How Territorial Is Your Cat?

Territorial Cats

Cats are territorial by nature.

Like their bigger counterparts in the wild, cats mark their turf in some unusual ways.

Sometimes the way our cats strut their stuff is harmless and even entertaining.

Other times, though, it can cause problems for you, other pets, or any kids in the house.

Here’s what you need to know about your cat’s odd behavior and how to help her feel more secure in her territory.

Leaving Presents

Let’s get the least pleasant scenarios out of the way first, shall we?

One of the most common ways cats mark their territory is by spraying urine.

We know: no fun.

While female cats and neutered male cats can spray urine, it’s uncommon. Unneutered male cats are the most likely to spray and do so to let other cats know that they’re in the market for a partner.

If you have a male cat who is making things messy around the house, talk to your veterinarian about neutering. If letting your tomcat have kittens isn’t on your radar, neutering can put a stop to spraying and several other unwanted, sometimes aggressive behaviors.

Now, if your male cat is already neutered or if your female cat is the one doing the spraying, things get a bit more tricky. This is often a sign of territorial insecurity or stress and could be caused by a number of things like:

  • You’ve added a new cat, dog, baby, or other creature to your home.
  • There are feral cats in your neighborhood threatening your cat’s turf.
  • Your home doesn’t smell the same anymore or you’ve recently moved.
  • Your cat’s litter box isn’t as clean as she prefers and she’s refusing to use it.
  • Another cat is dominating the litter box and she has no place to feel safe to go.
  • Your cat is ill and being surrounded by her own scent makes her feel more comfortable

Apart from urine, cats also use feces to mark their turf.

A customer recently told us how her cat leaves a "territorial signpost dropping outside her litter box" when he notices anyone – human and cat alike – has come near his box. This not-so-cute behavior is called middening and is a way for cats to mark the boundaries of their territory.

The Fix

Understanding your cat and her particular stressors can go a long way toward eliminating these unpleasant occurrences.

Start by taking your cat to the vet to make sure everything is on the up-and-up health-wise.

If your cat has received a clean bill of health, it’s time to try other methods. If you have other cats in the home, make sure you have at least one litter box per cat, plus one. For example, if you have three cats, you should have four litter boxes. While that may seem like a lot, it’ll make a world of difference to make your kitties feel safe, comfortable, and free to stop leaving puddles around your home.

If you’ve recently moved, added a new member to the family member (either of the two- or four-legged variety), or introduced any other stressors to your cat’s environment, make sure she has a safe place to go when she needs to get away from it all. Letting her claim the space under the bed or having a dog-and-child-free room can alleviate your cat’s anxiety and put an end to the spraying.

Lastly, make sure any past “presents” have been cleaned up thoroughly. Using a UV light can help you identify any residual scent your cat may be picking up on that is triggering her to reapply.

Head Rubs

Don’t worry: This territorial behavior is far more adorable than the previous.

Have you ever seen your cat rubbing her head on the corners of walls, on new boxes that arrive in the mail, or against your shins?

She’s not just showing her love for all the wonderful things around her. Actually, she’s marking her territory.

Cats have scent glands on their foreheads, in front of their ears, on their cheeks, and on their chins. So don’t be alarmed if it looks like Fluffy is infatuated with the leg of the sofa. She’s just claiming it as part of her home.

The Fix

There isn’t really a fix for this cat behavior – and luckily you don’t really need one.

The oils that cats secrete by rubbing their cute little faces on everything are harmless, invisible, and can only be smelled by animals with noses far stronger than ours.

Scratching

The dreaded s-word: scratching. This is one of the more common and, unfortunately, harmful territorial cat behaviors.

While your cat is unlikely to scratch you or anyone else for the sake of marking her territory, she will go after walls, door jams, baseboards, and other areas near the entrances of your home.

Scratching is a way for your cat to leave both visual and scent cues that this is her property and no other cat should try to set up shop nearby.

Cats have scent glands in their paws, as well as all over their little heads. Scratching achieves two of your cat’s most important goals: marking her territory and maintaining a perfect manicure.

But don’t be fooled – even cats who have been declawed can mark their territory this way in order to activate those glands in the paws.

The Fix

If your cat is scratching up the outside exits of your home – such as to the front or backyards – she’s likely picking up on the scent of outside cats and wants to make things clear that other felines are not welcome. Try your best to keep those doors closed so your cat is distanced from the outside smells. Leave your shoes outside or put them in a closet where your cat can’t sniff any scents they may track in.

On the other hand, if your cat is scratching up doorways that don’t lead outside, she may be having a beef with another animal in your house. Determine which side of the barrier – either inside or outside the room – your cat prefers and try to keep the other pets out of that space.

Here are more tips and tricks for keeping your cat from scratching up your decor.

Cat body language can tell you quite a bit. If your cat is showing other signs of territorial behavior, tell us about it in the comments below and we’ll help you find a solution.




Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

Author



9 Responses

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

July 26, 2018

@Amelia – Oh wow! What a mischevious girl you have on your hands! It sounds like what she’s looking for is a place to feel snug, cozy, and safe. Try providing her an alternative so she doesn’t feel the need to destroy your bed. One thing you could do is to get a cardboard box, weigh down the bottom with a flat piece of wood (even something 5-10 lbs should do), and add some soft blankets or toys on top. Add a sprinkle of catnip to entice her inside. Then, tape up the top and cut a small square just big enough for her to get inside. Depending on how big your girl is, a 4″ × 4″ or 6″ × 6″ square hole should work.

