Cat Middening

Cat spraying. Liquid equivalent to middening
Cat spraying. Liquid equivalent to middening. I have deliberately avoided showing feces for obvious reasons.
Until September 7th I will give 10 cents to an animal charity for every comment. It is a way to help animal welfare without much effort at no cost. Comments help this website too, which is about animal welfare.

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?

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.


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