Facts about the animal kingdom

How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. March 1, 2018
How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing?

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If you have more than one cat at home, you will know the joy of communal cat living. Not only do you have more felines to share your life with, but they have pals they can socialize with when you're unavailable. They can form a great bond together and it is not uncommon to witness real sadness when one has to leave for whatever reason. Although solitary animals in the wild when it comes to hunting and they will spend a lot of time alone. However, this is not the same as saying they do not like to socialize. They need to be around other companions.

When these cats are interacting, they can get in each other's way, play games and often get a little rowdy. However, sometimes it is difficult to know whether this is fun and games or if something a little more aggressive is going on. AnimalWised looks into how to know if my cats are fighting or playing. This way we can know if there is a problem which needs to be addressed or you can leave them to their feline fun.

You may also be interested in: How Do I Know If My Cat Trusts Me?


  1. Are your cats playing or fighting?
  2. Fighting stance vs. playful posture
  3. How they approach each other
  4. Signs of friendship
  5. How to stop two cats from fighting
  6. How to prevent your cats from fighting

Are your cats playing or fighting?

Cats own a rich vocabulary in terms of body language. Although they may make certain noises to communicate with each other, they are more comprehensively expressed by posture and facial expressions. A cat which is about to fight will have a completely different state of mind than one who is about to play and have a good time. This is the same mind which sends signals to its limbs and facial muscles to convey these feelings, whatever they may be. Humans are no different, we just may be better at hiding it (or worse at understanding these signals).

This is why the best way to know if your cats are playing or fighting is to observe this body language and interpret the signals they are giving off. Unfortunately, as much as feline behavior has been studied, it is not possible to completely understand every move and there may be many similarities. There is a fine line between love and hate and this is why it can be hard to know whether or not their actions are aggressive or a sign of enjoyment. This is why we give you the best summary of these signals to at least give you a guide of how to know.

How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing? - Are your cats playing or fighting?

1. Fighting stance vs. playful posture

Usually, cats which are prepared for possible combat stare at the other animal and bristle their fur. Their spine will curve aggressively and they will adopt a defensive stance. This will almost have a streamlined look to the cat. Their spines are curved, but their legs are reared so that they will have an advantage over their opponent. They will also flatten down their ears as these can get caught in their opponents claws and rip.

One of the most obvious signs cats are fighting and not playing is the noises they make. It is normal for cats which are playing to emit some sound, but cats which are fighting are obviously not fooling around. They make very high pitched and tense shrieks which are sustained and meant to intimidate it. If you can't quite imagine what this sound is, you will understand once you hear it. It can be a very violent sound.

It isn't merely the cats' individual stance which is telling. You can see whether cats are fighting from how they are positioned towards each other. With playing, they may put a paw around the head or even dive in to the vulnerable belly area. The other cat will wrestle, but there will not necessarily be a strong defence. In an attack or fight, the two cats will square off at each other. They will try to intimidate with posture and sounds, but they will face each other and only strike when needed. If you see two cats wrestle around the floor and intertwine, it is almost certainly playing. If they were fighting, they would most likely not get this close unless going in for a deadly attack.

When cats play, they change attack and defence roles, often imitating each other's moves. If they are fighting, they are both on the offensive and only defend if can't get a hit in. They will be in a heightened state of tension. When cats play, they often stop mid fight to have a lick or look at something else for a second. They can afford to get distracted because there is no real risk. On the contrary, when a cat fights, everything could be at stake. Reasons for cats fighting include mates, food, territory or simply to assert dominance in a group. If your cats are not worried about any of these things, it is unlikely they will have need to fight.

Another obvious way to tell if cats are fighting or playing is the result. When cats play fight, there will be no injuries (unless accidental) and at they will get on with their business. If cats have been fighting, they will remain tense, may get injured and will want to evade each other as much as possible to stop another fight from happening. If the fight is not serious, they may be likely to simply slink off or become disinterested. An intense fight can leave them shaken.

