Territorial and Hunting Behaviour in Cats

Territorial and Hunting Behaviour in Cats

Part of the male cat’s behaviour is of course to mark his territory. As with most mammals, urine is used as the marking fluid and torn cats can often be observed standing with their backs to a gatepost, bush or other landmark with tail erect, the tip quivering and urine spraying out backwards from his rear-pointed penis. The particularly pungent odour of a torn cat’s urine is specifically designed to be noticed by other ambitious torn cats in the neighbourhood but, unfortunately, human companions, unimpressed by the territorial claim, find the odour sharp, strong and unattractive.

It is a particular problem when torn cats spray inside the house, marking out their territory by using curtains, chair legs and upholstered furniture as their border posts. While it is not always the case, castration of the torn cat developing this particularly anti-social habit can prevent its recurrence. However, the imprinting of sexual activity takes place at an early age and old habits may well be difficult to eradicate. Many castrated males, even those neutered during the first year, will continue to spray urine backwards rather than into a carefully dug hole or litter tray. This phenomenon is of course exactly the same as the male dog lifting its leg at every lamp post. Even the gentle hippopotamus leaves both dung and urine at suitable points on the perimeter of his territory as a warning to other hippos to keep out. The giant panda rubs its nether regions up and down tree-trunks and bears roll in their own urine and then rub their impregnated fur against trees as part of their territorial claim.

Inside his territory the torn cat is king. It may stretch, certainly in the countryside, for several acres and in that area he will know most of the queen cats and instinctively go visiting when he thinks they are likely to be calling. During the rest of the time he will hunt the territory for birds and small rodents, including baby rabbits and squirrels. All cats are born with the hunting instinct and their bodies are designed to fulfil this function. Their musculature and shape enables them to leap far higher in proportion to their size than man and to jump from heights which would certainly, in relative terms, fracture the leg bones of any human other than a well trained paratrooper. Like all members of the cat family, domestic cats can move at lightning speed in short bursts. They are not designed for long distance running but, having observed the prey, and gone through the normal routine of displaying total indifference to lure it into a sense of false security, they will then wait their time until the animal’s back is turned. They will drop absolutely flat, with cars pricked forward and eyes wide and watchful, and then there will be a lashing of the tail, a fast run with the belly close to the ground, a sudden leap and a quick bite in the back of the neck and a shake of the captured prey.

This sort of behaviour we can accept. Killing birds, however, seems less attractive than killing mice or rats and even the most fervent felinophile finds it hard to sympathize with the obvious pleasure cats derive from teasing their prey.

Like all hunting animals, cats have forward vision of great intensity. Like owls, their eyes are adapted to see in very poor light conditions and they are able to catch their prey by speed and stealth even though the hunted animal has eyes placed on the side of the head to provide a degree of backward vision, an added natural protection against predators. Thus is the balance of nature demonstrated and perpetuated. The behaviour of cats serves to underline this in every way. With few exceptions cats remain fit for hunting and surviving throughout their lives, ready if necessary to accept a feral existence if the ready source of food and comfort disappears.