How to Know if Cats Mark Their Territory

Cats mark territory if they are:

  • Advertising their sexual availability
  • Claiming ownership
  • Stressed
  • Communicating to other cats
  • Sick

Marking territory is normal for cats but can sometimes indicate a problem.

Avoid sudden changes, spay or neuter your cat, and provide them with perching areas to minimize the marking behavior.

Take your cat to the vet to rule out a health problem.

No matter how cute your cat is, you have probably seen them act out of the norm. They rub their chin up against you, spray urine, or scratch your sofa.

Your cat is trying to tell you something. This article will answer the question of whether cats mark their territory and why they do so.

Keep reading to know what to do when your cat marks territory.


Cats Mark Territory to Talk With Other Cats

Cats mark where they live or visit in many ways. They mark with scent glands on their feet, cheeks, and tail, as well as with urine.

Cheek rubbing (bunting) and scratching are both forms of marking territory. By depositing an odor, the cat communicates to other animals that it was there long after it has gone.

Cats are territorial animals. They need to feel safe in their space, and they need it to be clear to other cats that they are, in fact, the owner of that space.

The most commonly known method of feline marking behavior is urine marking. But cats can use other, less-stinky methods of territory marking.


Cats Sometimes Mark Territory With Urine

When a cat marks territory by spraying urine, they inform other cats of their presence.

Other cats can tell what piece of property belongs to your cat, and they also know when to expect your cat back.

All this information is available in the urine. This way, cats rarely have to meet each other. This is how they avoid confrontation.


Urine Marking Is Not a Litterbox Problem

Urine marking is different from inappropriate elimination outside the box. Here is a list of characteristics that indicate your cat is marking with urine:


They Mark on Vertical Surfaces

Cats spray on a vertical space like the back of a chair, a wall, or a stereo speaker. They stand with their body erect, tail extended straight up in the air, and sprays urine on the surface.

Their tail and sometimes entire body twitch as they spray.


Urine Marks Have Fewer Deposits

When your cat marks on a surface, the amount of urine is usually less than the amount of urine you will find in their litterbox.


The Urine Smells Pungent

The reason cats can pick up so much information from the urine mark of another cat is that a urine mark isn’t just urine.

It also contains extra communication chemicals which smell pungent to people.


Both Male and Female Cats Mark Territory

Like a male cat, a female cat may also spray urine to mark territory. Territorial reasons for spraying include other cats that your cat sees outside or the presence of a new cat in the house.

Although female cats urine mark, unneutered males have more reason to do so. One main function of urine marking in male cats is to advertise reproductive availability.

They may urine mark to let females know they are available.


Stressed Cats Mark Territory

If your cat is stressed about something, they might deal with their distress by marking their territory.

When your cat’s environment is disrupted, they get agitated. So, they assume the best way to combat this agitation is to remind everyone that they are the queen or king.

Here are some things that can stress or threaten your cat:

  • Changes in the living arrangement
  • New living locations
  • Introduction of another cat
  • The arrival of a baby
  • Visitors making noise
  • Going to stay in the hospital

In these cases, your cat marks objects or the possessions of family members. This is to signal ownership and inform others that the place or items belong to them.

Cats thrive on predictability. A cat’s perfect world would be to eat at the same time, sleep at the same time, and so on.

Small changes that seem harmless to us can be enough to upset a cat.


Cats Mark Territory During Mating Season

Non-neutered male cats fight over territory during mating season. If you have been around cats during this period, you have probably heard a lot of yowling and fighting outside your house.

Even if your beloved feline is sweet and friendly most of the time, chances are you have seen them act out of character.


Poor Socialization Increases Marking Behavior

Cats who are poorly socialized at an early age might display territorial behavior in adulthood.

For example, when a new cat enters the household, they may get aggressive and mark items.

There can be noisy altercations and sometimes physical fights.

Much of this behavior stems from insecurity.

Kittens are more receptive to experiences between two to seven weeks old. Therefore this is the ideal window for socialization.


Cats Mark Territory When They Lack Resources

Just like you and I, your cat needs to know they have an adequate food supply, and are safe from life-threatening situations. This assures their security in their daily life.

Your cat’s innate desire for these two conditions is what may lead them to mark territory.

No matter how adorable our feline friends are, it’s important to remember that they are animals with their instincts in play.

Cats mark their territory to tell other cats to keep away. This makes them feel calmer and safer.

Unfortunately, this marking behavior can cause some unpleasant behavior such as hissing, spraying, and scratching furniture.

This behavior is more common in multi-cat households.


Other Ways Cats Mark Territory

The best-known feline marking behavior is urine marking. But, cats can also use other methods to mark territory.

These are:


1. Rubbing With the Head

When your cat rubs their head on you, they mark you with their unique scent.

It’s also a way of letting other cats know you belong to them. This is also known as head bunting or butting.

Head-butting is how your cat marks you as their favorite person and also how they mark the environment. This way you and your surroundings are marked by their scent.

Some cats can also mark by rubbing their heads on objects such as the couch, table, or doorway.

They use the scent glands located on their chin, forehead, and chin to mark people and objects. However, this type of marking is less aggressive than spraying.

It’s a friendly, relaxing behavior. In fact, synthetic pheromones used to calm anxious cats are derived from the pheromones found in these scent glands.

You can reinforce the head rubbing behavior when you stroke or scratch your cat’s head. Cats enjoy it when you do so, and some of them don’t like it if you pet their back or sides.

So, your cat head-butts you to encourage you to focus on scratching their head and leave the rest of their body alone.

Head rubs are the feline equivalent of “I love you,” and “I’m glad you are mine.”


2. Scratching 

Cats scratch objects to mark with their scent. Scratching is a dual-purpose territory marker.

