You know what I’m talking about. What is with cats and anything new that comes into the house?? The most clear example of this is the most mind-blowing yet cheapest toy known to man and cat: the carton box. Just check out Maru’s antics in order to get a good idea of what I’m talking about.
When you bring home a carton box, cats will sit in it, play in it, cuddle it into oblivion, scratch it up, jump in and out again, and anything else they can think about for about a week. After that, that box becomes yesterday’s news.
Cats and territory. I’ll say it again. Cats and territory – they’re like an old married couple. Cats have a strong need to *own* things for their own sense of security. After all, without a pack to protect you – like humans or dogs -, what’s a cat to do? The only way to be safe is to mark everything in your territory as yours, so that others know, even when you’re not around, that this is your turf. It’s the best way to avoid conflict and misunderstandings.
And it is exactly this behaviour that causes them to go nuts for the carton box. It smells…exciting. It has all this new information about strangers and far away places, from all the people who’ handled it, the factory it was made at, the store that it got shipped to, and so on. The same applies to the stuff that comes in the box, btw – such as your fabulous, new chair.
And it doesn’t end there. You yourself are completely marked as theirs. As is every living being that walks around in their territory. Remember that affectionate rubbing against your leg they do? Yup, you’ve just been marked, dude. And who can ever forget the passionate rolling around in your shoes they do. Your shoes contain your concentrated odour in them due to the sweat you leave behind in them. And, in a true declaration of love, your cat is just mixing your scents and going ‘we belong together.’ Also known as ‘MINE’!
Marking By Any Other Name…
Most kitties use ‘bunting’ – in other words, the face rubbing – to mark things within their territory. This is where they feel safest, so they use the gentle way of marking everything. It’s also convenient – since our noise isn’t exactly equipped the way theirs is, it doesn’t bother us in the least.
But it’s hardly the only way that a cat can mark things. We’re all familiar with a more problematic way they mark their territories: scratching. Scratching provides both a visual clue – the act of scratching in front of another cat, for instance – and leaves a scent mark. Additionally, it maintains the nails. It’s typically done near doors due to the onslaught of new smells that come through it or on carpets and sofas due to the attractive material they are made in -which is why it can be an excellent idea to have scratching posts near your front and back door, as well as one in the living area, the social hub of your home.
And then there is the most problematic – for us- way of all: spraying. This is typically reserved for the periphery of their territory, to ward off other cats and to advertise sexual availability to passersby. Usually, the periphery is your garden or anything outdoors. Spraying is also the most aggressive way of marking. It is employed to ward off intruders and can present a real problem for cat guardians when their kitty starts marking their things in this aggressive way. That includes the fabulous chair that came in that carton box. This usually occurs when your kitty is already stressed by other circumstances, or they have a particular trauma in their past related to new things arriving to their territory. Some cats seem incredibly easily overwhelmed and stressed by new and foreign smells.
When Marking Becomes A Problem
Seeing your cat go crazy over that carton box is entertaining to watch – until they spray it. And everything else you bring into their home. The smell is…yeah. And it is so hard to remove. So what do you do?
First off, clean. Removing the odour with an enzyme cleanser is your best bet, though diluted vinegar and green soap work too. If you’re not sure you got all the spots, a blacklight can help you be sure.
Second, see if you can re-introduce your cat to the offending, now clean, object. Get yourself a Feliway spray to spray the object with, to encourage your cat to use bunting again – instead of spraying – to mark your new furniture and don’t leave them alone with the object without supervision until you’re sure they’re now comfortable with it – until they’re bunting it.
Lastly, it might be a good idea to use an interactive wand toy to play around and on the object. It will change the way they view the object as they will associate it with hunting, fun and playtime. It will boost their confidence around the object in the future.
Meanwhile, see if you can figure out why your cat started doing this – has anything changed in their home other than the furniture? Is there a reason your kitty is more stressed than usual? You may want to address these causes, because otherwise you may just see the problem continuing with other objects.
And in the future, you may want to go slow on introducing a new object, to see if the problem persists. Let it sit in the living room a bit first. Unpack it slowly. For instance, I tend to leave my christmas tree undecorated for the first three days in my living room. That way, it’s been thoroughly examined and marked. And my cats have lost interest in it, I can put it where I want and decorate it the way I want it. So, if you have a sensitive kitty, you may want to see if you can do the same with any new objects that you bring in. Bring them in just one at a time, then wait until they’re fully comfortable to bring in the following one, if at all possible, when dealing with a cat prone to spraying new things.
What do your cats do with new objects? Are they curious and intrigued or do they feel threatened? Share your stories in the comments!