Categories: scent marking

What is middening in cats?

Middening in cats is the depositing of faeces in prominent places as an alternative form of scent marking. The others are urine spraying, squat marking with urine (to be distingusihed from cystitis) and scratching. Scratching leaves both a visual signal because the surface is damaged and an olfactory message because there are scent glands between the toes and this scent is deposited on the object which has been scratched.

Anxiety can lead to middening. Image: PoC.

Middening, scent marking and causes

Although I have mentioned it before I will do so again here. My former wife’s cat was left alone in her apartment all day while she worked and played hard. This was after we split up 25 years ago. She told me that he had defecated on her bed. No doubt her cat was anxious and stressed because of her absence.

At one time the experts thought that scent marking indoors by whatever means was the behaviour of a confident cat trying to assert control. However, nowadays it is thought that scent marking is the act of an insecure cat. Depositing scent signals either through urine or faeces identifies the place as their own which makes a cat feel more confident and self-assured.

Perhaps a rather poor human analogy is that people reassure themselves with respect to ownership of land by building a wall around it or a fence. They have doors in their home which are locked. This reassures humans and makes them feel secure. By depositing their scent in an area cats are leaving a message that it is theirs.

It is obviously important for a cat owner to understand marking behaviours. If they misunderstand the purpose of scent marking as described above they may punish their cat which will aggravate the problem and make things worse rather than improving things by removing the cause of it.

If a cat owner responds to urine scent marking in the home by using cleaning agents which are inappropriate such as those containing ammonia and chlorine it might also make matters worse because the scent from these chemicals may indicate to the home owner’s cat that another cat is present. This may provoke the resident cat to scent mark again which may be seen as a provocative action by the cat’s owner. Some cat owners tend to anthropomorphise their cat and converting feline behaviours into those of misbehaving humans who deserve punishment.

To return to my ex-wife. The way to stop her cat defecating on her bed would have been to be home more often. To work less hard and not go out in the evening. That would have reassured him of her presence and he would not have needed to create his own assurances. In another example a cat deposited a small amount of faeces just outside the litter tray.

Scent marking by domestic cats in the home is really a cry for help (to anthropomorphise the cat 🙂 ). It is the product of a failure of cat domestication. It is the sign of a problem and specifically and ultimately a human problem in cat caretaking. The underlying motivation to scent mark needs to be analysed. Some common causes for indoor market might be an indoor cat’s reaction to the presence of a cat outside causing an agonistic (combative) interaction. There may be less than friendly or aggressive interactions with another cat in the home i.e. in multi-cat households. Moving home, bringing in new objects into the household, less than friendly interactions between cat and human and limited access to the outdoor environment where a cat can express natural desires i.e. express their Mojo in the language of Jackson Galaxy, are all possible reasons as well.

Michael Broad

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

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