Why Does My Cat ‘mark’ Everything Indoors?

Cats can mark their territory in a number of ways – most of them are either unpleasant or annoying for their human owners! Indoor marking problems can be altered so they don’t do it, but it does take patience, time and dedication. However, if your cat marks indoors all these tasks to change the problem and make things better are definitely worth your time. This comprehensive Pets4Homes article looks at cat indoor marking and why it happens. It gives guidance on the types of marking, what can be done to stop the marking from happening, and other useful information to any exasperated cat owner!

The most important point to make above all, is your cat does not do this to get on your nerves – there is a reason that a cat marks their territory, so punishing them can make the situation much worse and is completely unnecessary. Getting to the root and cause of the problem is the best way to stop it from happening.

So, what is marking?

Before you own a cat, marking is something that teachers do to homework! Cat owners will know a different type of marking, and there are three types of territory marking by cats. These types are known as:

  • Spraying
  • Middening
  • Scratching

These three behaviours all contribute to indoor marking problems and your cat may display one, or if you are very unlucky, all of them. Looking at them in more detail will give a cat owner an indication of how problematic, any marking issue can be.

Spraying

Spraying is a fairly well-known term in cat circles – that is cat-owner circles. It means spraying small amounts of urine on vertical surfaces, to mark territory. What is less commonly known is that it is always thought the general perpetrator as a male cat that has not been neutered, when in fact, it can be a male cat that has been neutered, and even more surprisingly a female cat can also spray.

Middening

This is a term that is not very well known, but it is when a cat defecates in a strategic place. Many owners confuse it with the cat just normally defecating, but there are some big differences.

The cat will still sniff about the area before squatting and defecating, but because it is marking its territory, and this is indoors (so is virtually impossible) – they won’t dig a hole first.

Because they don’t dig a hole, they won’t cover the faeces either, they also won’t sniff it afterward, which is what they do normally. Also, normally, they go in a hidden area, but with middening, the defecation is in plain sight.

Scratching

Although cats may have a scratch post, they may also scratch other places around the house. Furniture seems to be a favourite, along with other areas. Again, they are not doing this to just destroy the place, but they are leaving their scent marks around the home from their footpads. This is one of the most common territory marking behaviours that pet owners see.


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So, what makes this behaviour start, to begin with?

The main thing that makes cats mark their territory is to maintain or enhance their sense of security and the security of their environment. Cats often scent mark, by rubbing the sides of their heads and chins on things that they feel secure around, normally their humans! If a cat marks by spraying, middening, or scratching, it can be a response to stress or a conflict where they are trying to tighten up their security.

Cats can often feel threatened and possible triggers for marking indoors can be many. These threats fall into two categories; changes in the environment or challenges indoors, and possible threats from outside of the home. Amazingly for a cat, there are more problems inside the home, then they can encounter outside. We have listed below eight challenges that a cat can come across from indoors or changes to indoors, some of which you may find surprising.

  • Moving to a new house
  • Moving the furniture or getting new furniture
  • Redecorating
  • Conflict with another living thing in the house – human or animal
  • Marriage breakdown and stress
  • Introduction of another animal in the house
  • Visitors to the house
  • New smells that challenge them, brought in on shoes or bags.

From the list above you can see they could be reasons for the cat to be upset and want to mark or re-mark. Cats like normality and not change. If any of these reasons above do happen, and your cat has a stress reaction to them, you may see any of the following marking responses. Remember this list is not exhaustive and there are other scenarios which can upset cats.

  • Spraying/middening to re-mark or mark out the cat's normal walkways and paths around the house.
  • Generalised marking throughout the home to increase security in the cat’s mind.
  • Spraying on areas that carry their own scent, such as their bed.
  • Spraying on areas that carry their owners scent, again such as the owner’s bed
  • Spraying on the items that carry unwanted smells from outside – such as on carrier bags.

So, there are examples of where a cat will redefine their areas to feel more secure. The second category, where a cat will feel threatened from outside the home can include these following examples:

  • A new cat in the neighbourhood
  • Invasion of a cat through the cat flap
  • Challenging cats hanging about outside the home
  • Following a near miss with a car or other vehicle
  • Aggressive behaviour from other cats

This in many ways is a bigger threat of the two because the cat is dealing with real enemies (other cats and vehicles), the common marking responses you may see if this has happened outside the home are:

  • Marking around the entrance to the home or potential entrances – where small creatures such as another cat may be able to enter. This can include marking around cat flaps by spraying or scratching, doors, windows, and even on curtains.

As you can see this second marking behaviour is the cat's idea of securing its own boundary.

So, what can be done to stop this marking behaviour?

