Distinguishing whether cats are fighting or playing might not be clear at first glance. For example, it’s easy to assume that cats from the same kin are just playing and not fighting since they’ve already formed a bond. However, there’s no guarantee that cats with the same bloodline won’t fight.

On another note, you might’ve become extra worried thinking that your cats were fighting since you caught them biting each other, but it could be that they were just showing playful affection. So how can you tell one from the other?

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In times when you witness your cats making a ruckus, you might ask: Are my cats playing or fighting? While it might not be clear at first, below are some tell-tale signs for you to find out.

How To Tell If Cats Are Playing Or Fighting

There’s chasing, pawing, and biting. So... Are your cats playing or fighting? Here are some tips if you’re not sure:

1. Pay Attention To Their Body Language

A cat’s body language is a good indication to determine whether your cat is fighting or just playing.

Your cat is most likely playing when…

  • They're not loud
    When cats are play fighting, they don't shout or make unusual noises even as they chase and bite each other, albeit in a gentle way, which leads us to the next sign.

  • They're gentle
    Yes, they may chase, touch, and bite one another, but with no intention to hurt the other. Rather, they do so in a soft and gentle manner, with their claws retracted.

  • They take turns
    When cats are playing or play-fighting with each other, they may chase, bite, and even lick one another alternately. You might ask: Why do cats lick each other and then fight? Cats that are grooming each other exhibit bondedness, so if they seem like they’re fighting right after, it’s probably just play-fighting. In short, they are not in attack mode.

  • They're relaxed right after
    More often than not, things go back to normal without showing any indication of tension after a play fight session between cats.

Your cat is most likely fighting when…

  • They are showing signs of aggression
    For example, they might have a tense posture, ears that are flattened, or a swishing tail. They may also make weird and loud sounds such as howling, growling, and hissing while looking with a hawk-eye towards the other cat.

  • Their arms and paws are flailing
    If cats are wildly swiping their paws at each other, they are probably interacting in an aggressive way.

2. Observe How They Normally Behave Towards Each Other

While cats don’t necessarily need to live with other cats to be happy, they can live in harmony when they consider the other as part of the same social circle. According to research, it would be a big plus if their environment doesn’t make them feel like the other is their rival when it comes to food, resources, and comfy spaces where that they can lounge in or climb up to.

To see if your cats are friendly towards each other, observe their daily routine and behavior. Are they friends or foes?

They are most likely friends if…

  1. They sleep and cuddle beside each other.
  2. They groom one another.
  3. They like rubbing against each other.

There may be tension between cats if…

  1. They keep a safe distance from each other when eating & drinking, sleeping or using the litter box.
  2. They try to block their resources and use the other approaches only if the other has left.
  3. They avoid each other and rest in areas away from each other.

Causes of Cat Fighting Between Cats Outside Their Social Circle

  • A threat to their territory

If you have cats that get to roam around your neighborhood, you might have experienced your cat being intimidated by your neighbor’s cat or other cats that they encounter outside. On the other hand, you might have witnessed them instigating a fight with the other cat/-s.

When cats that are strangers run into each other, they are likely to give the other space to avoid a fight. However, there may be times when one cat is headstrong in claiming their territory, which may lead to them getting into a fight. Because cats are territorial, it might cause anxiety for them if another cat invades their space.

  • In a multi-cat household

What if your cats, that used to be friendly towards each other, suddenly start fighting? Cats generally try to avoid conflict, with fighting as their last recourse. So when your cats who previously got along suddenly aren’t on good terms, there are a number of possible causes:

  • A change in the home setting

Cats are creatures of habit, and so routine gives them a sense of safety and security. Having said this, if something in their environment suddenly changes, such as visitors staying for an extended period or when new furniture arrives, it may make them feel stressed or threatened.

  • When a cat brings in a different scent

Cats that belong to the same social circle have a common scent that allows them to recognize that they’re part of the same circle. However, when one cat goes out and brings home a different scent, their stranger danger bells might ring.

  • Anxiety

When one cat feels afraid or frustrated, they might redirect how they feel by fighting with the other cat/s. For example, they might have heard a very loud noise, so they might redirect it by hissing or attacking another cat.

  • The Need For Space

If cats feel that they have to compete for resources and spaces around their environment (which can escalate in an indoor setting that doesn’t have enough space to move around), they might fight with each other.

How To Stop A Catfight

Keep Them Away From Each Other

When a cat fight ensues, it’s best to keep them away from each other to avoid injuries. Meanwhile, be mindful of not being too aggressive in trying to break a fight to prevent yourself from getting hurt.

Distract Them

Make loud noise or use toys to distract your cat. Doing so helps redirect their attention and stops their fighting.

Let Them Cool Off

Before stroking or carrying your cat, allow them to calm down first to avoid further anxiety and aggression.

Tips To Prevent Fighting In Cats

  1. Ensure that there’s enough space to move around
    It's best for your cats to have their own food or water bowl, litterbox, and bed/sleeping area. This way, they won't feel as if they're competing for space.

  2. Provide areas for climbing and hiding
    Cats like verticle spaces and areas where they can climb or hide when they feel threatened or just want their own space with a view of the surroundings. These areas would help them feel safe and secure.

  3. Neuter your cat/-s
    Unneutered cats are more likely to show aggression as well as roam outside the house. Neutering prevents these behaviors and helps keep them safe.

  4. Allot time for playing and bonding with each cat
    When you play with your cats, it helps them express their natural selves and be relieved from stress. You may use interactive toys and makeshift items to keep them stimulated. Yes, mental and physical stimulation is good for your cat, and playing gives them an outlet for their pent-up energy.

  5. Consider pheromone diffusers
    Pheromone diffusers release a scent that mimics feline pheromones. This helps reduce stress and unwanted behaviors in your cat.

  6. Secure windows
    Securing your windows help prevents neighborhood cats from entering your home. At the same time, you won’t be worried about your cat wandering off.

  7. Talk to the other cat’s owner
    How to stop cats from fighting outside? If you feel okay with talking with the owner of the other cat that you catch your cat fighting with, you can discuss possible solutions. Try to schedule the time your cats can go out so that they don’t run into each other.

  8. Keep your cats indoors at night
    This is recommended to help keep your cat safe from more aggressive cats and road accidents.

  9. Keep key resources away from windows, communal areas, and cat flaps
    Avoid placing food, water bowls, and litter boxes in communal areas to prevent your cat from feeling unsafe or competing with other cats.

  10. Introduce / re-introduce your cats
    Be patient with introducing new cats to ensure they feel comfortable in each other’s company. Go slow and don’t rush things. First, it’s best to keep them in separate rooms. Then, you can introduce their scent. Afterwhich, you can let them stay in the same room, albeit with a barrier for them to feel secure.

If you feel that they are fine with each other’s company, you can remove the barrier. Reward positive behavior when they interact in a friendly way. Remember to allow them to be comfortable with each other in their own time. If they fight, you can repeat these steps.

Read More: How To Introduce a Kitten to a Cat and Make Them Get Along

If your cats still don’t get along after the suggested actions above, it would be best to separate them first and contact your vet or an animal behaviorist to help determine what is causing their behavior and how it can be addressed.

Because some cats can get aggressive when fighting, it’s possible for your pet to get injured in a fight. Unfortunately, emergency care comes with a high price. And if you’re not ready for the expenses, it can be extra overwhelming. So what are your options to help prepare you for unexpected pet emergencies?

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