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Ask A Vet: Why Are Cats Territorial?

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We all know that cats can have issues with other cats. In fact, cats being territorial can create all sorts of unrest in a multi-cat household. Have you ever given thought as to why cats are this way?

We know that cats are carnivores and by nature, and being a hunter means that food is in a limited supply. In my own veterinary hospital, great efforts are made to provide housing for cats that accounts for their territorial needs. Some cats are truly miserable if they can see other cats. All cats need to have safe zones provided for them to hide and be alone. To make sure our cats are happy, we have to consider who they are and what their natural needs can be.

Cats are not like cows whose food grows in vast quantities on the ground, waiting to be plucked. A cat has limited prey items that he must find, chase, catch, and kill for his survival. Obviously too many grazers on a plain of grass will create an impact eventually, but herbivores also benefit from safety in numbers. They can strike a balance between not overgrazing their area and still decreasing their individual chances of being killed by the sheer odds. So they like to live in herds and work cooperatively to protect members of the herd from predators.

Cats are not herd dwellers and have no such luck. Instead of “safety in numbers”, your cat probably sees other cats as competition for resources. The more cats that live in a territory, the more strain on the local resources. Cats that have been raised in a family group or a multi-cat household can certainly learn to get along, but even these cats seem to appreciate having their own space.

Both cows and cats are who they are because animals are defined by their genetics and shaped by their environment. Their genetic map has been refined over time by the environment and competition in the interest of survival. Cats have to guard their own territory lest a stranger slip in and steal resources that they depend on, like territory, food, water, and shelter. These territorial tendencies seem like a matter of survival to a cat.

We know that cats are this way and we can make them happier if we accommodate their wishes as much as possible. This means making sure that there is no direct conflict over resources. For example, each cat should have his or her own feeding area and food dishes. Each cat should have a litter box option where he can eliminate away from where another cat goes, which means a box per cat (and even add an extra in case of mishaps). Cats have to be allowed to establish their own territories inside our homes and the humans must respect the zones, never forcing cats to interact if they do not want to.

Knowing our cats and accommodating their quirks are just parts of being a good cat minion!

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