As a rule, cats only come together to mate, to compete over prey or to deal with territory issues. In particular, the more closely defined territory around a cat’s main sleeping place is vigorously defended.
Because of the different habitats and conditions in which cats live, their readiness to associate with other cats and to form social bonds has increased. But even a cat that coexists well with other social partners also requires a space to call its own. This refuge should be respected by others, and the cat should not be forced to defend it.
Claiming territory is a part of natural feline behaviour (and that includes indoor cats). The size of the chosen patch, and how fiercely it is defended, varies from cat to cat.
The territory is marked out as a taboo zone for others by the depositing of urine and excrement in high-up locations. This marking-out process can often cause problems for the cat’s owner, particularly when dealing with tomcats that have not been neutered promptly.
It is easily possible for different territories to contain overlapping areas where cats encounter each other. Such overlaps are larger in the case of tomcats because the territories they lay claim to are also much larger. On top of that, a tomcat’s patch will usually include multiple territories belonging to female cats, thereby allowing a tomcat patrolling his patch to take the opportunity of checking which female is currently in heat.
Overlaps between different patches are unproblematic because cats know how to avoid each other or to choose different times to visit neutral areas. Should they accidentally run into each other, the encounter generally amounts to no more than threatening gestures and the two animals turning away from each other – in other words, a serious confrontation is avoided, although each cat carefully observes the signals given off by the other.
Fights only occur when two very confident cats encounter each other and neither one wants to back down. Their respective places in the hierarchy are then settled through fighting.