Cat Territorial Marking Behaviour

Cat Territorial Marking Behaviour


A cat marks its territory in order to lay a claim on it, to establish its boundaries, and to fend off intruders in three principal ways. These are: spraying with urine, which will instantly identify it with a very noticeable smell; scratching trees and posts, which leaves a visible mark as well as leaving a scent from the sweat glands on the pads of the cat’s paws; and rubbing against objects, which will leave a scent from scent glands on the head.

It is often thought that a cat scratches trees merely in order to sharpen its claws but there is a lot more to it than that. The cat’s intention is also to mark its territory and to warn off intruders.

Q. I’ve taken in a stray adult tomcat. I’m going to have him neutered, but have been warned that he may continue spraying. Is this true?

Cat Territorial Marking BehaviourIt’s impossible to say, but toms that have been castrated before puberty seem less likely to spray than those castrated later in life. Any cat may spray, particularly if it feels threatened – by a new cat appearing in its territory, for example.

Glands around the mouth secrete scented chemicals, which the cat rubs on plants to mark its territory.

In order to establish its territory, a cat needs to mark it and to make it obvious to intruders where its patch begins and ends. This both lays a claim to it as well as warning intruders to keep away. A cat does this in two main ways. One is by spraying it with feline urine, which is immediately noticeable to other cats, especially if the cat that is doing the spraying is a tom. (A cat can sometimes also mark furniture or even people’s legs, which can be most embarrassing for their owner.)


Another way of marking is by scratching trees or posts, which leaves a visible mark and imparts scent from the sweat glands that are present in the pads of the cat’s paws. The third, and less antisocial way, for a cat to leave its visiting card is for it to rub against a solid object, such as doorways, furniture legs and even people. A cat has scent glands on either side of its forehead between the eye and ear, and around the lips, particularly at the corners of the mouth. These produce secretions, which the cat then smears on things as it rubs its cheeks on them.

Q. I’ve heard that female cats spray. Is this true?

Yes, particularly when a female cat is in season or when she feels that her territory is at risk.

Q. My cat often sprays when I’ve scolded him for scratching the furniture. Is this spite?

It could be. Cats do seem to spray indoors out of resentment – some cats have even been known to do it when they don’t like the food they’ve been given.

When a cat rubs against you, this is affectionate behaviour but it also serves to identify you as belonging to the cat’s special territory. ‘You are mine,’ it is saying.

Cats can evidently tell the difference between sprayed urine and urine that has been delivered from a squat, which supports a theory that the sprayed type of urine is, in fact, a carrier for some other type of secretion.

Spraying indoors may become a problem in both males and females, particularly during the breeding season.