Why Cats Fight and How To Stop It
Photo Credit: SplitYarn@flickr
"My cats are fighting! What went wrong? :("
While I wish there was one simple answer, there are many reasons why one cat may pick a fight with another. First thing though:
Breaking Up a Cat Fight: NEVER put any part of your body - hand, leg, whatever - between two fighting cats. Fighting cats are not in a state to be reasoned with and cats have bacteria in their mouths that can lead to very serious infection if you are bitten in the cross-fire.
- A large object to separate them - a broom would be perfect.
- A large soft object to throw between them - a big pillow for example
- Or use a water gun or spray bottle.
Once separated and calmed, remove the "aggressor" first. If you attempt to remove the "victim," the aggressor may come in to swipe at them again as you do.
Discipline for Fighting Cats: Simple - forget it.
Cats do not understand punishment and they do not fight because they are naughty. They are doing what comes naturally to them. Hitting, smacking, or any other form of pain you inflict on them will only serve to further their aggressive tendencies. They will not understand a connection between your aggression and their own - they will only learn to fear and protect themselves from you.
When cats fight, your goal should be only to stop the fight and prevent future incidences from occurring. NOT to punish.
Could they be in pain? If the fight is between two cats that normally get along, it may be a good idea to rule out any underlying medical or health problems going on. A cat that is sick or injured may lash out, but otherwise seem pretty much normal. (Cats are good at hiding illness) If your cat is normally friendly towards the other cat, a trip to your vet will be needed to make sure this isn't what is going on.
Sure your cat isn't sick or injured? Here are 3 of the most common reasons two cats may fight with each other.
#1. Social Ranking/Competition For a Mate
Cats in multiple cat households operate from a hierarchical structure where there is an "alpha" or top cat. This is not necessarily a problem so long as the other cats respect the alpha's position. If another cat contests that position and decides THEY should be alpha however, problems arise. These types of fights are much more likely in unaltered male cats. For this reason and others (namely, preventing kittens), whether your cat is an indoor or outdoor kitty, spaying and neutering is a must.
Unaltered males will become extremely aggressive and territorial if sense an in-heat female cat around - and may fight another male cat even if they don't. They will do everything in their power to be "Top Cat." Unaltered females can also be extremely vocal and aggressive when faced with unwanted suitors or other female cats.
And I haven't even mentioned the other wonderful effects of the heat cycle - an endless round of spraying around the home and attempts to escape.
The Fix? Preventive measures for these types of disputes are simple - spay and neuter all of your cats!
If fights to establish social ranking do occur they are typically short-lived and resolved when cats lower down the totem pole recognize the alpha's dominance. However, it does sometimes happen that two cats will never agree on who is alpha in the house. In this case, unfortunately, you may need to institute a permanent separation of the two in your home.
A few things you might try to ease the tension are specialized cat pheromone sprays or air fresheners or a natural pet anxiety treatment like Anxietrex.
#2. Competition for Territory
Some cats will act out if they feel their personal space has been invaded. Things such as toys, food, litter box area and favorite sleeping areas can be claimed as personal space. Most issues with territory arise with a move or the introduction of a new cat to the home.
When territorial fights occur, immediate attention should be taken to curb them.
The Fix? Has a new cat recently entered your home? While it would be nice if the established cat and newcomer hit it off right away, you'll have better luck of a respectful, friendly relationship between the two if you give them each their own space at first.
While ideally, you should have BEGAN their introduction through a closed door - just allowing them to get used to the smell and sound of each other for a few days - if it hasn't been too long, you may be able to undo their damaged relationship by stepping back to this introductory stage for a week or so and giving them each their own litter box and food and water bowls.
After a week or so has passed and there's no under the door fighting going on (playing under the door is fine, but hissing or growling is not), go ahead and give things another shot. Allow them (but don't force them) to see each other in a neutral zone - a spot that neither one frequents. Make sure it also a zone that gives them each a chance to flee or hide if they need. If that goes okay without a fight, begin allowing them to around each other again for things like treats (given to them in separate areas - alpha aggressor gets the treat first) and playtime (allowing them to take turns chasing a toy).
Cats are extremely territorial - more territorial than dogs even and it's important to note that territorial fights may occur even between cats that are used to each other and normally friendly.
Over time chances are good that at the very least, they will reach an understanding that they should give the other cat space. Once again, you might try to ease the tension with specialized cat pheromone sprays or air fresheners or a natural pet anxiety treatment like Anxietrex.
#3. Redirected Aggression
If fighting occurs between two cats that normally get along, it may be a case of "redirected aggression." Franny Syufy explains it this way in her About.com guide to cats
"Alex is sitting in the window watching the birds outside, when he sees a strange cat in his yard spraying his favorite bush with urine. Alex hurls himself off the windowsill and viciously attacks Sophie, who is sleeping peacefully in a chair. Poor Sophie wakes and either fights back or runs away and hides. Sophie may or may not later attack Alex out of fear-based aggression."
The Fix? Time. If it truly is a case of redirected aggression, give it time and the two should forget about the incident.
I hope these tips help provide a calm, serene home for you and all of your cats! For more information on keeping peace in your multi-cat household, please check out Feline 101's article "Multi-Cat Home: The Feline Hierarchy."
"Toms, and queens, and alphas -oh my! Keeping peace in your pride is easier when you understand the dynamics of a feline hierarchy."