Cats and Their Territory Behaviours

Cats and their territory
Dolly on the Lookout and Guarding Her Territory

Cats are solitary and territorial animals. Cats in the wild live, eat, sleep and hunt in a territorial range area far wider and larger than a domestic cat would have access to in overcrowded neighbourhoods. The size of the territory will depend on the food resource and if there is a plentiful supply of food or not – the less food there is the larger the territory to hunt. A male cat will have a larger territory than a female cat and it will often overlap with male and female cats’ territories. Some cats will share their territory with another cat to avoid conflict and fighting with each other. For instance, a cat will occupy the territory in the morning and leave it for another cat in the afternoon or evening. An injured cat will not be able to hunt and survive so in the wild, cats have an ability to share territories and resources without competing with each other. Cats also regularly patrol their territory to look out for any unwanted visitors who venture into their terrain.

Your cat will establish and mark out its own territory as they do in the wild, albeit a much smaller terrain area. Cats will mark their territory by:

  1. Spraying
  2. Scratching
  3. Rubbing
  4. Urination and defecating

Spraying by Cats

Spraying is when tom cats mark their territories by squirting a powerful jet of urine behind them onto vertical and permanent feature in their environment such as fences, shrubs and bushes, walls and tree stumps. Female cats also spray although it’s not often detected because an uneutered male cats’ spray smells pungently.

Spraying by a cat cannot be proved as a threatening mark to other cats. It is thought that it is more of a signal or marker for other cats to show that they have been present in that area -almost like a calling card. A spray scent by one cat can tell other cats how long ago they visited and the odour of the cat leaving the spray. Cats are also attracted to spray on top of prior sprayings by previous visitors. Cats will perform regular and routine spraying at certain marking posts. Our two boys spray regularly on a shrub bush, usually a couple of days apart.

The spraying and urine and faeces marking provides other cats with information about the individual cat such as sex, age, health, as well as when he was last there. Marking posts are read like a newspaper and read frequently. The marking behaviour doesn’t repel others, but it does result in time-sharing of the space in the territory.


A familiar sign is the scratched up and clawed sofa, our sofa has claw marks on its arms and back! But why do they scratch at the sofa or a chair? Part of the reason is that they are maintaining their claws – more information here.

Another reason is because they are scent-marking and leaving their scent on the fabric, usually on your sofa or armchair. When a cat scratches the fabric of an armchair or sofa, they are not only using their claws, they are using the scent glands on the underside of their front paws. The cat will rhythmically claw with the left paw then the right paw which squeezes their scent onto the fabric and rubs it into the fabric. You will also notice that they tend to claw in the same spot; this is their personal signature and will reinforce their scents on a regular basis. They do this because they are responding to their humans’ scents and will often claw your favourite armchair.

Firstly, when they establish a clawing spot it is very difficult to stop them or alter their habit. Scratching posts can be used so make sure you introduce your kitty to a scratching post as young as possible. However, some cats won’t use a scratch post some of the time if at all, so be prepared that they may well claw your sofa anyway rather than the scratching post. You can try putting an old garment of your over the scratching post to encourage them to use it, but it may not work. You can also try sprays that are said to stop them from clawing furniture, but in our experience these have not worked. When you have cats, you just have to get used to the idea that they will claw your furniture.

Cats will also find regular scratching patches outdoors, for instance ours scratch on their own preferred tree trunk or our wooden raised borders and path! Again this is their way to maintain their claws and leave their scent around their outdoor territory.

Cats Rubbing

A cat will rub up against your body or face because it’s rubbing its scent on you and rubbing your scent on himself. A cat will start rubbing you by pressing the top of his head or side of his face against you. He will then rub his body against you and may wrap his tail slightly around you. When you are standing up, cats will physically move their body along and come back to rub you again. If you are seated, they will nudge you with their head and face rub against you and also knead you with their paws. Cats have scent glands situated at their temples and at the gape of their mouths which release facial pheromones that convey a message of reassurance and security. When they rub against you they are sharing their scent and marking you with their scent which makes them comfortable and familiar with their humans. A cat may also lick you and then lick their fur after the rubbing session because they like to taste our scent after rubbing up against us. Cats will also rub alongside each other and exchange their scents with other cats that they are friendly and comfortable with.

Cats urinating and defecating around the home

When cats are stressed they will use their urine or defecation as a means of leaving other cats a calling card and tell them of their presence. If a new cat has been brought into the household, or a cat feels threatened by another cat in a multi-cat household, they will urinate in areas as a symptom of their stress and to reclaim their territory. Cats will urinate in a particular place in the house, spray around the home on a vertical surface or urinate on your laundry or bed linen. They may also urinate or defecate by or near to a window or door. A cat may also use the litter box at times and then urinate or defecate elsewhere in the home, or defecating in the cat box and urinate elsewhere. When a cat is stressed and feels anxious, this could lead to illness. Our cat Luca spent a few weeks urinating where the cats’ food was because he felt anxious about our new cat Alfie that had entered the household.

Sometimes bullying by one cat to another will occur, and the bullied cat will feel anxious and feel the need to reclaim their territory by urinating and defecating. A cat can easily bully another cat by blocking their way, picking fights, ambushing them or simply just staring at them. If the owner is absent for a longer time than usual, say on holiday, a cat may urinate and defecate because they feel the need to reassert their claim on a territory because their humans are away. Other situations when a cat will urine and defecate are when there has been a house move, a furniture re-arrangement in the home, remodelling in the home or there are other cats not part of the household bothering your cat – either by coming into the house or outside of the house in the garden or neighbourhood.

Cats are also very sensitive to unfamiliar visitors, especially if they have cats or dogs as your cats will pick up these scents.

A cat’s stress can be caused by on stressful event or an ongoing problem in the home. If a cat is behaving like this you should pay close attention because the cat is trying to tell you something when by acting like this. If your cat is feeling bullied then provide a safe bolt-hole and retreat for them such as a pet igloo, the bottom of a wardrobe or cupboard or put a pillow on a high set of drawers. You can also use Feliway which is a spray or diffuser and releases synthetic feline pheromones which can help to calm and reassure a cat.

Medical problems

Your cat may also have a medical problem so it is important to get your cat checked by a vet. If you can’t find out the cause of your cat’s stress consult your vet as prolonged stress will lead to disease and illness. Common cat medical problems related to stress are anorexia, alopecia, cystitis and obesity.

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