Cats and their territory

In the second part of our four part series, we discuss the importance of cats and their territory.

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In the second part of our four part series, we discuss the importance of cats and their territory.

Survival of wild cats depends on the integrity of territories and domestic cats maintain a very strong drive to establish and defend these territories. A territory is an area that a cat regularly uses and will defend. It usually consists of a ‘home range’ (a large area within which the cat often roams) and a ‘core area’ (a much smaller area within which the cat generally feels safe). These territorial areas aren’t fixed (they increase and decrease in size according to demand) but, for an average urban cat, the territory tends to be the size of their garden or slightly more (3-10 times more for an entire tom cat), and these territories are delineated by scent marking (rubbing/scratching/spraying).

Cats and their territory

Inadequate territory, constant invasions into a territory and removal from a territory are all causes of anxiety and can lead to both acute and chronic problems. Cats will be concerned about any intrusion into what they consider as ‘their territory’ (especially at dusk and dawn which is why this is the prime time for fighting). Defending of territories results in wounds that may require veterinary attention (i.e. cat bites and scratches), and may spread infection leading to longer term implications. As well as physical injury there are also emotional implications, particularly the when the aggression is largely one-sided. For example, recurrent unprovoked aggression by a particularly bold cat seeking to extend their territory can result in reciprocal aggression or, in the longer term, fearful behaviours such as hiding, inappropriate scent marking, overgrooming, ‘illness behaviours’ (e.g. vomiting or inappetence), or stress-related illness (e.g. cystitis).

Removal of a cat from his or her own territory is undoubtedly stressful (e.g. going to the vets or cattery, or moving house). Being swept up from your house and dumped somewhere you’ve never been before is bound to result in feelings of fear and vulnerability, and different cats will react in different ways to that experience. Some become defensive/aggressive, while others become timid and tend to hide away. Even cats who may appear to be taking the change in their stride are likely to be experiencing a degree of anxiety which may have future ramifications.

Multi-cat households

Multi-cat households are fraught with potential problems and, in general, the advice would be to avoid them. Cats are solitary creatures and prefer to live on their own; they are rarely going to celebrate the introduction of a so called ‘companion’. So, although we might try to kid ourselves to the contrary, we must acknowledge that when we do decide to introduce another cat into the household, we are doing this for our benefit, not that of the resident cat. It does depend on the individual cat but, more often than not, communal living is not conducive to a life of relaxation. Instead, it usually results in cats being on perpetual ‘high alert’ due to not feeling entirely safe in their own home. There is a constant feeling of potential threat, from which they may have nowhere to escape to. Such protracted stress undoubtedly has long term implications on wellbeing, with these cats often display signs of stress and being more prone to ‘illness behaviours’.

Communal living

Some cats do learn to cope with communal living by reverting to a ‘colony’ type situation that would normally be seen with a queen and her young. This is not a ‘pack’ situation, there is no dominant individual; rather, members learn to tolerate each other due to a plentiful shared food source and an environment where no individual feels the need to defend a discrete territory. In this scenario, fighting is an infrequent problem as long as the household remains stable. However, if a new-comer arrives, then aggression frequently becomes a problem.

Our next topic in our series of topical blogs is centred around the topic of feeding and nutrition.

Questions on cats and their territory? If so, please do not hesitate to contact your local practice.

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