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Historically, for the last 9500 years, people have been domesticating cats. Evolutionary studies show that cats depict evolutionary behaviors such as territory marking, grooming, mating, social organization, and communication. Based on evolutionary studies, this study focuses on making observation of evolutionary behaviors that entail territory marking.
The findings revealed that, while scratching and rubbing against objects are common cat behaviors, urinating and defecating are rare behaviors of marking territory. Ultimately, although the study had limitation due to lack of control experiments, it revealed that cats need expansive environment for them to wander and expand their territory.
Domestic cats are good pets because they do not only offer companionship to human beings but also help in eradication of rodents in homesteads. Domestic cats frequently interact with human beings because they live together in the house and share the same environment.
Due to their smooth hair, flexible bodies, and friendliness, human beings have taken them as pets that live indoors. Moreover, since domestic cats are carnivores, they hunt for rodents in the homestead, thus help human beings in keeping rodents away from their houses.
Domestic cats have unique behaviors in that although they are social animals, they spend great deal of their time in solitude except during mating or when nurturing their kids. Living with human beings, cats wander within a home range or neighborhood, making it possible to observe their wandering habits and unique behaviors that they portray.
Many studies have attempted to elucidate unique evolutionary behaviors of cats since they share same environment with people and other domestic animals. The studies seek to explain how cats associate and communicate among themselves.
In addition, the studies also seek to establish how cats interact and associate harmoniously with people and other domesticated animals in the homestead and within their environment in the neighborhood. As aforementioned, Blackshaw notes that, cats depict diverse evolutionary behaviors such as territory marking, grooming, communication, social organization and mating (64).
In territory marking, cats employ variety of strategies including scratching of objects, urinating, defecating and cheek rubbing. Territory marking is very important in warning and keeping away other cats from intruding into marked territories. Cats also depict grooming behavior because they often lick and scratch their fur when resting to ensure that their bodies are clean and free from any parasites.
In terms of communication, cats have various ways of communication such as purring, meowing, grunting, and hissing depending on their moods and environment. Although cats are solitary animals, social organization is common during mating, as dominant males tend to suppress other males and expel them from their territory forcing them to live solitary lives or change their environment. Thus, aforementioned behaviors are evolutionary behaviors that cats portray under their natural settings.
The objective of the study is to examine how cats mark their territories as an evolutionary behavior that makes them dominant in their environment.
Homestead or neighborhood provides natural settings for cats to express their evolutionary behavior of territory marking. In this case, naturalistic observation of the behaviors of cats involving territory marking in a homestead and neighborhood correlates with literature since the cats are in their natural setting that is free from any undue interference, which may considerably change their behaviors.
Herron and Buffington argue that, for cats to express their evolutionary behaviors, they need natural environment to promote their health and welfare conditions (1). Thus, for cats to express evolutionary behaviors that involve territory marking effectively, outdoor environment in a homestead or neighborhood is imperative.
The study hypothesized that cats demonstrate unique behaviors in outdoor environment that aim at marking their territory. Therefore, since cats demonstrate unique behaviors that have evolutionary significance, what are the evolutionary behaviors of territory marking that are observable in a natural setting?
Under environmental conditions of homestead and neighborhood, I made natural observation of unique behaviors of cats while focusing on evolutionary behaviors of territory marking. Critical observation of the cats showed that they move about in the homestead or neighborhood as they mark their territories using various means including scratching of objects, cheek rubbing, urinating, and defecating.
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In the experiment, I observed how male domestic cats behave while wandering in the homestead and I noted that they were portraying evolutionary behavior that involved marking of territory.
The cats went about scratching objects using their paws and rubbing their cheeks against objects. These behaviors were quite dominant because there are many objects in the environment that the cats encountered and they ensured that they scratched or rubbed themselves against all the available objects.
Hence, objects such as wood, trees, rocks, and poles are very important for the cats since they are territorial markers. Urinating and defecating were rare behaviors that the cat displayed but it entailed digging of a shallow hole, urinating or defecating on it, and eventually covering it up using soil. The uniqueness of urination and defecation is that the cat performed it on peripheral parts of its territory.
