Whether you have an outdoor cat that wanders vast spaces or an indoor one that dwells in a tiny apartment, cats assert ownership of their territory and rule it like the true royalty that they are. Why do cats have territory? How far do cats roam from home? Learn more about the size and range of cat territory so you can better care for your feline friend. 

Cat territories and ranges: What are they?

A cat’s territory is the area that it will defend against intruders. These intruders are most likely to be other neighborhood cats, dogs, or wildlife. A cat’s range includes all the places that it travels to.  So, if your cat is allowed to roam freely outdoors, their territory may be your backyard. But your kitty’s range may include your backyard, a few neighboring yards, and a local park, too. And some of this range may overlap with another cat’s territory.

A GPS cat tracker can provide a real-time picture of where your cat roams, and help you locate them if they don’t return home at night. 

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Why are cats territorial?

All cats, including lions, tigers, cougars, and your little fluffball, are territorial. Maintaining a territory is a survival tactic that wild cats use to secure a hunting or breeding area. This ancestral behavior is innate in your cat.

Your cat’s lifestyle will determine the degree to which their territorial urges are expressed. Solo indoor cats, which are fed and played with regularly, may not feel the need to be quite as vigilant as an outdoor cat that roams the neighborhood. 

Maintaining a territory is hard work, but it ensures that a cat has access to adequate food and potential mates. To maintain a territory, your cat must patrol it, scent mark the borders, and defend it against trespassers – especially other cats.

Outdoor domestic cats will have larger ranges than indoor cats. Feral cats (which have little or no interaction with people) will have much larger territories, because they must find or hunt for their own food.

Below, a cat’s territory is outlined (in yellow) in the Tractive GPS pet tracking app:

cat territory shown on map in the Tractive GPS cat tracking app

Types of territories

Cat territories fall into a few general categories and vary in size depending on the cat’s indoor or outdoor lifestyle. 

  • A core territory is a place where cats feel safe and secure. Activities like sleeping or toileting, when a cat is vulnerable to attack, usually take place in this core territory. 
  • A hunting territory may take a domestic cat farther afield. This territory is claimed by your cat as their hunting ground where they search for mice, voles, birds, and other creatures to eat. 
  • Shared or common territories are places that your cat is OK sharing with others, including people, other cats, dogs, or other pets. An example of a shared territory could be your living room or your garden, where the whole family, including pets, hangs out together.

How does my cat claim their territory?

You may not realize it, but when your cat rubs up against you, they are claiming you as part of their territory. Scent glands on the cheeks, forehead, chin and at the base of the tail deposit natural pheromones to “mark” you. The same is true when your cat rubs up against furniture, shoes, and other objects. Cats are often compelled to mark you when you come home from work or school, because you may not “smell” right. They want to be clear that you belong to them!

When an intruder breaches your cat’s territory, don’t be surprised if your normally calm kitty turns into a ferocious beast. Hackles will be raised and your cat will hiss, bare their teeth and possibly lunge at or onto the intruder. Cats have been known to leap onto the backs of large dogs to make their point (which is “Get out of my space!”)

Cats also mark their territory by scratching objects with their front paws, which contain scent glands. Outdoor cats might scratch tree trunks or wooden posts. To avoid having your indoor cat shred your sofa, provide a scratching post. Entice your kitty to use the post by rubbing catnip on it. 

To keep track of activity in their territory, cats patrol the boundaries of their space at least once a day, scent marking or scratching as needed. Kitties are vigilant defenders of their territory! 

You can get a good sense of the boundaries of your cat’s territory by attaching a cat GPS tracker to their collar. You’ll see exactly where your cat patrols each day.

Urine spraying by cats

Besides rubbing against objects, urine spraying is another technique used by cats to mark their territory. Outdoor cats spray vertical surfaces such as shrubbery, fence posts, rocks, or tree trunks by raising their tails and releasing a horizontal burst of urine against the object. The scents within the urine send a signal to other cats saying “This is MY territory – stay out!” 

The urine scent degrades over time, so a cat will add more urine every few days if they notice their scent diminishing. 

If you detect a persistent musky or skunky odor in your outdoor shrubbery or gardens, it could mean that a cat (possibly yours) regularly sprays there. The stinky shrub is a cat’s version of a social media post, announcing their presence and ownership of this location. 

