Territory

Wild (feral) cats who live outdoors each have a home range (hunting and mating areas) and a core territory (sleeping/resting areas). The cat typically has several favorite hunting areas and will patrol them daily. If there are a lot of other cats living in the area, it is probable that some of the cats’ home ranges will overlap. When this happens, cats use both visual and olfactory (scent) communication to convey to each other when and where they were in a particular place. These tactics helps them to avoid face-to-face confrontation with each other because cats avoid fighting whenever possible.

 

  • Scratching: Cats scratch on vertical surfaces such as trees and wooden sheds/buildings, as wood is usually soft enough to leave visual marks. Scratching also serves an olfactory purpose, as there are pheromones in the cat’s paw pads, which convey chemical messages.

  • Bunting: Cats have specialized skin glands under their chin, corners of the mouth, sides of the forehead (temples), cheeks, ears, and base of the tail. Cats rub against prominent objects at head height, such as twigs along frequently used paths. This is a marking behavior that partially serves to communicate mating availability among intact cats. Bunting also occurs between friendly cats in the form of “allorubbing,” which enables cats to mix their scents together and form a group scent. It is also used among cats to reduce conflict.

  • Urine spraying: Feral cats spray urine onto objects in order to communicate mating status/availability, to denote socially significant locations, and to co-occupy the same space with other cats in order to avoid overt aggression. The chemical composition of the urine enables cats to learn the sex, reproductive status, and familiarity of the cat who sprayed (brand new cat to the area vs. a neighboring cat whose home range overlaps with their own).

 

Cats have not evolved the complex visual signals (facial expressions and whole body communication) required to coexist peacefully with other unfamiliar cats in a shared area, unlike dogs have. Thus, they rely upon the above forms of communication that do not require face-to-face contact in order to get their message across to other cats. Scratching, bunting, and urine spraying are all essential for a feral cat’s existence. Only cats who are from the same colony will share resources and perform allorubbing and allogrooming (mutual grooming).

 

To translate this into indoor cat terms, most cats who live together in an artificial indoor environment are not from the same colony, and so they are forced to live with each other by human design. Scent communication is the most important factor for cats to communicate with each other. The home range of a house, condo, or apartment is TINY in comparison to the instinctual home range of a cat. Even if a cat is raised indoors since kitten-hood, that cat will still (most likely) have a territorial instinct against newcomers. This is why a slow and intentional introduction is so important for any incoming cats, and this is why SCENT is the first (and foremost) factor in the process.

 

Even after cats are introduced and coexisting together, each cat must have appropriate territory (space and resources) for them to feel happy and secure in the home. Cats who live together indoors use a time and space sharing strategy, which enables them to share spaces by occupying them at different times of the day. This allows cats who are not the best of friends to coexist without confrontation. Many cats who share a home together will never be good friends, but as long as they can move about the shared home range without running into each other, they can live peacefully. The key to this is plentiful resources, including adequate areas for sleeping/resting, water stations, feeding, toileting, human interaction, and playing. Maintaining a consistent routine for each of these things is important for each cat to feel content and safe.

Perching Areas

Cats need perching areas to feel confident and safe in their environment. Most cats relish vertical territory options that allow them to be up high to survey their surroundings and also be out of reach of humans, dogs, and children. There are countless perching options on the market, from cat towers/trees to custom cat shelves. Everyone can find something to suit their design preferences and budget. In my home, I use a combination of carpeted cat towers, suction cup window perches, and wooden shelves I painted and mounted myself. Take a look at my Amazon lists on my Client Resources page to get some ideas. 

When choosing perching areas, it is important to consider several things. Make sure to keep your cat's physical health and abilities in mind. If you have a cat who is unable to climb due to mobility limitations, then you need to have low perching options that are safe and accessible for such a cat. If you have multiple cats in your home, it is imperative to arrange perching options so that there are always multiple entry/exit points so that no cat ever feels cornered by another cat. Take a look at Kate Benjamin's website or snag one of her books, in collaboration with Jackson Galaxy, for ideas.

Resting/Sleeping Areas

All cats need to have different options for resting and sleeping, and each cat has their own individual preferences about what they find most comfortable. Some cats are satisfied with a box on the floor with a blanket inside. Others would prefer a furry donut-style pet bed. Others are most content to snooze inside of a cat tower cubby. The key is to offer your cat several options so that s/he can make a CHOICE about where (and what) to relax upon, or within, at any given time. Visit my Client Resources page for my Amazon Lists.

Scratching Surfaces

ALL cats come equipped with an innate need to scratch. Even declawed cats retain the urge to mark territory by going through the motions of scratching with their paws. Cats develop individual preferences when it comes to scratching, and we need to look at location, material, angle, sturdiness, and number of scratching surfaces. If your cat is scratching the end of the couch, try moving a scratching post there. Management is also key, and you may need to cover the couch with a vinyl panel or a blanket. Your cat may prefer sisal posts, fabric posts, corrugated cardboard, or a carpeted cat tower for scratching. Some cats realllly like scratching fabric because of of early conditioning (maybe they weren't given other cat-friendly options in their early months of life), or it could be because of the way their nails move down the row of grain of the fabric. Finding your cat's favorite scratching surfaces can take some detective work, but offering difference CHOICES is key. When that doesn't work, it may be time to do some training. Visit my Client Resources page for my Amazon Lists.

Transforming Territory

To feel safe and secure, each cat must have sufficient:

Perching areas

Resting/sleeping areas

Scratching surfaces

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