Cat Middening

Cat spraying. Liquid equivalent to middening
Cat spraying. Liquid equivalent to middening. I have deliberately avoided showing feces for obvious reasons.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

Cat middening is territorial marking behavior just like spraying urine horizontally onto objects such fence posts etc. (see above). Obviously the cat is defecating when middening so that that function is being served but the primary function is to mark territory both visually and through smell. It is a very obvious statement, more so than spraying urine.

My cat has never defecated or sprayed as a way to mark territory although outside my living room window where several cats from different homes wander they sometimes mark and remark the same spot in a competition to claim the territory.

Wild cats midden often, sometimes using crossroads on their trails to create a “toilet” where they mark territory with feces. Wild cats also scent mark with their cheeks and visually mark with their claws. I believe the word “midenning” is used exclusively for domestic cats but I don’t mind being corrected.

Male, dominant feral cats and semi-feral cats living in a group might deposit feces without covering it up as a way of sending a message of his status whereas a more subservient cat will cover his feces. The dominant feral cat might midden at a high relevant point within his territory. Unneutered domestic cats do it as well at places in dispute with a neighboring cat.

Therefore for the domestic cat, middening is not misdirected toilet behavior, it is a very specific act of using feces placed in the open at a specifically chosen site to make a statement: the right of occupancy or the right to use an area or “trail”.

I would say it is quite rare. Spraying is more common. A nervous cat who is subjected to change causing emotional upset or challenge may do it.

Middening is an alternative to spraying urine for the domestic cat. Apparently it is more difficult to resolve than spraying because it signifies both a bigger reaction to the challenge and that the cat is more upset.

The domestic cat will usually midden at doorways and walkways because these are areas used by the family and where challenging and unusual smells and activity is likely to take place.

Sometimes a cat will choose a more “public” and obvious place such in the middle of a room or on a bed. Other places might include:

  • top of a fridge
  • top of chairs
  • on personal items of the family such as headphones
  • televisions
  • other electrical equipment

As middening is normal behavior and is not uncommonly caused by environmental stresses created by the cat’s owner it is beholden upon the owner to treat the “problem” delicately and avoid punishment which will only serve to exacerbate things.

Technically middening probably falls under that euphemism “inappropriate elimination“, which means that people find it inappropriate but not the cat.

The reason for this form of behavior needs to assessed and removed. It may be caused by moving home or perhaps stray cats wondering into the home. We know that moving home is a classic stressor and it removes the cat from his/her home range so he’ll have to reestablish one.

Cat owners are probably unaware of how often it might occur outside if their cat is an indoor/outdoor cat living in a place where there is competition from other outdoor cats.

Sources: myself and So Cats Need Shrinks?

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Useful tag. Click to see the articles: Cat behavior

37 thoughts on “Cat Middening”

  1. Sylvia Ann-
    Happily, I was not a vet nurse and would never want to be.
    I don’t know how our Ruth ever did it.
    I remember reading about your father’s death. You were in pain. and it was hard for you.
    If it helps at all, it was never easy for me too.

  2. Well, Dee, there are three careers that require a level of courage I lack. I’d fold in the blink of an eye, and they’d have to call the meat wagon to haul me off to the rendering plant.

    One is nursing human patients. The other two are being a vet nurse, and volunteering at or staffing an animal shelter. I would cave in to go into a shelter and see rows of cats and dogs sitting on death row. The worst I’ve ever seen at the pound was a mother with dangling blue dugs and no puppies in sight. She cringed in a far corner of the run, bared her teeth and snarled at me. Why? She was covered all over with cigarette burns. Thank God, she was scheduled to be adopted into a good home.

    As I drove down the street past a local animal shelter last year (the woman who runs it is doing her best), I saw a man opening the back of his SUV, and out – very slowly – walked a graying black lab. He stood on the door in tragic silence, turned his head toward the shelter and looked at the cages sitting outside, filled with barking dogs. Then he turned his head again and gazed at his dad beseechingly. Apart from the fact that most of the animals at this shelter were put down, he was much too old for anyone to want. —- God. ——And the people who work in these shelters see this every day.

