By nature, cats tend to be territorial. Some cats “mark” their territory with a spritz of urine, others will “claim” you as their owner by rubbing their face on yours, and a few will hiss at any other feline that gets too close. But when we think of territorial cats, we usually picture tomcats—or unneutered male cats—not females.
Female cats can be territorial just like male cats. A female cat will typically claim a smaller territory than males but can still show territorial behaviors (spraying, hissing, and marking) to keep other animals, cats, and humans at bay. Having your female cat spayed can reduce this territoriality.
Cat behavior can be wildly confusing, even to experienced cat owners. To learn about territorial actions in felines, whether female cats can be territorial, and what to do if your cat shows territorial habits, read on!
What Does It Mean to Be Territorial?
Some cat behaviors are easy to pick up on and understand, even as members of an entirely different species. For example, you know to immediately stop petting a cat when it swats or hisses at you. Yet, territorial behavior in cats often flies sneakily under the radar.
In short: Cats are very protective of what they perceive as “their space”—the backyard, your bedroom, the entire house, or even a mile radius in the neighborhood. Cats will do whatever it takes to keep intruders like dogs and other cats out of their territory that they use to eat, sleep, hunt, and find mates. Since cats are “solitary” animals, marking their territory and defending it from outsiders is their only line of defense.
Interestingly, cats don’t see all animals and people as “equal threats” to their territory. Your cat may stalk and chase another household cat away from her favorite sleeping spot, but she’ll willingly allow you or another cat to enter the area.
How Do Cats Show They’re Territorial?
When a cat is territorial, they’re doing something to let other cats, humans, and animals know that this is their territory, and they’re not welcome. Yet, some cats aren’t as direct about how they protect their habitat and don’t engage in outwardly aggressive behaviors (growling, hissing, stalking, and swatting).
Cats usually rely on their scents and pheromones to “mark” their territory. This scent-marking can come in the form of urine (spraying) and feces, or the scent glands that cats have in their mouths, tails, paws, foreheads, chins, and lower backs. Other cats and animals may pick up on this scent left behind and understand the territory is “owned” by a particular cat.
Some common ways that cats act territorially include:
- Bunting (when a cat rubs his or her face on something)
- Rubbing their body against you or an object
- Growling, hissing, yowling, or swatting
- Leaving urine or feces behind
- Stalking other cats
It’s worth noting that not all of these territorial behaviors are aggressive. For example, while your cat may be leaving her scent behind when she rubs her cheek on you, she may be doing this to express her love for you. In other cases, a cat may be “territorial” over your blanket at certain times of the day but be unbothered when your other cat rests on it later in the day.
What Triggers Territorial Behaviors?
Before we get into how territorial behaviors differ between male and female cats, it’s essential to discuss what leads to these habits in the first place. Cats aren’t born territorial but rather develop these instincts as they grow and mature.
A cat is far more likely to be territorial:
- Once reaching sexual maturity (between 4 and 10 months old)
- If you bring a new or unfamiliar cat into the household
- When there’s a sudden environmental change in the home
- In situations where other cats begin encroaching on their personal space or boundaries
- After spending time in the wild as a stray and practicing this behavior day in and day out
- If they feel stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed by their immediate environment
Many cats develop territorial behavior out of fear. For example, an intruding cat may steal another cat’s steady food source, make a cat too “on edge” to sleep comfortably, and threaten a cat’s relationship with its mates.
As such, cats become territorial to protect themselves and stay alive.
Male Cats, Female Cats, & Territorial Behaviors
Anatomically and psychologically, male and female cats differ in quite a few ways, and a lot of their behaviors are highly dependent on whether they’re spayed or neutered.
Here’s what you need to know:
Unneutered male cats (also called “tomcats,” “studs,” or “intact males”) are the most territorial of all domestic cats. This innate territorial trait stems from the desire to keep other male cats away during mating season, leading many tomcats to get into scuffles out in the wild. Getting a male cat neutered can reduce these fighting or spraying behaviors, but bad habits are hard to break—even for cats!
Unspayed female cats (sometimes called “queens”) may not have the same reasons for being territorial, but that doesn’t stop female cats from acting similarly to their male counterparts. Female cats may spray to keep male cats away, to protect her litter of kittens from perceived threats, or merely claim a particular area of the house as their own. The difference between male and female cats who are territorial is that females are less likely to get into physical altercations during mating seasons and claim smaller territories, meaning less ground to cover.
Regardless of whether your cat is male or female, one thing’s for sure: Having your male cat neutered and your female cat spayed can reduce territorial behaviors — specifically spraying.
Below is a video of two male tomcats acting territorially over a porch. You’ll notice these male cats “yowling” and getting physical with one another in an attempt to claim their territory.
How Do You Calm a Territorial Cat?
Territorial behavior in cats can be concerning whether you have indoor or outdoor cats. Indoor cats may spray urine on your walls, scratch your leather furniture, or intentionally poop on your bed. Outdoor cats may come wandering home with scratch marks and bite wounds, increasing the risk of developing Feline Leukemia Virus (FeLV) or Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV).
If you have a territorial cat, the good news is that there are interventions you can use to reduce or eliminate these behaviors.
To calm a territorial cat:
- Slowly introduce new cats to the household to reduce the sense of territorial invasion
- Get all of your cats neutered or spayed as soon as possible (as early as four weeks)
- Limit a cat’s access to areas of the home where they tend to mark or act territorial
- Block your cat’s view of (or access to) the outdoors if seeing cats outside triggers territorial or aggressive behavior
- Plug in a Feliway diffuser to produce artificial pheromones that can calm your cat
- Avoid picking your cat up or attempting to comfort him or her when she’s acting aggressively
- Allow your cat to go into a room alone to calm down when aggressive behaviors begin
It’s crucial to understand that territorial behaviors won’t disappear overnight, especially if your cat has been acting upon them for months or years. So long as you stick to your intervention techniques, you can train your cat to reduce his or her territorial behaviors.
Both male and female cats can be territorial, and there’s only so much you can do to limit their instinct to protect their own. However, it’s important to realize that your cats will feed off of your vibe and energy. If your household tends to be tense or unpredictable, your cat may be far more likely to exhibit territorial or reactive behaviors.
The most important thing you can do is avoid punishing your cat for territorial behaviors and rather attempt to redirect his or her attention when these instincts kick in. Your cat will soon learn that their food source, toys, and bed are “safe” and need not be defended.