Categories: Cat Behavior

Domestic Cat Territory

How large is domestic cat territory? As large as the front living room. No I am being sarcastic (but for some this is true). I am talking about what is referred to as the home range of the domestic cat if it was free to roam (as a fair number are in the UK but much more rarely in the USA).

As usual the answer comes down to the availability of food, at least in part. As an aside the cat with probably the biggest home range is the snow leopard with a single male sometimes occupying an astonishing 1,590 km2 and travelling up to 28 kilometres per day. When your cat wanders out at night it is nice to get a feel for how far he or she is travelling or would naturally like to travel (female territories are on average one third of the size of male domestic cat territory1).

Of course there are a multitude of influences that restrict range (e.g. high fences). But this page deals with what would normally happen if the cat’s movement was unencumbered. The fact that the male domestic cat territory is three times that of the female indicates that food abundance is not the only determining factor for size of range.

A distinguished biologist2 says that the wildcat (see e.g. Scottish Wildcat) counterpart of the male domestic cat has a territory of up to 175 acres (a half acre garden is a good sized garden). What of the domestic cat itself? It depends. Domestic territory is extremely variable in size. In one study3 domestic cat territory was found to vary between 1 to 2000 cats per km2.

Food abundance being the major determining factor and availability of shelter is another factor (for feral cats):

Domestic or Feral Cat
Size of Domestic Cat Territory
Male farm cat 150 acres4
Female farm cat 15 acres5
Female feral cat at Japanese fish offal dump 0.25 of an acre6 (a quarter of an acre)
Male feral cat at Japanese fish dump 0.75 of an acre7 (three quarters of an acre)
Female feral cat in Australian grassland 270 acres8
Male feral cat in Australia 900 acres9
Indoor cat (1200 ft2 apartment) .027 of an acre or one 36th of an acre
Dockland feral cats 95 cats occupied 210 acres10
Confined feral cats in an apartment block courtyard in Holland 30 cats in 0.34 of an acre11
Feral cats in Jerusalem 0.69 of an acre12

 
As domestic cats live in a very wide range of habitats they have to be adaptable. Their social systems deal with this and there is often a huge shrinkage in the natural size of unfettered domestic cat territory. Small home ranges means overlapping ranges. Tens of thousands of apartment cats would fit into the home range of one Australian feral cat.

This means the so called “solitary cat” has to become pretty sociable and it does. Just as a quick thought, I have just read that the Geoffroy’s cat (a small wildcat) studbook (a book recording captive cat breeding) states that 36% of the deaths of captive Geoffroy’s cats were from the attacks of a “cage mate”13 . Is this because of pure unsociability and/or the extremely confined space allowed?

Although domestic cat territory is likely to overlap more than for wild cats due to population density, it is natural for cat territories to overlap. The classic overlap is when a male’s territory encompasses the territories of three females as is the case for the tiger. The territory of breeding feral domestic cats incorporates 5 female groups14.

Overlapping domestic cat territory is workable because:

  1. of the effective use of scent marking, which means that cats can avoid each other. Neutered cats scent mark less than unneutered cats. Urine spraying is an efficient method of communication. The strength of the scent varies over time (increasing in density soon after being deposited due to oxidation of the amino acids in the urine15) providing indications of the whereabouts of the cat that deposited the urine. Scent communication could have been modified because of the density of population of the domestic cat16.
  2. the domestic cat is fed by us. That doesn’t stop hunting but it does demotivate where there might be barriers to travelling.
  3. of natural barriers built by humans in an urban environment
  4. when encounters occur it is usual for the domestic cat to threaten each other but wait for the opportunity to visit the desired area without conflict17.

In one study feral cat densities were found to be maintained at a stable level despite each queen having 10 offspring per year. This was due to only one in eight kittens surviving (the car killing many) and natural death of adult cats.

It would seem that dominant, unneutered males have the biggest territories18.

Thoughts on why cats are orderly in groups in Morocco!


From Domestic Cat Territory to Cat Facts

Domestic cat territory – Photos of feral cats by MAR and reproduced with his permission.

notes

1 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

2 Desmond Morris – Cat Watching: The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior.

3 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

4 Desmond Morris – Cat Watching: The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior.

5 Desmond Morris – Cat Watching: The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior.

6 Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist

7 Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist

8 Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist

9 Wild Cats Of The World by Mel and Fiona Sunquist

10 Desmond Morris – Cat Watching: The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior.

11 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

12 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

13 Feline Conservation Federation Magazine vol 53 Issue 6 page 6

14 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

15 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

16 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson

17 Desmond Morris – Cat Watching: The Essential Guide to Cat Behavior.

18 The domestic cat: the biology of its behaviour By Dennis C. Turner, Paul Patrick Gordon Bateson



Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

View Comments

  • It's one thing to measure what present day domestic cats, in any particular place, end up utilizing, but that's imposed on them based on what's available, how he's restricted or comfortable with. I think they're born with wiring (brain cells/paths) that easily expect a certain range (perhaps a couple acres) and expands or contracts as needed or wanted or what's available, but that's just my guess. I have no reason to say that except to piss people off. (just kidding)

  • My cat stays outside, he has a warm house to stay in at night, I feed and put out water every day. He is free to wander , mostly stays near our cul-de sac.He is friendly with all the neighbors and seems happy. But I have to move, how can I take the cat with me and get him to stay by the new house on the other side of town?
    Thank you

    • This is a good and serious question, which I'll answer as if it was just asked (March 10, 2019)

      You should get more info, but quickly I'll say that you have to think scientifically about it. Cats learn fast but act fast too, so you have to consider that in a new place he'll feel compelled to find home, and "new place" isn't that, yet. You'll have to keep him in until he's firmly conditioned himself that that's home now. If you let him out he might disappear looking for what home was, possibly getting lost. Cats are sensual, relying on sounds, smells and landmarks. He'll need your help for awhile. For how long I can't say, but they start from ground zero and build outward. They learn fast but knowing where home is is so highly important, they need security, that it's pretty burned in, so it might take weeks or even months before you're both sure the old home is forgotten and replaced with the new one. Inside comes first, then you start allowing him out, do it for short periods and stay with him (not at dusk or dawn and not before he's eaten. That's when they feel compelled to look for food.) It would be good if you have a great buddy rapport and he comes to you when called / doesn't run off or leash him if he's already used to one. Good luck and keep us posted.

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