The only way to stop or reduce a cat marking behaviour is to make its home safe and secure. The need for them to mark will be reduced, but you may still need other advice and actions from a cat behaviourist, which is qualified to provide such a service. Below are some actions that you can take to help reduce marking by your cat, along with the reason for doing it.

Action

Discover what is causing the marking behaviour and if possible, remove it or desensitise your cat to it. If the marking is because of other cats in the area outside of the home, try and kindly chase them away, so they get the message that they are not welcome because of your own pet.

Reason

Simply by removing the cause can reduce the requirement by your cat to mark the area. If this has been going on for a while, the cat may see it as a habit, in which case you may need to check out other actions listed below, or consult a pet behaviourist.

Action

If possible try and confine your cat to a smaller area of the home and gradually increase the area as the marking reduces.

Reason

By confining your cat to a small area will help reduce the need to mark because your cat will feel much more secure in smaller surroundings. Gradually increasing the area they frequent, will help prevent them from overanalysing, and wanting to barricade it with scent marks.

Action

A simple one this, and only temporary until the problem subsides. Block up your cat flaps or lock them.

Reason

This will prevent a home invasion from rival cats.

Action​

In severe cases where the cat feels threatened in the home and marks incessantly, consider covering windows up to cat height with specialist window coverings available from most DIY stores. This means if the cat sits on a windowsill, they will still get light but won’t be out to see through.

Reason

This sounds pretty extreme, but it creates a distinction between the security of indoors and the vulnerability of cats from outdoors. If the cat cannot see out with coverings at their height, it can reduce the perception of a threat from outside.

Action

Place food in the areas where your cat is marking. This can be a very small amount in a dish or even dried food popped on small pieces of cardboard.

Reason

Although your friends may think you are mad, doing this helps the cat sense that food is abundant. It also helps because normally cats will not soil where food is put.

Action

Clean the contaminated areas with a cleaner containing odour eliminating enzymes. Do not use disinfectant!

Reason

Anything that contains ammonia will be re-marked over. The odour eliminating enzymes get rid of the scent rather than mask it.

Action

Get a flannel for your cat! Use it to groom them daily and then wipe it over areas around the house that are at cat height, you can also use it on bags.

Reason

This transfers your cat’s own scent around the home, adding to the feeling of security. Another version of this is available from your vet and contains the same pheromones as a cat will leave when they rub their chin and cheeks on things. Ask your vet for a product called Feliway.

Action

Another simple one – provide your cat with warm and snuggly bedding.

Reason

To help their mental health, and give them a sense of security and well-being.

What other questions are vets and behaviourists asked when it comes to cats marking?

There are common questions that crop up when a cat owner has a problem with their animal marking. We have added the six most common questions below.

Will neutering my cat reduce it from wanting to spray?

Yes, it will. Because a unneutered cat will look for a mate and get into more conflicts, they may spray to pass on sexual information. Neutering them will reduce or stop this behaviour.

Our cat has marked an area, should we punish it?

No. A cat will not learn from punishment, and even if you try and ‘show it what it’s done’, they will not perceive any problem. Research has shown that a cat’s ability to comprehend what they have done, only lasts half a second after the event! If you try to punish them, it can increase their fearfulness. They will see you as aggressive and their anxiety may increase through your unprovoked actions (unprovoked in their opinion).

If we catch our cat marking an area, should we shout at it?

Again no. As above they will not understand why you are becoming aggressive and it can increase the level of stress. If they spray in front of you, it may be a learned behaviour for attention seeking – this is a whole subject in itself, and one to discuss with your vet and/or an animal behaviourist.

Should we try and shock our cat to stop it marking?

By shocking we mean using a water pistol or deterrent such as sharp leaves (holly etc.) Again, these types of deterrents do not work as they often cause the cat to mark elsewhere – and can also increase stress, so shocking should not be used to stop marking.

We plan on moving what can we do to help prevent marking?

During the time you’re moving pop your cat into a cattery to avoid stressing them with the upheaval of a house move. If this is not possible, confine them to a small area of the new house. By using natural pheromones such as Feliway, these can help settle your cat fairly rapidly into their new home. Don’t expect miracles, this can take time!

We are going to buy some new furniture or redecorate, what can we do to stop marking?

Again, deny your cat access to the room that you are decorating or changing. This minimises the upheaval to them and helps keep them calm. If your old furniture had coverings such as throws on them, consider using them on the new furniture until your cat accepts the change.

As you can see, a cat marking can be a bit of a minefield, with many reasons it could be happening. By following the guidelines above and speaking to your vet or animal behaviourist, the behaviour can be reduced or stopped altogether. Putting yourself in your cat's paws can really help!


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