Do Cats Think They Own You? Inside Feline Possessiveness


Possessive behavior in cats refers to actions that demonstrate a cat’s desire to claim ownership over things and people. This can include territorial marking, aggressive behavior towards other pets or people, and following their owner closely. While possessive behavior is normal for cats to some extent, excessive possessiveness can become problematic.

Common signs of possessive cat behavior include urine marking around the home, hissing/swatting at guests or other pets, and reacting strongly when separated from their owner. A cat may also block doorways, sit on their owner’s lap when others are around, and even nip or scratch to keep others away. These behaviors all stem from a cat’s instinct to protect their resources and social bonds.

It’s important to note that a degree of possessive behavior is natural for cats. As solitary hunters, cats are prone to territorialism and forming close attachments to their caregivers. However, possessive behaviors can cross the line and require intervention if they become extreme, aggressive, or impact a cat’s quality of life.

Territorial Behavior

Cats are very territorial animals and engage in various behaviors to mark their territory. One way cats mark their territory is by rubbing and scratching objects. When a cat rubs its head or body against furniture, walls, or other objects it is depositing facial pheromones. These pheromonal secretions communicate information about the cat and mark the area as their territory [1]. Scratching is another territorial marking behavior. Cats have scent glands in their paws so when they scratch objects they are depositing their scent. Vertical scratching is associated with territorial marking while horizontal scratching is for claw conditioning [2].

These territorial markings like rubbing and scratching demonstrate a cat’s possession of an area. They are communicating that this area belongs to them. Any other cats that encounter these scents will recognize that this space is already occupied. These territorial markings help establish boundaries and convey information without confrontation between cats [3].

Some examples of territorial behavior in cats include urine spraying, blocking access to resources like food, litter boxes, or resting spots, staring, stalking, and attacking intruder cats. Tomcats are generally more territorial than females. Intact males will patrol their territory, marking it with urine spraying. They will defend their territory aggressively from other male cats [2].

Attachment Behavior

Cats form strong social attachments and bonds with their human caretakers, similar to the way dogs become attached. Research by Oregon State University published in Current Biology showed that the majority of cats are securely attached to their owners. They use their owner as a source of security when in an unfamiliar environment.

Cats display attachment behaviors such as following their owner around the house, rubbing against their legs, jumping into their lap, vocalizing when their owner enters a room, and sleeping next to them at night. These behaviors indicate that cats feel safe, secure, and content around their human caretakers. Even independent cats that don’t always seek physical affection will check in with their owners periodically throughout the day.

Some signs that a cat is strongly bonded with its owner include greeting them at the door when they return home, excessive meowing when separated, and wanting to sleep in bed with them. Cats can become distressed when their owner leaves for an extended period. All of these behaviors demonstrate that cats form meaningful connections with their human companions.

Resource Guarding

Resource guarding refers to when a cat shows possessive or protective behaviors over items they view as valuable resources, such as food, toys, or a space they occupy like their owner’s lap ( It is a natural feline instinct, but can become problematic if the cat shows aggressive behavior like biting or scratching.

Common examples of resources cats may guard include:

  • Their food bowl, especially when eating
  • Favorite toys like balls or stuffed mice
  • Sleeping areas or furniture
  • The owner’s lap or other furniture when sitting
  • Sunny spots in the house

Cats may guard their resources by posturing with an arched back, hissing, swatting, or biting. They want to convey the message that the resource is “theirs”.

Aggressive Behavior

Possessiveness in cats can sometimes manifest as aggressive behavior towards other pets or humans in the home. This occurs when a cat believes its resources or territory are being threatened by others. Some common aggressive behaviors stemming from possessiveness include:

  • Swatting or batting with claws extended when another animal or person gets too close
  • Biting or scratching hands/limbs that reach to pet them or pick them up
  • Arching the back, hissing, growling when approached
  • Blocking access to preferred spots like a window perch or cat bed

These behaviors are often a cat’s way of communicating “this is mine!” and warding off any perceived threats. According to the ASPCA, aggression usually stems from fear and anxiety over losing resources. While sometimes harmless, aggressive tendencies can become problematic and even dangerous. Seeking help from a veterinary behaviorist is advisable if the behavior puts family members at risk of injury.

