A cat walking in circles around you may just want your attention. This is a common feline greeting, especially when followed by bunting or rolling. Senior cats may circle through mental confusion and disorientation. Some medical problems also lead to circling in cats.
Vestibular disease, which attacks the inner ear, is common. This condition goes away within 24 hours. Check for other medical conditions such as hypertension, hypoglycemia or an inner ear infection. If the cat circles after a head injury, check for concussion.
A cat circling around you is not unusual in and of itself. Just watch out for any additional behaviors at the same time. Understanding the symptoms of particular diseases help you tell if a cat has a health issue or is just playful.
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. Offer light petting and speak to your cat.
It’s also possible that your cat is herding you in a particular direction. The cat has discovered something and wants you to experience it for yourself. This could be an unfamiliar sight, sound, or scent.
There is also the slight possibility that your cat is acting dominant. It circles you so it can control where you walk. The dominance that starts with circling can escalate to aggression.
If the cat gives the impression of disorientation during or after circling, it’s more serious. This suggests there is a medical explanation for the behavior. Common health complications to lead to circling in cats include:
- Vestibular disease
- Ear infections
- Head trauma
- Cognitive dysfunction
- Brain tumors
Often, a circling cat is simply excited to see an owner. If your cat circles you upon your arrival home, stand still and allow the action. A cat offering a greeting will display the following additional behaviors.
- Tail curled upward and pointed toward you
- Stopping to rub its head against your shins and legs
- Rolling over onto its back
Mostly, the cat just wants to be acknowledged. That is an easy fix. Get down to your cat’s level and provide some light petting. If the cat meows, return the greeting. Your cat will enjoy the sensation of conversing with you.
Ordinarily, the circling will stop after a few moments. If not, the cat still wants something from you. Often, this will either be food or playtime. Offer your cat a small treat and, if necessary, reach for a favorite toy.
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. The cat may have heard something suspicious that you cannot hear. Your cat is trying to draw your attention to this.
Alternatively, your cat may have seen or smelled something on your property. Cats are not guardian animals in the traditional sense. Cats protect territory with all their might, though.
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 addressing where the submissive cat can walk. It is saying, “I choose where you do and do not go.”
In some cases, a cat may attempt this with a human. The circling is designed to stop you from leaving a room. If the cat has been fed and played with, this behavior grows more possible. In the cat’s mind, you have served your useful purpose and need to be reminded of your place in the hierarchy.
Do not allow your cat to grow too confident in its dominance. This circling and blocking may seem amusing at first. It becomes less so when a cat becomes physically dominant.
4/ 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. The cat is incapable of walking 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 causes. Inflammation, bacterial or periodontal in nature, proved to be the most common issue.
In the case of Siamese or Burmese cats, the issue is often hereditary. These breeds are particularly prone to vestibular disease and inner ear issues. In some cases, the cat may lose its hearing earlier than anticipated.
Vestibular disease comes on very quickly but passes just as rapidly. Most cats rid themselves of vestibular disease within 24 hours. No vet will prescribe treatment as the concern will pass by itself in time.
An examination by a vet is still worthwhile. An underlying cause will have provoked the issue. Ear infections, inflammatory diseases, polyps or even tumors could cause vestibular disease.
5/ 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 a cat’s sense of balance.
Mites must be dealt with quickly. 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 for cats.
Aside from circling, otitis interna has the following symptoms:
- Drooling from one side of the mouth
- Anisocoria (uneven pupil size in the cat’s eyes)
- Dryness in one eye
- Lack of depth perception
- Lack of motor coordination, leading to inability to eat
If left untreated, the bacteria that cause otitis interna can cause permanent damage. The cat may never regain its ability to walk straight.
The infection can also spread, leading to difficulty breathing and increased heart rate. Permanent hearing loss in the ear is also a risk.
Otitis interna is treated with bacterial ear drops, placed directly into the ear. Be mindful when applying these drops, and do not clean the cat’s ears to excess. This risks permanently damaging the eardrum.
6/ Head Trauma
Cats are prone to head/skull trauma. Veterinary Nursing Journal confirms that cats are the most commonly reviewed animal for head trauma.
Cats can experience head trauma from a number of sources. The most common are:
- Road traffic accidents
- Falls from height
- Collisions with inanimate objects, such as trees
- Struck by a falling object
- Forceful blows in conflict 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 the litter tray.
A cat must always be seen by a vet in the immediate aftermath of a head injury. Concussions can lead to swelling within the brain. Scans and x-rays will be performed to reveal any damage.
Most cats will recover from a concussion within a few days. With rest, the cat will return to normal. Ensure the cat is eating and drinking during this recovery period.
Hypertension, or high blood pressure, can be dangerous to any cat. This condition can be temporary, caused by a period of intense stress. If your cat has permanent hypertension, the concern will be reflected in its behavior.
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 clumsy. This is because hypertension can cost a cat its sight.
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 has often been done.
Take a senior cat to have its blood pressure monitored regularly. Ideally twice a year. This way, hypertension can be managed early. Your cat will require lifelong medication, but the prognosis is much brighter.
Hypoglycemia means your cat has low blood sugar. This concern is common in diabetic cats. Senior cats are at an enhanced risk of diabetes. As a cat ages, it will become less active. If the cat’s appetite does not match its activity level, obesity becomes likely.
A lack of coordination is a common warning sign of hypoglycemia. Your cat will grow confused, walking in circles. You will also notice muscular tremors, and potentially seizures. This is often a precursor to a hypoglycemic cat losing consciousness.
Feline hypoglycemia is not only related to diabetes. Other causes include:
- Major bacterial infection
- Intestinal parasites
- Poor diet
- Liver disease
- Pancreatic tumors
- Excessive physical activity after fasting
Simply eating a meal may be insufficient. Your cat may need intravenous fluids that contain glucose.
9/ 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 potentially eliminate on the floor. The cat cannot remember what it was supposed to do.
As Veterinary Clinics: Small Animal Practice explains, treatment for FCD focusses 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 delayed.
If your senior cat has just started to circle, FCD is in its earliest stages. Speak to a vet about appropriate medication and lifestyle changes. You must focus on keeping your cat’s mind active. The more your cat thinks, the shaper its critical faculties will remain.
10/ Brain Tumors
“Brain tumor” is a dreaded diagnosis, but 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 affect a 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 being sent from the brain to the nervous system.
Brain tumors will be diagnosed through scans. Unfortunately, in a senior cat, treatment for a malignant tumor is rarely successful. Tumors are rare in cats, and there will often by another explanation for 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.