after circling, this is likely. Your cat is expressing joy in your presence. It is asking for attention, so offer light petting and engagement.

Perhaps your cat is herding you in a particular direction. It may have discovered something that it wants to share with you. For example, it could have a dirty litter tray or it needs to bed fed.

There is a small possibility that your cat is acting dominant. It circles you so it can control where you walk. The dominance can start with circling, but later escalate to aggression.

If the cat shows signs of disorientation during or after circling, it’s likely to be more serious. Common health complications include:

  • Vestibular disease
  • Ear infections
  • Head trauma
  • Hypertension
  • Hypoglycemia
  • Cognitive dysfunction
  • Brain tumors

Let’s explore each of these explanations in greater detail:

cat walks in circles around me

Greetings

Often, a circling cat is excited to see an owner. If your cat circles you upon your arrival home, stand still and enjoy the attention. A cat offering this greeting will likely display these additional behaviors.

  • Tail curled upward and pointed toward you
  • Stopping to rub its head against your shins and legs
  • Rolling over onto its back
  • Verbalization

Mostly, the cat wants to be acknowledged and enjoy some light petting. Ordinarily, the circling will stop after a few moments. If not, the cat still wants something from you. Usually, this will either be food or playtime.

Herding

Cats can display herding instincts. If your cat keeps circling you, it may be shepherding you in a particular direction. Allow your cat to guide you in this instance. Remember, cats have excellent hearing. It may have heard something suspicious that you cannot hear.

Your cat may have seen or smelled or seen something worrying on your property. Cats are not guardian animals in the traditional sense, but will definitely take steps to protect their territory.

Dominance

A cat does not see its owner as a master or superior. Cats consider themselves the equal of humans. This means that a particularly bossy cat may display dominant behaviors.

Circling and blocking is a common dominance tactic in inter-cat relationships. The dominant cat is defining where the submissive cat can walk. It is saying, “I choose where you do and don’t go.”

In some cases, a cat may attempt this with a human. The circling is intended to stop you from leaving a room. If the cat has been fed and played with, this behavior grows more likely. In the cat’s mind, you have served your useful purpose and need to be reminded of your place in the hierarchy.

Vestibular Disease

Vestibular disease attacks the vestibular system, located within a cat’s inner ear. Cats rely upon their ears to maintain a sense of balance and coordination. A cat with vestibular disease will frequently walk in circles, incapable of maneuvering in a straight line.

The cause of vestibular disease varies between cats. The Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery studied 77 cats with vestibular disease, finding multiple explanations. Inflammation, bacterial or periodontal in nature, proved to be the most common issues.

In the case of Siamese or Burmese cats, the issue was often hereditary. These breeds were particularly prone to vestibular disease and inner ear issues. In some cases, the cats lost their hearing earlier than anticipated.

Vestibular disease comes on very quickly but passes just as fast. Most cats rid themselves of vestibular disease within 24 hours. No vet will prescribe treatment as the concern will clear up on its own.

An examination by a vet may still be worthwhile. Ear infections, inflammatory diseases, polyps, or tumors can cause vestibular disease.

Ear Infections

Feline ear infections usually affect the outer ear. These infections are most commonly caused by ear mites. The most common symptom of mites is a discharge from the ear, along with scratching. In addition, mites can affect your cat’s sense of balance.

In addition to the discomfort caused, bacterial inflammation can spread to the inner ear. This is known as otitis interna, which can become an irreversible issue. Aside from circling, otitis interna has these symptoms:

  • Drooling from one side of the mouth
  • Anisocoria (uneven pupil size)
  • Dryness in one eye
  • Lack of depth perception
  • Lack of motor coordination, leading to an inability to eat
  • Vomiting

Left untreated, the bacteria that causes otitis interna can lead to permanent damage. The cat may never regain its ability to walk straight. The infection can also spread, resulting in difficulty breathing and an increased heart rate. Permanent hearing loss in the affected ear is also a risk.

Otitis interna can be treated with bacterial ear drops, placed directly into the ear. Do not clean the cat’s ears to excess as this risks permanently damaging the eardrum.  

Head Trauma

Veterinary Nursing Journal has stated that cats are the most commonly reviewed animal for head trauma. Cats can experience a blow to the head for a number of reasons, including:

  • Road traffic accidents
  • Falls from height
  • Collisions with inanimate objects, such as trees
  • Falling objects
  • Forceful blows during fights with other animals

Feline head trauma often leads to a concussion. If a cat develops a concussion, it will become disoriented and confused. The brain and nervous system are not communicating clearly. This could lead to a cat walking in circles while seeking food, water, or its litter tray.

A vet must always see a cat in the immediate aftermath of a head injury. Concussions can lead to swelling within the brain. Scans and x-rays will need to be performed to check for any damage.

Hypertension

When a cat has hypertension, excess blood will rush to the brain. This leaves the cat feeling confused. It will walk in circles and lack basic coordination in its gait. The cat may also become more clumsy.

Hypertension is closely linked to renal failure. Unfortunately, renal failure is common in senior cats. In both these conditions, by the time you notice symptoms, irreversible damage may have been done.

Hypoglycemia

Hypoglycemia means that your cat has low blood sugar. This concern is common in diabetic cats. As a cat gets older, it will become less active. If the cat’s appetite does not match its activity level, obesity is likely.

A lack of coordination is a common sign of hypoglycemia. Your cat will grow confused, walking in circles. You will also notice muscular tremors, and even seizures. This is often a precursor to a hypoglycemic cat losing consciousness. Other causes of feline hypoglycemia include:

  • Bacterial infection
  • Intestinal parasites
  • Poor diet
  • Liver disease
  • Pancreatic tumors
  • Hypothermia
  • Excessive physical activity after fasting
cat walking perimeter of room

Cognitive Dysfunction

If your cat is aged over 15, it is deemed geriatric. Sadly, this comes with all the same issues that affect aging humans. Chief among these is Feline Cognitive Dysfunction, or cat senility.

A cat with cognitive decline will live in a near-permanent state of confusion. The cat may get up to use the litter tray, then grow disoriented. It will walk in circles around you and may eliminate on the floor. Your cat simply cannot remember what it was supposed to do.

As Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice explains, FCD treatment focuses on slowing down a cat’s decline. At present, there is no cure for this condition. By feeding an appropriate diet and using drugs and supplements, further degeneration can be slowed down.

Brain Tumors

Not all tumors are malignant. In fact, up to 90% of meningiomas – tumors that grow within the skull – are benign. Sadly, a malignant brain tumor will inevitably affect your cat’s behavior.

A cat with a brain tumor will lack coordination. It will walk in circles around you, seemingly confused. A cat with a brain tumor will also frequently tilt its head to one side and experience seizures. These behaviors are caused by confusing messages that are being sent from the brain to the nervous system.

Brain tumors will be diagnosed through scans. Unfortunately, treatment for a malignant tumor is rarely successful. Tumors are uncommon in cats, and there will usually be another explanation for your cat’s circling behavior.

If your cat walks in circles around you, it is likely just trying to get your attention. If there is a health concern, it’s often manageable. Make sure that a vet checks over your cat if the circling behavior doesn’t go away.