Underlying Causes

There are several potential underlying causes for possessive behavior in cats:

Medical issues like hyperthyroidism or neurological conditions can cause personality changes that result in possessive behaviors. Cats with medical conditions may become irritable, anxious, or aggressive, leading them to guard resources and people more closely. Always rule out medical causes by taking a possessive cat to the veterinarian for a full check-up (source).

Lack of socialization as a kitten is another common cause of possessive feline behavior. Kittens that don’t interact with humans, other cats, or animals during their first 2 months may fail to develop proper social skills. These undersocialized cats often become fearful, territorial, and possessive of resources as they mature. They should be gradually exposed to new sights, sounds, and beings to improve socialization (source).

Anxiety, stress, or insecure attachment can also lead to possessive behaviors, as cats feel the need to guard valued people and items closely. Changes to the home environment, schedules, or family members can heighten a cat’s anxiety. Using calming pheromones, sticking to routines, and reassuring the cat with affection can help relieve anxiety-related possessiveness (source).

Training Techniques

When dealing with possessive behavior in cats, the use of positive reinforcement and providing adequate playtime are the most effective training techniques. Punishment or scolding should be avoided, as this will only make the situation worse.

Instead of punishing the cat, redirect their attention to appropriate scratching posts, toys, or treats when they start exhibiting possessive behaviors. This will teach them that they still get rewards without the negative behavior. Increase play sessions to at least 15-20 minutes twice a day. This will help relieve pent up energy and keep them engaged in positive activities.

Consider clicker training to reinforce wanted behaviors. Each time the cat solicits attention appropriately or ceases possessive behaviors on cue, use the clicker and give a treat. This connects the cue with the reward in the cat’s mind.

For serious cases, consult an animal behaviorist. They can identify triggers unique to the cat and implement customized training programs using desensitization and counterconditioning. The goal is to change the cat’s emotional response to situations that induce possessiveness.

While it takes time and patience, addressing the root causes of possessive feline behavior through positive reinforcement training yields the best and longest-lasting results.

When to Seek Help

While many cats display mild possessive behaviors, seek professional help if the behavior becomes concerning or dangerous. Aggression, attacks, or obsessive following are severe signs to watch out for. If your cat shows excessive guarding, hostility towards guests, or any behavior towards you or others that seems extreme, talk to your vet.

Veterinarians can examine medical causes like pain, illness, or medication side effects that may contribute to aggression. They may suggest anxiety medication or pheromone therapy. For ongoing behavior issues, consult a credentialed cat behavior consultant or veterinary behaviorist, who can design a customized behavior modification plan. With professional guidance, medication if needed, and proper training techniques, possessive behaviors can often be corrected.

According to, “In severe cases of possessive aggression, especially towards other pets, a vet behaviorist should be consulted to keep everyone safe.” Never attempt to train out aggressive behavior on your own, as this risks exacerbating the problem or causing injury. Seeking qualified advice helps ensure everyone’s wellbeing when dealing with a possessive cat.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common questions cat owners have about possessive cat behavior:

Why is my cat possessive of me?

Cats often become possessive of their owners because they form a strong bond and attachment. Owners provide food, shelter, affection and are a big part of the cat’s territory, so it’s natural for cats to be protective. Possessiveness usually comes from the cat’s innate territorial nature rather than any intentional possessiveness [1].

What should I do if my cat is jealous of a new cat?

Introduce new cats slowly. Give your resident cat extra love and attention, provide separate resources like litter boxes and beds, and use techniques like site swapping to help them get comfortable sharing you and the home. It may take weeks or months for them to fully adjust. Play, treats and patience can go a long way [2].

Why is my cat possessive of her litter box?

Litter boxes are a resource cats value, so they can be protective. Make sure there are enough litter boxes for all cats, in separate locations. Clean frequently to reduce territorial marking. You can also try different litters or box styles if one cat is blocking another. Reducing stress and providing separate resources can minimize this behavior.


In summary, many cats do exhibit possessive behaviors towards their owners. This is often rooted in a cat’s natural territorial instincts and desire to guard valuable resources. However, possessive behaviors can become problematic if they lead to aggression, anxiety, or other issues.

While some degree of possessiveness is normal, owners can curb extreme possessive behaviors through proper training techniques like positive reinforcement and setting boundaries. Providing a cat with adequate physical and mental stimulation is also important.

Most possessive cat behaviors are manageable. But in severe cases, or if you are unable to resolve the issue on your own, seek help from a veterinary behaviorist. With patience and consistency, you can help even the most possessive cat become more secure and less clingy.

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