Cats play, and they fight, and it seems that there is little difference between the two activities. But cats are natural predators, and it is instinctual for them to play and fight. But how can you determine whether they are fighting or playing?
When cats are chasing each other, they are sometimes playing and sometimes fighting. You can tell the difference if they take turns chasing each other or if one is the constant aggressor. Fighting cats also yell or shriek at each other with a stiff and rigid body posture.
Fighting cats can be scary, leaving you concerned whether you should break it up or not. Read on to find out how you can tell the difference between play and aggression.
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What is the Difference Between Play and Aggression?
Anyone who has lived with cats long enough knows that they sometimes fight, and they sometimes play, and while the two activities appear to be the same thing, several differences tell you whether you should break it up or let them continue their play.
Playing cats take turns chasing and hitting each other. They wrestle and nip each other, but they are having fun doing what is instinctual to them.
Cats showing true aggression have their claws out when they hit each other. They meow loudly and will shriek and howl like they are angry with each other. Their ears are also back, along with raised fur and a large tail. Generally, when cats are legitimately fighting, one cat is usually the aggressor, and neither take turns chasing the other.
If your cats are mostly quiet with a small chirp here and there, that shows they are having fun and should be left alone to their play. But if your cats are growling and hissing, they are probably fighting and should be stopped.
Cats Play as a Way to Keep Their Hunting Skills Sharp
Kittens usually play fight as a way to learn how to hunt later in life. They are practicing for when they are on their own and need to catch their food for survival. But cats well into their senior years still play with each other, as it keeps their hunting skills sharp, so they can stay ready to hunt if needed.
When your cats are playing, there is no need to interfere, as they are doing exactly what they need to for keeping their hunting skills sharp.
When Should You Intervene In Your Cats’ Spats?
Fighting between cats can be very stressful on the cats and could create health and mental issues that could make them depressed, anxious, or susceptible to severe illnesses. Cats aren’t usually aggressive with each other if their spats are broken up relatively soon after they start fighting.
A small tiff here and there probably isn’t going to cause any long term damage to your cats. But if you notice that your cats are constantly fighting or struggling to get along, you need to intervene more often and keep them separated for a while until their aggression goes away.
The reason for their spats might range from jealousy to territorial disputes. A new cat to the household, for example, might make your older cat jealous of your lack of attention. To counteract future fights with your cats, you might want to pay some attention to your older cat, so it doesn’t feel like you’re giving more attention to the new cat.
Or, it might be due to one cat taking another cat’s favorite spot next to you. In a sense, one cat is encroaching on the other cat’s territory, which is a big no-no in the cat world. If you create a space for each cat, this could reduce the likelihood of a fight.
Prevent Fighting By Separating Them Temporarily
Cats who are legitimately fighting should be separated temporarily to allow each cat some cool-down time. If they can’t stay separated, put one cat in a room and close the door for a bit. Pet parents often feel bad for putting their cats behind a closed door, but sometimes it is necessary to keep your cats from fighting.
But you don’t want to separate them physically because they could turn on you with their aggression. Instead, try clapping your hands loudly or throwing a towel into the mix. If that doesn’t break up the fight, give a spritz of water as a last resort.
Some experts claim you need to keep your cats in separate rooms for a few days or weeks while tending to their needs. However, this might not be necessary if you don’t have space for it or if you don’t think your cats need to be separated for that long. As long as they go their separate ways and cool off, you may not need to separate them yourself.
Unless your cats are always fighting with each other, they can be trusted not to take up the fight later. If they do, you might start looking at ways to keep them separated later to keep your cats happy.
Sometimes Spats are Necessary, But Don’t Let It Get Out of Control
Even in the most healthy and happy relationship, people sometimes fight to clear the air and get things right. It’s sometimes healthy to have spats and get issues dealt with quickly and healthily. The same can be said about cats. When you have two or more cats in your home, and they have mild spats now and again, it might mean they are clearing the air.
The experts say you shouldn’t let them fight it out or let the fight go on at all because they will never stop fighting. And while you shouldn’t let them fight for very long, a little hissing or hitting that lasts less than 30 seconds is not going to be very damaging, and it could help them clear the air.
Any fight that lasts more than 30 seconds, or if your cats are fighting more than a couple of times per day might indicate more issues. If your cats are fighting all the time, it’s time to step in and try to ascertain why they are doing that.
If they have multiple food bowls, litter boxes, and beds, they shouldn’t have anything to fight about since they are territorial creatures. But if there are not enough resources, your cats might start fighting to get some of those resources.
When Should You Call In a Specialist?
Living with cats who don’t get along can be tough on you and them, and the stress can create health problems with your kitties. An animal behaviorist or psychologist can help you figure out why your cats are fighting and what you can do about it. They can also look at whether the cats are just having a tiff or if they should be permanently separated.
Cats play with each other to practice hunting or for socialization. When they play, there is no heated sounds or aggressive actions. But when they fight, you can tell they are angry with each other, much like when humans fight or play-fight.
You can mitigate some of these fights by providing separate areas for your cats to eat, use the litter box, and sleep so they do not fight over resources. Most fights between cats are over resources or territory, so if they have their own resources, they won’t need to fight.
One last thing to remember is that cats sometimes get jealous of the affection another cat receives, so be sure to offer all your cats affection in equal measures.
- ASPCA: Aggression Between Cats In Your Household
- Pet Central: Are Your Cats Playing or Fighting?
- Feliway: How to Tell If Your Cats Are Playing or Fighting
- Cat Behavior Associates: Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?
- Fetch by WebMD: Aggression Between Cats in Your Household
- Love to Know: Signs That Show If My Cat is Playing or Fighting
Pam is a self-confessed cat lover and has experience of working with cats and owning cats for as long as she can remember. This website is where she gets to share her knowledge and interact with other cat lovers.