How to Handle Territorial Aggression in Cats
Is your cat acting up, defending her territory, or otherwise being aggressive? Here are some of the reasons why this happens, and what you can do to help.
Territorial Cat Behavior
Territorial behavior in cats can present itself in a number of ways, for a number of reasons. Cats are more territorial than dogs by nature, and they can also be more solitary. Territorial behavior in cats usually involves urine marking (spraying), hissing, stalking, or attacking another cat.
Territorial behavior can be more serious in cats than in dogs because cats see their territory differently, often viewing newcomers as invaders or intruders, whether it’s a new cat in the household or neighborhood cats outside. Cats are also a little pickier — your cat may tolerate one cat but not another. Intact male cats can be particularly territorial, so it’s important to spay and neuter pet cats.
Even friendly, social kittens may become territorial when they mature. To avoid this, it’s best to socialize your kitten from 3–12 weeks of age by getting her used to a variety of situations, even those outside the home, such as going to the vet or groomer.
If your cat displays sudden signs of territorial aggression, especially out-of-box elimination, consider a visit to your veterinarian to rule out any health issues which may be causing the behavior. Spay or neuter any intact pets in your home. This alone can go a long way toward eliminating aggression. One intact pet can end up affecting all the pets in your household.
Definitely don’t let your cat fight other cats. Unlike dogs who are sometimes able to work things out, the more cats fight, the worse the problem can become. Squirt fighting cats with water or use a whistle to distract them. Never try to pull them apart or you may get hurt, and never punish them for territorial behavior or they may become more aggressive. If the problem is ongoing, you may need to separate the cats while you work out the problem with professional help.
Adding a new cat to a household can take a lot more time than adding a new dog. The cats need to be kept separate for a period. You can switch the new and resident cats’ bedding so they can smell each other, and let them sniff under doorways or with the new cat in a carrier.
Friendly social cats will probably be more accepting of each other while more independent cats or those who have been the only cat in the household may take quite a while. Sometimes it just doesn’t work out and the cats have to live separately, but it’s often worth the effort to try.
Getting Professional Help
Effectively helping a territorial cat become calmer and more social depends on the owner, the cat, and the situation. Early socialization and positive reinforcement to reward desirable behavior can go a long way toward developing a well behaved cat.
Adult cats with territorial issues should be taken seriously as these behaviors can turn to aggression. If you have trouble resolving your cat's issues on your own, seek advice from a professional trainer or behaviorist. They can often help get things back on track for you and your cat — so you can both live together in a happier home.