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How do cats mark their territory?

Here we look at the different cat scent-marking behaviours and what cats are trying to communicate.

Cats mark their territory to feel calm and safe. They do this by leaving their scent in lots of ways. Cats will be seen rubbing against things, peeing around the home and sometimes pooping, or scratching furniture and carpets. This is a natural behaviour called scent-marking.

There are lots of ways a cat can mark their territory and several reasons why. Here we look at the different cat scent-marking behaviours including rubbing, scratching and inappropriate toileting, and what cats are trying to communicate.

Cats will scent mark their territory in different ways. Here are a few reasons why they do this:

  • To help them feel safe in their environment
  • To claim a familiar object or person
  • To communicate with other animals, making them aware of their presence.

Common cat scent-marking behaviours

Rubbing against furniture, walls – and you

Does your cat rub against furniture and walls, or even headbutt you? This is their way of transferring their scent (natural pheromones) using scent glands in their face and head.

Cats will rub against things when happy, but also if they’re feeling a little unsure of their environment. You’ll see them displaying this rubbing behaviour in their core living area. It’s a way for them to feel relaxed and content. You might hear them purring away too.

You might also see a greasy brown mark where your cat has rubbed up against something. It’s best to avoid cleaning this off because it helps them feel safe in a familiar environment.

Urination and defecation

If you spot your cat pooing or weeing around the home, it won’t just be for no reason. We would first suggest seeking advice from your vet. This type of behaviour could be related to a medical issue that needs treating.

If you don’t already have a litter tray indoors, make sure it’s in a quiet area in the home that’s easy to access.

Toileting inside the home

If your cat is toileting in the home and not using the litter tray, they will be passing normal to large amounts of wee or poo. You might find them doing this in hidden, quiet, dark areas of the home and this should not be confused with scent-marking.

There are several reasons why your cat might dislike their litter tray. They may have developed a negative association with using it, or they might be worried by other pets in the home or neighbouring animals. Sometimes, changes to their indoor and outdoor environment might have an effect on them and other times, it could be that their tray is too clean or not clean enough. It’s important to consider different types of litters and liners, the location, size and more. Cats need to be comfortable and suit their needs.

However, there are times when cats will become stressed and scent mark in their home:

Scratching inside and outside the home

You will often see a cat scratching both in the house and outside. It is often seen as an undesirable behavioural trait, especially if your cat is scratching furniture or carpets. Good news is, there are things you can do about your cat’s scratching behaviour and ways to deter them from scratching these places. Just make sure they have access to scratching posts, boards or carpet tiles around these areas.

Scratching is normal, healthy behaviour and It’s a natural part of a cat’s day-to-day life. They will do this to scent mark as well as condition their body and claws.

Cats will leave their scent from glands located between the pads of their paws and a visual mark will be left behind. You might see this along common routes in the house that your cat takes. Providing appropriate scratching items in these places will benefit your cat.

One of the best ways to stop a cat scratching furniture or carpets is by creating designated scratching areas. Just make sure it’s inviting enough. Try to encourage them to use it by sprinkling some catnip around the area. Or you can try placing interactive toys on or around the scratching post; a good toy for this is a wand. As your cat swipes for the toy, his claws will catch the surface of the scratching post and realise it feels good. Your cat will then return to the scratching post to use it again.

Squat marking – Owners may see their cats squat as if they’re going to the toilet, but the cat is only passing small amounts of pee each time. This can be a sign of a medical issue, but is also a way that cats will mark their territory. They will pass on signals to other cats and protect their territory with their scent.

Spraying – You might see your cat marking their territory by spraying. They will often stand up with their backs toward an object. Their tails will quiver and a spray of concentrated urine will be projected.

This is normal behaviour for a cat when it comes to them marking their territory outside. You’ll typically see them spraying against things, such as fence posts and bushes, to let other cats know it’s their home. Key areas you might find your cat showing this behaviour indoors, are around windows, doorways, areas that strongly smell of their owners and elevated .

Whilst unneutered male cats are more likely to mark their territory in this way, neutered male and female cats may also spray, especially if they are feeling vulnerable in their home.

Pooing in the home or the middle of the garden (middening)

Some cats might poop in the middle of the garden to deter other cats. This is a normal behaviour known as middening. It’s your cat’s way of sending a message to other felines in the area. If they’re feeling particularly insecure, your cat may start to poo in the home on elevated surfaces.

Peeing or pooping on bedding or clothing

Cats might pee or poop on items that smell strongly of their owner, including bedding and clothing. They will mark their territory here as a way of feeling closer to their owner and are likely to have separation issues.

What can you do about cats marking their territory?

Cat scent marking behaviours such as rubbing, scratching or weeing in the house should never be punished, as this is just your cat’s way of communicating.

Finding out the reason why your cat is displaying these behaviours can help to deter them or mark their territory in a more appropriate way.

Make sure your home has the following items to help your cat feel safe:

  • Litter trays
  • Feeding stations(separate from water station and litter trays)
  • Water stations
  • Areas to get up high
  • Hiding places
  • Scratching facilities
  • Toys

Cat flaps

Remember, a cat flap allows your cat to come and go as they please, but it also provides an open door to unexpected visitors. If another cat uses this cat flap, or stares through it, your feline friend can feel uneasy and insecure in their own home. This is when you might see your cat inappropriately scent marking in the home.

The best solution is to use a cat flap that works with your cat’s microchip. This will help keep other cats out of your home.

If you think your cat is marking their territory by spraying because another cat is outside, try blocking their view, particularly at ground level. Cats feel safer when they are higher up. You can do this by applying opaque film or tape over patio doors and transparent cat flaps.

Try placing a high vantage point inside the house. For example, a tall cat scratcher with a platform on top will allow your cat to view the potential intruder from high up, from the inside.

Looking for more advice?

Want to find out more about your cat’s behaviour and what to expect? Here some tips on how to tell if your cat is happy.

And if you would like further assistance with your cat, our team are always happy to help. Contact us today.

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