Territorial Behaviour In Domestic Cats

cat marking

All cats have a territory, no matter how small it is – and they will defend it aggressively against other cats. Indoor cats will claim a space too – even if it is just a favourite chair. But how does a cat know where his patch ends and another’s begins?


A cat has excellent eyesight and sharp hearing, and is always on the alert ready to see off any interlopers that may threaten his patch. Each cat marks its territory in three ways, all of which leave pungent signals to other felines. He sprays urine; he rubs his cheek and head against trees and plants or along objects such as fences to release a scent from special glands; and he leaves scratch marks on trees or posts, also to release scent from glands in his paw pads.


Territory is linked to a cat’s position in the local hierarchy. Unneutered males have the largest territory and neutered cats the smallest. This is because the neutered cat’s urine is not very strong and he is unable to mark his boundaries effectively. But cats are sociable by nature and they also have neutral or communal areas where they get together to mate and hunt. These areas are linked by a series of complicated pathways which any cat can use.

Your cat has favourite spots from which to survey his territory. On warm days he will find a shady site, whereas on cool days he will choose somewhere that catches any sun.

Q. We’ve just got a second cat, but our first one’s taken to spraying in the house, even though he’s neutered. What can we do to stop this?

The territorial instinct is so strong that neutered cats will still spray. Your cat is upset by this new interloper on his territory. Give the cats time to pick up each other’s scent. They will gradually map out areas for themselves. It will help if you make sure you give both cats equal attention.

Q. My cat is constantly under my feet, rubbing his head against my legs, even when there’s plenty of food in his bowl. What is he doing?

Consider yourself honoured. Your cat isn’t hungry, he’s marking you out as his human and his ‘territory’. Glands behind his ears give off a scent, hence the head rubbing. You as a human can’t detect the smell, but other cats can.


  • A cat’s territory is relative to the amount of space available. If there are few cats in the area, a cat’s territory can be as large as 20 hectares (50 acres).
  • If two cats meet on intersecting communal pathways, the cat going along the ‘main road’ will automatically have right of way over the other cat.
  • Two indoor cats that have been brought up in the same home share territorial rights to their property and will therefore `defend’ it as a pair.