How to Handle Territorial Aggression in Cats
While some cats are more laid back about the space they live in, others have a territorial nature about them. This quirk can, at times, prove problematic.
A territorial cat might use urine marking (spraying) to indicate their territory or even show signs of aggression (hissing, stalking or attacking another cat). Usually, these behaviors are prompted by a cat’s instincts. These instincts could be a fear that their access to resources (e.g., food territory) might be threatened or the instinct to challenge another cat over a potential mate.
If you’re wondering how to deal with a territorial cat and any cat aggression that comes with it, read on. We’ve got insights and answers to help you correct this behavior.
Why are Cats Territorial?
To a cat, especially a territorial one, visitors and other cats or pets can be seen as intruders. It doesn’t matter if it’s a new cat in the home or neighborhood cats they meet outside.
Ancestors of modern cats—and this is still true for feral cats—had to assert themselves to protect their territory, access to food and against other cats that may compete with them for a potential mate. Even in a household where a cat is lovingly cared for, these instincts can come to the forefront.
Signs of Territorial Cat Aggression
Cats are most likely to start showing signs of territorial aggression when they reach sexual maturity, a new kitten or cat is introduced into the household, if they are moved to a new environment or if other strange cats encroach on what they believe is their territory. Signs of territorial aggression can include:
- Chasing and ambushing a perceived intruder
- Hissing and swatting
If territorial aggression escalates into a full-blown fight, don’t attempt to pull the two apart, as this can result in injury. Instead, try to distract them. Blowing a whistle or spraying them with water are often effective ways to startle them out of fight mode.
If cats fight frequently and things aren’t getting any better, seek help from a veterinarian or pet behaviorist.
Ways to Stop Territorial Aggression in Cats
Whenever cats or dogs become aggressive toward each other, other household pets or people, separate them from the target of their aggression. Then contact your veterinarian or animal behaviorist immediately. A professional needs to assess the cause and recommend an appropriate action plan.
A way to reduce the likelihood of a cat becoming territorial is proper socialization from their kittenhood onward. As a rule of thumb, from 3 to 12 weeks old, put your cat in a wide variety of situations to prepare them for the many experiences they will encounter throughout their life.
Experiencing a variety of social situations is essential in preventing territorial aggression. These should include your kitten interacting with other socially adept cats in various situations and giving them positive reinforcement for any display of socially acceptable behavior.
Introduce new cats or other pets slowly. Allow the transition to progress in small increments and keep a close eye on their interaction for any signs of conflict.
In the meantime, give each pet their own area with separate beds, food and water bowls and litter boxes, which will reduce feeling their resources are being threatened.
Neutered cats are less territorial and aggressive. Discuss this procedure with your veterinarian to see if it’s appropriate for your cat.
Whatever you do, do not yell at or punish a cat for being aggressive. Though this may seem to be the logical way to teach your cat to behave, it increases a cat’s stress level in an already stressful situation and may make them even more aggressive in that moment or in the future.
Knowing the cause for your cat's territorial aggression can help you understand how to address it. Consult your veterinarian for recommendations tailored to your cat's specific situation. For more information on cat behavior from our experts, visit our Pet Expertise page.