In their natural habitat, animals of all shapes and sizes mark their territory to stay safe and protect their space from other animals. Although this behavior is not often needed in a domestic environment, some cats haven’t quite received the memo. When cats mark their territory in the home by urinating or scratching on furniture or floors, it can be destructive, upsetting and frustrating for human handlers. Fortunately, there are ways to redirect the behavior.
How Cats Mark Their Territory
All cat marking behavior centers around depositing scent in a given area. In the wild, cats communicate primarily through scent: if something smells familiar, it is safe; if it doesn’t, it needs further inspection. That said, domestic cats scent mark things in order to let their presence be known and protect the area from other cats.
Some cats may mark only in a certain area (such as a rug or a bed) while others may mark throughout the entire home.
The Different Types of Marking
There are three primary types of marking and each is characterized by leaving scent in an area.
Rubbing: Rubbing is common cat behavior. Cats rub against their handlers’ legs, rub against furniture and may even rub against other animals. Although this behavior may seem like simple affection on the surface, it is also a powerful marking tactic that leaves scent on the rubbed person, animal or item and says to other cats, “This is mine.” Rubbing is one of the least destructive marking behaviors and is one of the many ways cats establish territory.
Scratching: Although cats scratch to sharpen their claws, they also do it to leave scent and tell other cats to back off. When a cat scratches an object, the scent glands on the pads of his feet are stimulated to leave the cat’s scent on the scratched object.
Urine Marking: Urine marking is a destructive marking behavior that cats exhibit and, when not stopped, can cost pet parents hundreds or thousands of dollars in home repairs and scent removal. Cats mark by spraying or by simply peeing on horizontal surfaces. The behavior is a territorial one and is more common in cats that are not spayed or neutered.
What to do if Your Cat is Marking
There are several different ways to stop marking behavior. If your cat scratches, it may be enough to simply provide a scratching post. Cats do not purposely seek out furniture to scratch on and providing a scratching post as an alternative may be enough to redirect their focus and get them to leave the furniture alone. If this does not work, there are plenty of herbal deterrents available on the market. You can also cover the area your cat likes to scratch with something that has an unpleasant texture to cats, such as double-sided sticky tape.
If your cat is urine marking, ensure that he or she is spayed or neutered. If the cat has been altered, do your best to decrease stressors in the household (urine marking is often stress related) and give the cat a safe, quiet spot to escape the noise of a party or a new baby. If you have multiple cats, ensure that each has ample space in the house and clean any previously marked areas with a scent-blasting solution.
Finally, have your pet checked by a veterinarian to rule out health issues. Here is more about Urine Marking in Cats.