Obviously, problems arise when cats spray urine indoors. Spraying could be a sign that another cat is in the vicinity, perhaps outside an open window or on the front porch. Your cat is compelled to spray to show the intruder who’s boss. Or, indoor urine spraying could mean that your cat is stressed or has a medical condition, such as a urinary tract infection.   

If your cat sprays indoors, talk to your veterinarian about possible causes and solutions to this behavior. Medications or pheromone diffusers can help to calm a cat and reduce the urge to spray. 

How does this affect the way I care for my cat?

Accept the fact that all cats will define and defend their territory in some way – by rubbing against you or the furniture, scratching, or urine spraying. 

For indoor-only cats, make sure that your kitty has plenty of appropriate opportunities to scratch or mark their territory, such as a cat tree or scratching pole. Some cats enjoy perching up high where they can view all the goings-on in their territory. Enriching play with you is always a bonus. 

Multi-cat homes and their territories

If you have two or more indoor cats in your home, they may not be willing to share a territory unless they are siblings. 

If your cats run away from each other, hiss at each other, sleep in separate areas, or one of the cats acts dominant over the other, you may need to help define their separate territories to reduce conflicts. You can accomplish this by feeding each cat in a different location and setting out multiple litter boxes. 

Be aware that disputes between multiple cats in your home can lead to aggression or even scent-marking with urine as the cats try to define their own space. 

Avoid these problems by giving each cat a safe and secure place to sleep, where they can relax away from other household pets. These cozy spots should not box in your cat. Always provide an escape route for your kitty. 

Are outdoor cats territorial?

Outdoor cats have a more intense need to establish and maintain a territory. After all, there are many other animals, people, and objects crossing into their territory on a daily basis. If other cats stroll through their territory, outdoor cats will be compelled to scent mark after the intruder passes through to override their scent. 

Ideas for keeping your outdoor cat healthy all winter.

Unaltered cats (those that have not been spayed or neutered) are likely to roam longer distances or establish larger territories. The scent marks they leave carry greater importance, because in addition to marking the boundaries of the territory, they signal the cat’s availability for mating. 

Is your cat in heat? Here’s what you need to know.

brown fluffy cat outdoors
Outdoor cat wearing a Tractive GPS cat tracker

Outdoor cat and feral cat territories

If you own an outdoor cat or a kitty that explores the great outdoors for part of the day, your cat may encounter feral cats while they are out exploring.  

Many outdoor cats are owned or cared for by someone and they have regular human contact. For example, they may be fed regularly, receive veterinary care, and might go indoors for part of each day or night. Basically, these cats have a safe home base and therefore their territories may not be very large – a backyard garden or deck may be enough. 

Learn how to keep your outdoor cat safe with these tips.

Feral cats often have much larger territories and very extensive ranges. These cats may never have had contact with humans, or if they did, it was minimal. Feral cats are often afraid of people and do not seek interaction with humans. These cats hunt and find their own food, so their large territories reflect the need to have many food sources available. 

How big is a feral cat’s territory?

The extent of a feral cat’s travels depends on the availability of food and mating partners. Some cats may walk miles each night in search of a meal or patrolling the borders of their territory.  

Estimates of feral cat territory sizes range from two to 1,000+ acres. Males have larger territories than females. The territories of a male cat may overlap with those of several females, increasing his odds of finding a mate.

How large is a domestic cat’s territory?

A pet cat – whether outdoors full-time or indoor/outdoor – does not need to roam far because they do not need to hunt for sustenance (although they may capture small prey for “fun”). They know that their food dish will be filled with a tasty meal each day. Domestic pet cats are also often spayed or neutered, so the urge to mate does not compel them to wander in search of a mate. 

The average male outdoor cat may have a territory of a few acres, while a female’s may be much smaller. Some studies show that cats walk a few dozen yards to more than half a mile per day. But recognize that the size of cats’ territories can vary widely depending on the environment, the availability of food, and the cat’s reproductive status

What is the radius of a cat’s territory?

Though cats’ territories are rarely circular, you may find that your outdoor kitty roams up to a mile away from home. A cat’s daily travels are dictated by roads, fences, gates, or other animals in the neighborhood that they wish to avoid, such as a big dog. 

You can use a GPS tracker to follow the movement of your outdoor cat and learn exactly how far they travel. Plus, you’ll always have peace of mind knowing precisely where your cat is.