2. How they approach each other

When cats are play fighting, they usually have a soft approach which is designed to test the water in terms of the other feline's mood. The same might happen if you were to wrestle someone. You may tap them on the shoulder or give them a ‘let's go’ signal. If the other cat wants to play, they will respond with a similar movement. While they play, you will see that they approach each other quite openly. They may look quite violent acts, but you will see there is no breaking of skin and their claws are not used for scratching at their eyes or similar vulnerable places.

In fighting, the cat's approach is different. Depending on the circumstance, the aggressor will make it so that the other cat has no choice other than to defend itself or escape. The rhythm is not even as when cats play. Instead, they will try to have the advantage at all times. If they actually fight each other, they will try to make their strikes as definitive as possible, so there will be less of them, but they will be more violent.

How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing? - 2. How they approach each other

3. Signs of friendship

Felines which live together in the same home and maintain a friendly relationship, show each other signs of friendship every day. For example, they may rest together and snuggle or simply stay close to each other. They will share toys and even food (although this doesn't mean there won't be moments of selfishness also). They may even share the same litter box, although it is usually best for them to have one of their own, especially in the early stages if one or more is trying to assert dominance. Through these demonstrations, they are letting each other know that their presence is welcome in their territory.

When two cats do not have a friendly relationship, you will be able to recognize the tension. They will avoid contact and are likely to fight if they are encroaching on each other's territory.

How to stop two cats from fighting

If you have two pet cats fighting, it is important that you stop this behavior for two major reasons. Firstly, so that they don't injure each other. Secondly so that they are able to live together peaceably in the future. Many injuries sustained during a fight can lead to the development of numerous infections as well as causing an underlying pathology. This will, in part, depend on what the cats have been doing before they fight.

You should never directly intervene or put yourself between two cats which are being very aggressive to each other. You are likely to get hurt in the process as much as the cats. Nor is it advisable to be aggressive or violent toward your cats to stop the fighting. Violence generates more violence. Instead, to get their attention and to distract them from a fight between each other, you should make a loud noise to distract them. This way, they will see a common threat to them and may even put their own relationship in context. Clapping loudly, banging a table or strumming a guitar might work.

We must understand that this is not a common way to stop cats from engaging in undesirable behavior. This is a last ditch effort to protect themselves as well as yourself. This is because loud noises can be really stressful and cause the cats psychological harm. If you feel like your cats are not getting along, it is better to speak to your veterinarian or call an ethologist to find ways to keep them happy together. Their behavior may be more to do with some other stressor rather than each other.

How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing? - How to stop two cats from fighting

How to prevent your cats from fighting

Prevention is always better than cure. Like most animals, cats have a strong territorial instinct. It is linked to their likelihood of survival in the wild. If you suddenly bring a new cat into your home, it can be cause of great upset to nay cats already living there (not to mention other animals). One of the cats might hide in fear of the other, which can lead to more stress and even psychological issues further down the road. Whatever happens, you will need your cats to cohabitate peacefully for everyone's sake.

So, how might you avoid these problems when two cats need to live in the same home? If you feline has not been socialized early since they were a kitten, then you will need to start this process as an adult cat. This has its difficulties, but it is certainly not impossible. When your cat is more prepared, you can gradually let them get to know each other under supervision. You should never force them to interact with each other, especially if they are showing signs of aggression. Positive reinforcement is also called for in effective socialization.

When starting this socialization process, the cats should have their own space to begin with. You can keep them in separate rooms for a week or two, so that they become aware of each other's presence through smell and sound without having to interact. Each cat must have its own accoutrements such as litter tray, toys, food bowl, etc. This will help avoid fighting as they will know they have their own needs met and will be unlikely to fight against another's.

Introducing the net cat to an older one will require baby steps. Little by little, you can have them spend time near each other, but always under supervision. Don't simply plonk them down together. Put them in the same room and let them investigate and approach gingerly. If you think one or the other is getting agitated, then you can lift one up and remove it. Introduce toys (enough for both) so that they can have distraction. Also, they will be able to associate this home with playing, not fighting.

How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing? - How to prevent your cats from fighting

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How to Know if My Cats are Fighting or Playing?