Guide to Cats: Scent Marking

30th March 2017

Scent Marking in cats


Have you ever watched your cat as it walks around the garden (or inside the house), rubbing itself over various objects and wondered what is going on? In the previous article, we talked about territories and this activity of scent marking is part of that.

Scent glands

There are scent glands concentrated on the top of a cat’s head, lips and under its chin, also along the top of its tail. These will be used to leave traces of scent, in strategic locations, around its territory.

Scent ‘tasting’

Follow your cat discretely round the garden and you will notice it stops and sniffs things like plant pots, low walls, plants or other objects that are at ‘cat height’. It may then rub the object with its head and down its body; it may pause and sniff again to check and you may also notice the cat stand motionless, with its mouth slightly agape, as it ‘tastes’ the scent.

Group scents

Group scent creates a bond in multi-cat households and that also includes the human inhabitants. This happens when we stroke our cats and when they rub against our legs. Cats sometimes react by hissing if we stroke another cat, a neighbour for example, and then bring that scent home.


Chinning is where a cat reacts to a scent, by crouching low and rubbing its chin along the ground. It may be reacting to the residual scent of another cat, or where its owner has been.


Cats claw trees, fences and other objects for two reasons; to sharpen their claws, breaking off shards of old claw as they scratch and to leave a faint trace of scent behind.

Cat Sweat

Have you noticed that cats’ paws are slightly damp? This is because they sweat through their paws, rather than their fur.

Marking with urine and faeces

Urine and faeces are also used to mark territory; the latter, in the case of a territorial dispute between two males is often left exposed, rather than buried as would normally be the case.

Indoor litter tray

Cats need to feel confident when they go to the toilet and they can feel vulnerable if other cats are around. For this reason, you may find that even predominantly outdoor cats prefer the privacy of the litter tray indoors.


Spraying is usually associated with unneutered males and is about territorial reinforcement. Neutered males will also spray occasionally but not in the same volume and without the characteristic pungent smell.

Next time: Hunting



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