Cat Territorial Behavior

Cats are territorial animals. A cat’s territory consists of a core area, or den, where it feels secure enough to sleep, eat, play and potentially enjoy social interaction. Outside of that core area a cat’s territory consists of a network of paths and areas that they patrol regularly and are marked by the cat.

Cats mark their Territory by:

The spraying, urine and feces marking provides other cats with information about the individual cat (e.g. sex, age and health). It can also let other cats know when a cat was last there. The marking of territory doesn’t always repel other cats and can result in time sharing of a territory. Marking behaviors allow a number of cats to share the resources in a territory without having to compete directly with one another (e.g. one cat may occupy a spot in the morning but leave it for anther cat in the afternoon). Like their wild counterparts cats in your homes also establish territories.

How a Cat Marks

Cats mark their territory through glands and pheromones. They have glands on certain parts of their bodies that explain territorial marking behavior. These glands secrete a subtle scent called pheromones. Pheromones are essential to cat communication as they allow felines to attract mates, define territories, promote a sense of comfort and let other cats know who and where they are.

The glands are located in the forehead and cheek areas on a cat’s head, at the base of and along their tails, on the bottoms of all four paws and on either side of the rectum. The forehead and cheek glands are used for head-butting and cheek rubbing marking. The glands along and at the base of the tail are used for back end marking when a cat rubs against something. The paw glands are used for scratching and kneading marking. Scratches are a visual as well as a scent mark. The rectal glands are used in spraying, urinating and fecal marking. Spraying should not be confused with urinating and tends to be done on walls, windows, furniture and other upright objects.

Why a Cat Marks

Following are reasons why cats show territorial marking behavior.

  • When a cat head-buts or rubs cheeks, hind-quarters or tails on humans or things it is often to mark them as their own. They will also mark rooms, items and other felines this way, the pheromones deposited help with bonding as well as making a communal scent.
  • When cats scratch it is a natural feline impulse and activity. They do it whether indoors or outdoors. Cats tend to pick a few different objects like trees, chair legs and scratching posts and return to them often. Scratching in new location may be prompted by change. Cats are comforted when surrounded by their own sent in a room.
  • Spraying is often done to mark territory or to communicate boundaries. It is often prompted indoors by a change in environment, such as moving to a new home, buying new furnishings and remodeling. Cat spray may be directed at draperies, walls, furnishings and more.
  • Urinating often is done if there is a strong scent to clothing that is left lying around after a work-out or highly active day, to indicate that their usual washroom facilities need to be cleaned or if it is an article brought into the place that is strongly scented by animals that they have never encountered the scent of before or have taken a dislike to.
Tips That May Help at Home

Keep a “Positive Spin” on marking. Since marking is a natural feline territorial behavior, remember that you can take steps to keep your pet’s instincts positive; here are 5 tips on how to help channel cat’s marking.

  1. Rub your cat’s cheeks and head. Most of the time this has a very calming and reassuring effect
  2. Rub the head and cheek area glands with a dry wash cloth and spread the scent on new furnishings. This can help deter the scratching behaviour
  3. Offer your pet places to scratch such as stable vertical scratching posts and horizontal posts as well. Never buy a used post because they may carry the markings of another cat and prompt spraying
  4. Prepare your pet for change-if a new baby is expected, invite someone over with an infant to accustom your cat to the noise, scent and presence of a baby
  5. If your cat has sprayed in certain areas, wash those area with an enzyme-based cleaner that removes the odor, even if you address the underlying cause that prompted the spraying your cat may return to spray in an area if it still detects its own scent


Information obtained from:

The Cat’s View of Territory

Article: It’s All mine! Cat Marking Explained by Elizabeth Wasserman 2009

Cat medical diagrams.

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