    The clinic where I’d taken my cats for a few years has hardened nurses. Are they to blame for being this way? I don’t know. I guess it’s a matter of self-preservation. How else could they survive? One of the nurses told me once that there’s a near-zero rate of cure for seriously ill or elderly animals. I’ve also heard that young medical students (budding M.D.s) have at least one professor who weans them from the rosy conviction that they can cure very ill patients. The best they can do, most of the time, is try to ease their pain as they sink away.

    But I remember as if it were yesterday standing in the examining room behind a closed door, sobbing over and kissing my boy who lay on the table. Meanwhile the nurses outside the door were chatting and laughing. Well, it’s best they can do this. How else could they make it through the day?

    Even so, I left minutes later, stopped in at a clinic two miles down the road and asked for a nurse who used to work at the first clinic. After some minutes she came out, hugged me ten times and said how sorry she was, as she remembered my boy. She even gave me her home phone and told me to call her. So some nurses hold on to their heart, while others develop a hide that carries them through the day. The same with the vet at this second clinic. He wiped his eyes when we had to put my little girl to sleep. (And yes–I know what you’re thinking here! I’m as flinty as others have been to me, but am heartsick for Charlie. I can’t access videos on my computer, but can at the library — retrieved the one of him yesterday, and cried to see him.)

    I also saw my father die, and can only marvel at M.D. nurses who have to cope with all this throughout their challenging careers. I don’t know how you do it, but thank you and your legions of colleagues for being there to keep the families from dying themselves.

    Am wandering off the subject, as usual – my thoughts are lateral: they’ve never been linear(which drives people nuts) – but why does suffering have to be everywhere and ceaseless? My garden needs rabbit manure, but I can’t go anywhere near those farms with rabbits hunched all their lives in breadbox cages.

    A ray of light: a friend in Seattle dotes on ‘Tucker,’ a smart and affectionate house-rabbit who’s potty-trained and shares the bed with her and her husband. I also know a kind woman in Oregon who raises rabbits in hutches – yes – but had her husband build a BIG burrow-proof yard divided in two in which she lets the kids out all day (boys on one side & girls on the other) where they have plenty of room to hop, nibble at the grass and bask in the sun.

  3. Sylvia Ann, you are correct in writing that you should not feel obligated to change your writing style.
    I thought that a slight change would help readers, including myself, better understand your point of view. You have a lot of valuable knowledge to share, but it’s wasted if no one understands.
    You’re an interesting person, and I will always go around the barn and down the trail to figure out what messages you are trying to relay.

    And, yes, a nurse. Four long, hard years of study.

  4. Hi Dee –

    You say that I’ve led you hither & thither — whatever tiresome thing I’ve done, however unwittingly.

    I’m not sure, but am guessing you are a nurse. If I’m right, you’ve undergone years of study, and know how to focus.

    Bertrand Russell advanced the view that our educational system embraces the notion learning has to be ‘fun’ and ‘easy’– though it’s nothing of the sort. Much of the time it’s ‘difficult’ and ‘boring’ (quoting him here), and the mental strain a person is willing to endure is the measure of how much he’s stretched his mind.

    Many contemporary readers seek quick and easy reading, the sort of prose that makes The New York Times Bestseller List. Henry James and Proust would have never made that list.

    ‘Speed reading,’ ‘scanning’ & ‘skimming’(could quote you a passage by a literary critic on these reading techniques, but his book is copyrighted) is the favored approach of Internet surfers. It’s also modifies the brain structure. Not my opinion. There are mountains of books & articles on the subject.

    Here are a couple:

    ‘Is Google Making us Stupid? What the Internet Is Doing to our Brains,’ by Nicholas Carr, the Atlantic.

