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How Do Cats Mark Their Territory?

Updated: August 11, 2022 by Kristen Chapple

People are not the only ones who own and defend territories. Felines do that as well. It’s an innate instinct of most beings that share this blue little planet. Strictly tied to survival and self preservation, territory marking is one very specialized means of communication that cats use to warn other animals of trespassing their vital space. Don’t we humans do the same?

As you might expect, conflicts are nonetheless happening all the time, especially on the crowded streets of the cities, where lots of cats find shelter.

What is territory marking

In its essence, territory marking is an indirect and essential means of communication for the felines, due to the fact that they lead a solitary life most of the time. It’s, if you wish, their way of setting a ‘Keep Out’ signpost in front of their home or the ‘Welcome’ mat for those who are part of the community.

Leaving their scent around is how cats mark their territory. And that is made through rubbing on stuff, scratching, pawing and… yeah, urinating. They’ve got scent glands on the face, feet, the back of the front legs, the bottom and even the tail, so if your cute little friend is rubbing on you… well, you get the point. This is how cats mark their territory.

No matter whether the cat is living on the street or in your very dorm, she will do that. The size of that territory, be it into the wild or in your house, depends mainly on the availability of food. If that is scarce, the feline will mark a greater territory for it to find enough food to survive. If food is plenty, there will be no need for such a great territory, as a small one will do.

Apart from that, males will explore larger territories in order to find a mate.

Conflict is just part of how cats mark their territory

If a territory is owned by more than one cat, the outcome can differ. If there is plenty of food for eveyone, well, they all live and purr in peace. But if the food is scarce, then things become interesting.

Most cats, no matter how aggressive they are or not, will avoid combat if possible, as injuries can be quite severe and even life-threatening. In most situations, there will be an aggressor and a defensive cat. The aggressor usually starts to show off and intimidate the opponent through various methods such as sniffing its tail, hissing, snarling or spitting and most encounters will end with the defensive cat breaking eye contact.

Sometimes though, the conflict over territory will degenerate into a full fight. That happens mostly when the fearful or defensive cat is cornered and has not communicated the intention to back off. With no means to escape, he or she has to defend in front of the attacker.

The usual defensive position is lying on the back and trying to stop the attack of the aggressor with all four paws and claws barred. The attacker will arch his backbone trying to look bigger and intimidate and will attack at the first opportunity to catch the other feline by its head and bite the neck.

The fight is usually short, but brutal, and can leave heavy scars on both cat’s bodies. But it’s just part of how cats mark their territory.

You know, life’s hard sometimes, even for our little furry friends.

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