Implication of Naturalistic Observation
The unique behaviors of cats that entail marking of territory showed that cats need expansive territory. Although cats are domestic animals, keeping them indoors and providing enough food is not enough because they need to explore their territory and expand it by marking the appropriate boundaries.
Indoor environment is too small for cats to roam and interact with other cats during mating. Studies have shown that male dominance in certain environment depends on the extent of territory. Size of territory determines males’ dominance during mating season for they wander expansively in search of females on heat.
Observation made on cats restricted to live indoors showed that they portray scratching and rubbing behaviors but on limited frequency for they experience a lot of interference in the house. According to Rochlitz, people who domesticate cats need to simulate indoor environment to reflect outdoor environment and allow cats to wander freely so that they can exercise their evolutionary behaviors of marking their territory (102).
This implies that, natural outdoor setting provides a good environment for the cats to mark their territories so long as it is free from interferences that emanate from noise, dogs, other dominating cats and disturbing children. Thus, evolutionary behaviors of territory marking can effectively happen in natural setting where cats have freedom to explore their environment and interact with other cats during mating.
Limitation of the Research
The study of evolutionary behaviors of cats, which involved observing behaviors of territory marking in their natural setting, had limitations because it had no control experiment for comparison. The study would have been conclusive if there were an artificial environment where researcher could observe how territorial marking of boundaries occurs relative to natural setting.
Moreover, given that a cat is a domestic animal that has evolved from wilderness, it is very difficult to define precisely its natural setting. Thus, the research assumed that the favorable natural setting for a cat is a homestead environment because it is expansive and has rodents that cats can hunt. According to Hall, evolutionary cat behaviors are not only dependent on environment, but also on other factors such as availability of food and social interactions with other cats (144).
When cats are well fed and have good relationships with other cats, they tend to play more as compared to instances when they are hungry and are facing impending social threats from other cats. Therefore, the study did not consider assessing whether the cats were optimally expressing their behaviors with respect to presence of environmental threats and hunger.
Future Direction of the Research
Due to limitation, the study recommends that future researchers should consider carrying out control experiments under artificial setting to give an insight into evolutionary behaviors of territory marking. Since cats have no specific natural setting, future research should focus on defining appropriate environmental conditions that are essential in optimization behaviors among cats.
Warren argues that, varied animal species, which have undergone evolution for centuries, have diverged and specialized into diverse ecological niches (582). Therefore, for future researchers to come up with comprehensive view on evolutionary behavior of territory marking, they need to understand the evolution process and environments that favor territory marking in cats to eliminate confounding variables.
For the last 9500 years, human beings have been cats and they have proved to be the best pets that can stay both indoors and outdoors. Evolutionary studies reveal that cats have various evolutionary behaviors that enable them to survive under varied environmental conditions. Such behaviors include, territory marking, communication, grooming, social organization, and mating.
This study carried out observation to confirm how cats depict the evolutionary behavior of marking their territory. The observations revealed that, cats frequently scratch and rub themselves against objects in their environment to leave a special scent that shows their presence and thus scare away other intruding cats. Moreover, the findings showed that cats urinate and defecate at specific points in their territory, hence providing a way of marking their boundaries.
The observations made implied that cats need expansive environment where they can wander and expand their territories. Although the study findings revealed that cat behaviors in their natural setting entail marking of territory, the study had limitations because there was no control experiment of an artificial environment. Thus, the study concludes that evolutionary cat behaviors involving territory marking are complex and require comprehensive studies.
Blackshaw, Judith. “The Behaviour of Cats and Dogs.” Applied Animal Behavior Science, 2001: 63-68.
Hall, Sarah. “The Influence of Hunger on Object Play by Adult Domestic Cats.” Applied Animal Behaviour Science 58.2 (2006): 143–150.
Herron, Meghan, and Buffington, Tony. “Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats.” MediMedia Animal Health, 2010:1-7.
Rochlitz, Ian. “A Review of the Housing Requirements of Domestic Cats.” Applied Animal Behavior Science 97.3 (2005): 97-109).
Warren, John. “Evolution, Behavior and the Prefrontal Cortex.” Animal Behavior Laboratory, (2003): 581-593.