    ‘Practical Tips to Cure your Internet ADD.’

    ‘What’s Wrong with the Modern World?’ by Jonathan Franzen.

    ‘The Battle for Focus: Can You Stop Internet Surfing Long Enough to Read this Article?’

    You said you’d have liked me to come to the point and make reading my stuff ‘easier’ for you. For good or ill, I wasn’t trying to make a point. I was only meandering through several topics. Two similar. One unrelated.

    Which raises a question, asked with all respect. Why should I tailor my style of writing to what someone else prefers? Why should their likings prevail over mine? Are theirs more important? I ask this because no one in my memory has altered their style in anything they did to cater to my own. Nor would I expect it.

    I’m a published writer who’s had to adapt my style and content to target certain readers. I was paid to do so. Perhaps I should do the same for this website. But where’s the incentive? Without it, I’m poorly motivated. So I’ll keep being me. Until I get the word.


    This has gone on long enough. Tomorrow is official ‘BE NICE TO WOODY DAY.’

    Sloe-eyed houris in diaphanous pantaloons will crown him with rosebuds and waft him with fans as nymphs wheel out a Gatling gun for the poor dear, coo encouragement into his ear and steady his quake as he struggles in vain to take aim at a barn four inches away.(His squint sadly bleared by T.gondii.)

      1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

        😉 just did it quickly before going off for the evening, hoping to cheer Michael up a tiny bit and you too, sometimes we are so stressed we just have to have a daft few moments don’t we x

      2. Enough to make a cat laugh is a good old saying, the little cat in the pic is in hysterics LOL, bye Woody don’t forget to pull the lid down. Great pic Ruth, I heard you laughing while you were creating it 🙂

  5. I confess that I have never heard the term “middening” but have, certainly, witnessed a lot of it – stepped in some too.

    1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

      Off topic a bit but our oldest brother fell through the hole you sat over, into the midden, when he was small lol God knows how he did it!
      It was long before Babz and I were around, but we heard the story of how much he ponged 😉

      1. Oh, R…
        You’re sending me back to school AGAIN.
        I think you must be talking about an outhouse, but I have no idea what ponged means.
        I wish you English people, who created the language, would just speak English! LOL! LOL!

        1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

          lol if an outhouse is an outside lavatory then yes and ponged means stank to high Heaven, it might be a North country word here that down South don’t even know 😉

              1. I have an image of Woody drowning in a pit of midden with other cat haters. He gasps for breath and begs me for a lifeline. I smile at him and wave goodbye before he sinks below the surface of sludge 😉

        2. Dee, I want you to use “ponged” whenever you can 😉 Good word. Example:

          A neighbour has been doing some sweaty work on his house. You walk by:

          “Gosh, Mr Smith, you pong today!” 😉

          Then run…..

          1. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

            lol yes ‘pong’ is a good word, do you pong in London Michael? I think it’s more delicate than ‘stink’ or ‘reek’ or ‘hummock’

          2. OK.
            Used it twice so far today.

            Neighbor behind mowed his lawn and I laid it on him. I could tell that he had no idea what I was talking about.

            My cat, Cora, rolled around in another dead, flat frog in the road, and I told her too while sponging her off.

            Having so much fun with this word.

  6. It’s unfair he’s fallen into disfavor, regarded as partially obsolete and ‘anecdotal,’ as Robert Ardrey was not only a consummate stylist – his writing is laced with subtle humor – his scholarship was stupendous. Nor did he only read. He also field-studied in Africa and other countries. His Territorial Imperative (underlined) is packed with descriptions of ‘middenings’ (a word as quaint as ‘counterpane’ and ‘ postprandrial’) performed by just about every critter from insects on up the ladder. And all these markings are humbly honored by others of its species. The instinct, wrote Ardrey, is firmly entrenched in the featherless biped, though we’re the only animal that lies low for the chance to violate each other’s middenings (locks, fences, national boundaries. Monkeys and apes will try this now and then, peering over their shoulder all the while, in mortal fear of being caught). But the human race constantly wars with each other because they’re notorious for violating each other’s middenings: this have this ingrained compulsion to trepass.