It leaves evidence that a cat occupies space, and the scent glands in your cat’s paw leave a message to other cats.

Outdoor cats scratch on objects, in effect telling other cats, “No trespassing.” Outdoor cats also scratch to mark territory.

Cats prefer to scratch tall, sturdy objects, which is why they tend to scratch furniture. The Humane Society recommends that you provide your cat with a scratching post to discourage this behavior.


3. Leaving Poop Uncovered

If you have a cat that refuses to bury its poop, it’s not that they forgot to do so. Your cat is telling the world that they are the dominant cat in that area.

Your cat is telling other felines that they should not mess with them. Scientists call it “Middening,” which is a form of marking that more dominant, or confident cats use to send territorial messages to less confident, or anxious cats.

Leaving poop uncovered is the feline equivalent of using graffiti to indicate ownership of turf.

Such a cat may also leave their poop deposit in prominent locations such as near doorways leading outside, in hallways, on couches, or on top of the dining table.

This is to ensure that other cats don’t miss this strong olfactory sign.

A dominant cat that wants to deter other cats can also defecate in front of litter boxes, food, and water bowls.


4. Licking

Your cat licks you to claim you as part of their property. They are affirming that you are important to them, and also this informs other cats about it.

You may notice that sometimes other cats shy away from you. It is because they can smell that you belong to another cat.

Your cat’s saliva carries their scent. By licking you, they mark you with that special smell.

They are showing affection by licking.


How to Train Your Cat to Stop Urine Marking

Inappropriate peeing is one of the most common problems people have with their cats. It can happen for many reasons.

The good thing is you can take these practical steps to curb the behavior:


1. Take Them to the Vet

The first step you want to take is to ensure your cat is not suffering from any health condition.

It could be that they eliminate outside their litterbox because of a health problem. Maybe, your cat is not urine marking, but they are sick.

Medical issues such as kidney problems and arthritis can make your cat urinate in the wrong place.

Take your cat to the vet to rule out health issues.


2. Remove Sources of Stress

The main reason cat urine marks is because they are stressed. Check that you are not doing things that stress your cat, making them nervous, and therefore urine mark.

Cats like routine. Anything that disrupts their normal day-to-day puts their tail in a twist. This could be anything from new drapes to an unpredictable work schedule.

So, a stress reduction program can help your kitten feel less stressed. Whenever you make changes in your daily routine, pet your cat and massage them.

This assures them of their safety, and decreases their likelihood of marking territory through spraying.

You can also use the Feliway synthetic pheromone, which has a calming effect on a stressed cat. The product signals to the cat that their environment is safe.


3. Eliminate Odor by Cleaning Thoroughly

Pay attention to where your cat urine marks. Clean the soiled areas thoroughly with an odor neutralizer product.

This eliminates the odor that draws the cat back to the scene. The goal is to remove the odor, so your cat doesn’t think it’s ok to go back there.

Baking soda also helps neutralize cat urine odor.

Avoid strong-smelling cleaners as this can make your cat mark again.


4. Add Another Litterbox

If you have multiple cats, conflict can arise over litterbox use, which can contribute to marking.

Make sure you have one box for each cat in your house plus one extra. Place the additional box in the area where the cat known for marking spends most of their time.


5. Spay or Neuter Your Cat

Cats not yet neutered or spayed have a high tendency to mark. Neutering decreases the odor and motivation to spray.

Male cats urine mark to advertise their availability to females. However, urine marking still happens in 10% of neutered cats.


How to Stop a Cat Scratching to Mark Territory

The best way to approach this issue is not to try to stop your cat from scratching. Rather, teach them where and what to scratch.


1. Provide a Variety of Scratching Posts

Provide them with cat-attractive surfaces to scratch, such as scratching posts. These posts should be of different qualities and surfaces.

Try giving your cat a scratching post made of cardboard, wood, and sisal. Some cats prefer horizontal posts, while others like a vertical post.

Observe your cat to figure out their scratching preferences. If they like to scratch the legs of your dining table, they prefer a vertical surface.

Once you know what your cat likes, provide them with additional posts of that kind in various locations.

In a multi-cat household, it is advisable to provide one scratching post per cat.

Make sure the post is sturdy and won’t shift or collapse when your cat uses it. You can encourage your cat to use their scratching post if you lace it with some catnip.


2. Remove or Cover Desirable Objects

If your cat tends to scratch your speakers, turn them towards the wall. Put plastic, double-sided sticky tape on furniture.

When your cat paws on this, it creates an uncomfortable feeling, and they walk away.

You can also prevent access to the room where your cat tends to mark. Don’t leave towels on the floor, which your cat might consider an appealing target.


3. Trim Its Claws

Keep your cat’s claws trimmed to minimize the urge to scratch for marking territory. Claw trimming should be done regularly to keep your cat’s claws from being ingrown.

Train your cat to get accustomed to handling and restraint at an early age. If your cat gets used to claw trimming as a kitten, they will tolerate it well as an adult, and this helps prevent damage to furniture.


4. Provide an Escape Route

Provide a place where your cat can escape each time they feel threatened.

This can include vertical perches, a quiet room where you can close the door, or a protected patio outside.


Don’t Punish Your Cat for Marking Territory

One of the most important things to remember is that you shouldn’t punish your cat for being territorial.

This will only make worse what is already a stressful situation for your cat. Don’t yell or use harsh discipline to stop your cat from marking territory.

Doing this will only increase your cat’s territorial behavior.

Be patient when training your cat. Reward them for good behavior, and take things very slowly if you are reintroducing pets.

It’s also a good idea to consult your vet if your cat not only marks territory, but is also aggressive. Injury or illness can sometimes be behind cat aggression.

Writer: Flora Ojow

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