Do you see your cat scent marking his territory, particularly rubbing cheeks against objects? Wild cats are fastidious about it and, as Dr. Morris says, they will renew their scent markings as the scent fades. It is interesting that cats can detect when another cat has been in an area by the degree of degradation of the scent deposited on surfaces. The strength of the scent creates a time reference like a clock. This helps cats avoid each other but it also means that a cat marking his territory has to continually top it up.
We should therefore see routine scent markings going on. In the wild this includes spraying with urine but the domestic cat nearly always scent marks by rubbing his cheek against an object. If allowed outside cats will also scratch trees to scent mark.
In my experience, the favorite objects to mark are at central points or important junctions, which means doors and doorways. Of course, we know that cats hate doors. They get in the way from a cat’s perspective. They are unnatural barriers within his territory.
Although I don’t see my cat, Charlie, scent mark very often, I have noticed a black stain near a door at cat height. The place is a part of my home which is like a junction, a crossroads. After hundreds of scent marking top-ups a cat can leave a visual mark that is particularly noticeable if the wall is white. It is a build up of the oils on his fur.
The one major place where I see my cat scent marking with his cheek is the patio door. This leads to the garden and it is where stray cats turn up for their drugs (catnip) and food. And foxes too. It’s a zoo chez moi.
Because of all the activity by other animals including cats, my cat is compelled to reassert his control over this area of his territory by rubbing his cheek against the door when I open it to let him in. I have blocked off the cat flap to stop strays coming in.
Charlie also scratches furniture which is a form of scent marking as there are glands within the toes. A favorite place is near the patio door, which reinforces the belief that the area is a key one for him, from a territorial standpoint.
I have never had a full-time indoor cat. I wonder if full-time indoor cats scent mark their home? If there is a single cat, or siblings, who lives entirely inside it would seem unnecessary to scent mark because there is no need to claim and protect territory from outsiders.
This begs the question as to whether the ancient behavior that is scent marking is fading away with the domestic cat. They have the protection of a human home. Where is the need to do these wild cat things?
Rubbing a cheek against your leg when you are about to feed him is not scent marking for territorial reasons, obviously. It is affectionate behavior – scent exchange.
Note: if anyone has a photo of their cat scent marking please email me with it attached and I’ll publish it here. mjbmeister[at]gmail.com (change [at] for @ before using it)