Close your bedroom door with her outside, and put the box in front of your door. Then, when she has the urge to run into your room and tear up the box spring, she’ll find the nice little hiding spot that you’ve provided for her. The more you can make it like the box spring, the better. As she adjusts to her new hiding spot, you can move the box to a dark, quiet place, which she may prefer.

Luckily, our kitties don’t destroy things just for the sake of destroying things. They’re trying to fill some need that we’re not providing. If you can figure out what need the box spring fills, you’ll be good to go! If you’ve ruled out her need for more things to scratch, it may just be that she wants a place to hide. Try the suggestion above and let me know how it goes. :)

Amelia
Amelia

July 26, 2018

I have a tabby I rescued from Hawaii (we are now in Texas). I noticed my kitty (she’s 6/7 yrs old..but still a kitty to me!) likes to tear up my box spring! The outside AND the underside. She’ll rip the material covering it to shreds and climb in. I’ve got a piece of plywood under the box spring now to prevent her from getting stuck (again) but I’ll wake up in the night to her going to town on my box spring. Despite the catnip infused scratch pads everywhere. Any advice??

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

July 24, 2018

@DeweyShirley – Wow… just… wow! You certainly deserve to go in the Cat Parent Hall of Fame for rescuing that gorgeous girl and bringing her up to a healthy weight. Turkish Angoras are extremely smart breeds and it sounds like you found the Einstein of the bunch :) What a wonderful, heart-warming story! I’m so glad you found each other. Thank you so much for sharing!

Dewey Shirley
Dewey Shirley

July 24, 2018

We have had numerous cats, mostly Siamese and a few alley cats. Two and a half years ago we rescued a white, long-haired cat that had been roaming our neighborhood. We couldn’t imagine a cat this beautiful being lost or abandoned so we assumed it belonged to a neighbor. After two or three months we noticed the cat seemed undernourished so we started leaving food our for it. It was afraid to eat with us around so we went inside and watched through the window. The cat was really hungry.

We fed it for about three months and decided it was homeless. We borrowed a cat trap and trapped it, took it to the vet for spaying, shots and a physical exam. The vet was amazed that this cat was running free – it is a pure-bred Turkish Angora. When we brought her home she was still groggy from the surgery but showed no fear at all. She weighed 6 pounds and was somewhat undernourished, although in much better condition than a few months before we started to feed her. After a few days I bought her a incline scratching pad and a cat tree house. She took one look at the scratch pad and ran to it and started scratching. She now has two scratch pads but never considers scratching anything else. It was as though she had been trained on this kind of scratch pad – although she was less than two years old when we got her.

I have read about this breed and it seems as though they are quite different from the typical alley cat. This cat understands nearly everything we say to her, she actually minds our commands such as “Go out?”, “Come in!”, “No”, “Come here”, “Going to bed”, “Want a treat?” and many more.

I know that all cats have different personalities (catalities?) but this cat is REALLY different. BTW, she now weighs 10 lbs.

Dewey Shirley
Prescott, AZ.

Rai Cornell
Rai Cornell

July 20, 2018

@Linda – Oh my… how frustrating! I can certainly understand why it’s driving your husband crazy. Have you checked out our other articles on preventing unwanted scratching (https://prettylittercats.com/blogs/prettylitter-blog/train-your-cat-not-to-scratch-the-couch) and helping your cat transition to a new litter (https://prettylittercats.com/blogs/prettylitter-blog/how-to-help-your-cat-transition-to-a-new-litter)? Take a peek at those and let me know if it helps. If not, we’ll brainstorm other ideas! :)

Linda Starkey
Linda Starkey

July 20, 2018

Thank you for your helpful hints regarding cat BAD behavior. I have 2 young female cats (spayed) and two male dogs (neutered). One dog and the cats came to the house virtually at the same time. The kittens were sick (we finally got them well and to adulthood). The labradoodle came from a puppy mill/hoarding situation—abused and starved. Generally, there is relative peace in the house because our older Aussie sees to it. The problems are: Both cats scratch the furniture (leather and fabric) and has ruined 5 chairs and 4 stools. One of the cats will pee in the box but poops near the box, but not in it. Otherwise, she’s a great cat. We have 3 litter boxes. We’ve tried all kinds of litter (yours being the latest). We’ve fill them high and low. We clean them sometimes twice a day. I really don’t know what else to do. Any suggestions? It drives my husband crazy. Doesn’t do much for my sanity, either.

Betty Parkinson
Betty Parkinson

July 20, 2018

Thought this was a good article if you want to share it with anyone.

Robbie Jeter
Robbie Jeter

July 20, 2018

She’s only territorial towards other cats n male dogs she plays with the two small female dogs that a neighbor n one family member has it’s so cute seeing her play with a dog lol

Lisa Steadman
Lisa Steadman

July 20, 2018

Thanks for the bit on middening. I have been completely baffled by this behavior, as well as frustrated, and I’m glad to finally have an explanation. I now scoop his box every day and have discovered he prefers a covered box to an open one. I’ve also moved it to a more “private” area, which he seems to like. He’s also liking his Pretty Litter and hasn’t left any “presents” since we switched! If there are other tips you can provide, please let me know! Thanks again!!

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