A Cat is Territorial

A Cat is Territorial

We often use the term ‘territory’ quite loosely, but in behavioral terms it is the area that a cat is prepared to defend. In the wild, the cat’s survival and hunting success depends on the integrity of its individual home range and territory. Consequently cats are usually cautious and concerned about intrusions into their area, especially at certain times such as dawn and dusk. As household pets, cats are fed by their owners and they don’t need to hunt to survive, however they still have a strong drive to hunt and establish territories and ranges.

An intact male’s ranges are normally much larger than an intact female’s ranges (usually from three to ten times). An average neutered or spayed cat’s outdoor range may only be their immediate yard and may be less confrontational than their intact counterparts.

Urban living feral cats that share a plentiful supply of food can tolerate living at a relatively high population density of 30 or more cats per acre. Pet cats in a similar urban setting often live at a density of over 50 cats per acre. It is important to note that the food resource is what drives this density. This population dynamic is not the same as found in a natural habitat where cats will be less tolerant of pressure placed on their prey population as a food source.

In domestic homes cats are fed on a regular basis and this indoor world becomes their safe core area within their territory. All cats have some behavior that reinforces a level of comfort and security with their surroundings. Regardless of how they are housed, they are compelled to express these behaviors.We call many of these behaviors marking territory and cats will use a range of methods to do this. Some examples are rubbing, scratching or spraying urine. The method used is highly dependent on their emotional state at the time and may have many ways of manifestation.What is important to remember is that all these behaviors provide a release of stress. If they are observed and perceived as a problem, the practitioner needs to start trying to determine what drives them in the environment.

Some territorial scent marking, when it occurs inside rather than outside (i.e. spraying, urination, defecation and sometimes scratching), can be a sign that a cat does not feel safe.

Take Home Message

  • Cats do not necessarily tolerate other cats in the same house.While owners may feel their cat is lonely and needs a ‘friend,’ cats may feel very threatened by this as they are not related or from the same social group initially.Visitors who bring their cat to stay can cause great upset to a resident cat.
  • Cats may feel threatened, fight, or try to hide because of perceived threats. Owners may be unaware of the perceived threat because the cat’s avoidance behavior is subtle and does not draw attention. However, the result may be seen in behavior changes or stress-related problems.
  • If a cat’s territory is limited and confined indoors, the owner needs to ensure that the environment provokes exploration and makes the cat ‘work’ to gain resources or access desired places. Restriction from resources may exacerbate territorial behaviors as the cat tries to increase its sense of security. The core area of an indoor cat’s territory may be under the bed and areas around the door may not be seen as safe. Additional resting places high up can increase the safe possibilities of the territory. Some territorial scent marking, when it occurs inside rather than outside(i.e. spraying, urination, defecation and sometimes scratching), can be a sign that a cat does not feel safe.
  • Cats are often more bonded to their territory than to their owners. This can lead to a cat returning to an old home after a move to a new home.
  • Cat doors can be helpful for cats allowed outdoors, however, they can allow other cats to enter. Ideally cat doors should have an ‘exclusive entry’ feature that allows only the resident cats to enter by using magnetic, electronic or microchip ‘keys.’ The cat door is a transition point between the inner safe ‘core’ of the cat’s territory and the riskier outside world, and for some cats the core territory will only be a small part of the home.
  • Cats rarely voluntarily leave their home range, so when it is necessary, owners need to be sensitive to their needs.
  • The cat should be acclimated to the carrier by leaving the carrier out at all times and rewarding for its use. Also, familiar bedding, toys and/or food should be brought with the cat to make it feel more secure.

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