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What is Territorial Marking?
Territorial marking, also known as urine marking or spraying in cats, is the act of purposefully urinating in an area as a way of communicating. This behavior is normal in cats and used commonly in the wild or in outdoor settings. Generally, these ‘messages’ are used to avoid unnecessary or unexpected meetings, e.g., “Welcome to this tree. A cat named Fluffy lives here.” Urine marking can also convey readiness to mate or provide a sense of safety and/or security to the marking cat.
It is important to understand that messages communicated in this manner are often not meant to be aggressive, intimidating or done spitefully. While humans may find urine puddles inappropriate, frustrating, or even rude, cats that find urine left by another cat typically will sniff casually and meander away, message received.
How does Territorial Marking Differ from other Types of Inappropriate Elimination?
Inappropriate elimination, also known as feline house soiling, is a term used for cats who urinate and/or defecate anywhere outside of the litterbox. Territorial marking is considered a type of inappropriate elimination and differs from other types by what causes it.
Inappropriate elimination can be due to medical issues, such as arthritis, kidney failure, or urinary tract infections. It can also be due to household stress on the cat. While territorial marking can be related to stress, marking is more purposeful and is only rarely associated with underlying illness or disease.
Why do Cats Mark?
Most scientific studies about territorial marking have determined it is most often associated with social/relationship problems between cats within or outside the household, such as social standing amongst inter-household cats or seeing new cats outside the window. In addition to this, marking can be associated with sexual attraction. As noted, cats sometimes mark as a reaction to stress or environmental changes.
Usually, urine marking associated with these factors is done in an area that is conspicuous, not hidden, and may also occur on or near the pet owner’s possessions, such as the laundry or bed. Cats that are marking typically prefer to urinate on vertical surfaces like the dishwasher as opposed to flat surfaces like rugs, although this is not always the case.
Marking due to reactionary causes or social problems is often used to create a sense of security in the marking cat and it’s not meant to be a display of frustration or a spiteful maneuver; it is not meant to punish the human. The cat feels anxiety about new changes or issues and is trying to surround himself with his own scent to provide a stronger feeling of security and confidence.
A Cat’s Territory
Cats break their home down into two areas: their core territory, where they eat, sleep and play; and then a broader area known as their hunting range. This is true for indoor cats too, even if they don’t actually hunt. Indoor cats still have that instinctive desire for roaming their hunting range.
In order to prevent a lot of territorial marking behaviors, the core territory of each individual cat needs to be protected and nurtured by the cat’s owner, especially in a household with multiple pets. This includes providing adequate sleeping spaces, bathroom areas, food and water, and play time.
Have your Cat Checked Out Medically
Have your cat checked out by your veterinarian. Make sure there aren’t any medical problems that could cause the behavior and confirm that urine marking is really what’s happening. Things your veterinarian may want to know include:
Suggestions to Prevent Urine Marking
Once your vet has established the diagnosis of territorial marking, recommendations can be provided, such as:
Remember that territorial marking is a natural behavior in cats, and that they are not doing it to spite you. Think of the world in their terms and find a way to give every cat what that cat wants. Your veterinarian is a good resource for any outside-the-box issues.
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