    Ardrey takes it further than this. Conflict, he writes, serves a useful purpose for humans. To illustrate, Italians squabble non-stop amongst themselves. According to Ardrey, who lived in Italy for years, the average Italian man has any number of casual acquaintances, but no lasting allegiance to anyone beyond his wife and children. Why? Because, unlike the Romans, the Italian isn’t warlike. He hasn’t a grain of xenophobia against an ‘out-group,’ which is why he’s a flabby combatant. He doesn’t have a ‘them and us’ mindset, and inner harmony, Ardrey contends, relies on our success in finding an enemy against whom to discharge our inborn aggression. Attacks upon an evil ‘outsider’ cements our cohesion within our own group. In the rare absence of enemies, natural disaster can fill the bill: people are more inclined to be mutually helpful when they’re struck down by natural disaster: earthquakes, floods, etc.

    Ardrey believed – as did many of his contemporaries – that (1) ‘middening,’ (2) its violation, and (3) the carnage that ensues stabilizes peace within the group. When there’s no enemy, in-house turmoil erupts sure as the sun sets in the west. And – God forbid – all of this he presents with comic appeal.

    As for cats ‘middening’ indoors, Vern, a sweet man, (‘Vern’ devolved into ‘Bun,’ and ‘Bun’ into ‘Bunny-Man’) was a sprayer, as his haphazard parents down the road had described him. He’d never been allowed indoors, so endured the torrential rainstorms for months by crouching under cars. When he finally ended up at my house, looking for food he never received, he huddled all night on the river rocks under the shrubs in front of my house. I was horrified when I realized this, as I’d thought he went home to his shanty overnight. ConseqSo I put a doghouse filled with blankets into the garage, where he stayed for a few weeks. Then from the garage into the laundry room – I put newspapes on the floor and taped them all around the perimter of the room. From there, he progressed, at last, one day, into the house. And he beamed. He was overjoyed. His eyes danced with happiness. I gave him his own bedroom upstairs, and only once did he squirt on my bookshelves. From that point on, he was as careful & fastidious as a little girl in using his litter box. He never made the slightest mess anywhere and …well, today I can’t cry. Suffice to say I finally had to put him to sleep because he had FeLV. An adorable man. A gem of a cat.

    Re ‘outhouses’ (what we call them over here) and Michael’s discomfort over animal droppings, I Lived when I was little in a 19th century farmhouse that had no plumbing. For the first year we lived there, my father hauled water up from the canyon, and our bathroom was the classic structure, out in the weeds, with the quarter-moon cutout on the door.

    Oddly enough, I liked the aroma. Aged manure has a gorgeously rich, sour smell. And yes, it’s pure dynamite for the veggies if it’s aged long enough for the pathogens to simmer down (you don’t want to use fresh manure, which is swarming with E. Coli, poliomyelitis and other bugs. Childhood polio can COME BACK in old age.) But sitting in there was soothing as a Mennonite church. The place was dark, strangely cool, and buzzing with an occasional wasp on drowsy summer days.

    1. Sylvia Ann…
      You have taken me all around the barn and down a trail to make your point, which I think I finally got.
      But, you make me work too hard to get there.
      Help me out sometimes and just get to the point directly.

  7. Ruth aka Kattaddorra

    What a lovely old fashioned word ‘middening’ is.
    Showing my age I can remember earth closets when I was a small child, they were called middens, so that’s probably where the word cat middening originated.
    Yes like spraying, it’s marking their territory and as you say our indoor/outdoor cats probably do it sometimes. I think it’s wonderful how cats have their own way of sorting out their boundaries in the neighbourhood and how newcomer cats know the rules and blend in.
    I find all cat behaviour fascinating.

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