What To Do if Your Cats are Fighting

Two cats on the floor fighting indoors

Imagine you’re a contestant in the Big Brother house. Once inside the house Big Brother makes the decisions about what you’re allowed to eat and drink, what you’ll be given to keep you entertained and importantly who you live with.

The strangers that you must live with obviously arrive with different personalities and habits and whilst there may be some housemates that you get along with, there may be others who may want to unnerve, frighten or bully you. In response, you’ll either retreat to your bed and pull the duvet over your head, or you’ll fight back.

The same theory applies to our cats. They all have their own unique personalities and idiosyncrasies but have no choice over which other cats they live with, this is something decided by us, their owners. Not only that, but we also put them in an environment that is essentially designed for humans. Under such circumstances it’s not surprising that problems can arise between co-habiting cats.

And if there are problems, you might not necessarily know about it. This is because cats are very good at employing covert tactics to intimidate their housemates. These include blocking access to resources such as the litter tray and cat flap and making subtle changes to their body language and facial expressions to put their feline counterparts in their place.

In this video one cat successfully blocks access to the house. Notice how the cat outside wants to avoid confrontation by keeping his head turned away from the cat inside.

Often owners will tell me that their cats are getting on fine because they see them sleeping on the bed at the same time. However, this can be a complete red herring! As far as cats are concerned, master beds are comfortable, have a strong scent of their owners and are conducive to getting good, quality sleep. This makes them a highly valued resources for our cats, and one which they are unwilling to share with those that aren’t part of their social group. However, rather than fight, because fighting puts them at risk of injury which is, as far as they are concerned a threat to their survival, they will put up with the presence of the other cat on the bed, even if it is through gritted teeth!

Two cats laying on a bed

However, there are occasions when cats declare war and will fight each other in an effort to drive their enemy out. This can be incredibly distressing for them and for us.

Whether overt or covert, aggression between cats can be complex to understand and seeking behavioural intervention is usually recommended. However, you could try some of the following general preventative strategies:

  1. Feed the cats in separate areas.
  2. Ensure all cat resources follow the formula of 1 per cat plus 1 extra in different locations. Important cat resources are:
  • Feeding stations
  • Drinking stations
  • High places
  • Hiding places
  • Litter trays
  • Scratching posts/mats
  • Beds
  • Toys

3. Play with your cats every day, separately if appropriate.

4. Provide feeding enrichment in the form of puzzle feeders.

5. For cats allowed outdoors, provide two points of entry and exit, if possible, on separate sides of the house.

6. Consider creating an indoor sanctuary with internal microchip cat flap specifically for a cat that you suspect is being bullied.

7. Fix static opaque window film to the bottom part of all full length internal and external doors.

8. Look out for signs of stress these include:

  • Hypervigilance or constant scanning of the environment. Hiding. Feigning sleep, resting with eyes open or increased resting.
  • Exaggerated swallowing and lip-licking.
  • Lack of play activity.
  • Changes in patterns of behaviour for example spending significantly more n time in a particular room or place.
  • Inappropriate urination or defecation (soiling in the house).
  • Urine spraying
  • Over-grooming.
  • Increased facial rubbing and/or scratching.
  • Chronic anxiety.
  • A reduction or increase in eating.

9. Avoid intervening in disputes, except if the fighting is severe and likely to cause injury, in which case place something like a pillow or cushion in between the cats.

A tabby cat and a white cat fighting on an indoor windowsill.

Whilst cats are certainly capable of being sociable under certain specific circumstances and I’ve seen plenty of examples of this, they are generally not equipped to having intense and sustained emotional relationships with other cats. Sadly, this means that we can never guarantee that cats living under the same roof will be able to adjust to living with each other.

Clare Hemington

Clare has worked in the field of cat behaviour for sixteen years. She is an accredited Cat Behaviourist and respected member of the COAPE Association of Pet Behaviourists and Trainers. Clare believes that understanding cat behaviour is key to their overall welfare. Through consultation and education her aim is to share information with owners that enables them to give their cat a life that is as happy as it possibly can be. Clare is also founder and owner of Honeysuckle cat toys. Toys made from Tatarian honeysuckle wood which provide wonderful natural enrichment for cats.

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