Features

February 2015 Issue




The Best Way to Break Up a Catfight

Keep your hands out of it, and instead intervene with a disruption or barrier like a baking sheet

Most catfights occur between two females, followed by two males rather than male to female. The causes vary but most often center on coveted boundaries and possessions, with vertical spaces like climbing trees and sturdy shelves being especially valued.

Whatever the reason, the safest way to break up a fight is the same: Keep your hands off both combatants. Instead, intervene with a disruption or barrier. Drop a pot on the floor, wedge a rigid, flat object like a baking sheet between them or pop an empty cardboard box over one of them.

Protecting yourself is paramount because cats have an arsenal of sharp teeth and claws. When paired with their flexible spines and acrobatic ability, they can cause serious puncture wounds. If the wounds become infected, you can land in the hospital with cat scratch fever, an infection caused by the bacteria Bartonella henselae, found in cat saliva. People with compromised immune systems are at the greatest risk for the infection.

The No. 1 Rule. “In a catfight, the No. 1 rule is to be hands-free and never try to reach in and grab,” says Tracy Kroll, DVM, an animal behavior consultant in Fair Lawn, N. J. “If you pick up one cat, the other one may launch up at you. The cat in your arms will feel vulnerable and can also attack you, causing severe wounds.”

The big threat to you isn’t the teeth but the claws. During a catfight, you face the possibility of eight paws flying at you from all directions. The best description is that it’s more of a knife fight than a brawl.

“Cats dig in litter boxes and their claws can contain traces of feces on them,” says Dr. Kroll, who completed her residency in animal behavior at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine. “When these claws scratch your arms, they can inject you with bacteria. Think of their claws as contaminated needles.”

Watch Their Posture. Bully-victim confrontations can occur when the more confident, aggressive cat tries to drive the meeker one away from resources such as food bowls, litter boxes and window perches. Pay close attention to both cats’ posture when interceding with a distraction, such
as a splash from a glass of water.

“Be careful because some cats can become more aggravated, so look out for the cat looking back up at you with a weird head shake,” says Dr. Kroll. “Keep your distance. Once the stare-down trance has stopped, you have time to intervene by using something rigid to shoo each cat into another room.”

Afterward, it’s imperative to calmly assess both of them from head to tail while they’re still separated. “There is no such thing as a typical catfight,” Dr. Kroll says. “Some end in seconds and others in minutes. Not all fights are equal nor are the motives the same, but we do commonly see some degree of injury after a fight, including scratches, abscesses, puncture bite wounds and scratches to the eyes.”

A fleeing cat who spilled down the stairs or was pulled back by the more aggressive cat could have muscle strains or leg injuries. One who falls could suffer a concussion if he strikes his head against a wall or heavy piece of furniture.

“Really monitor both cats because serious injuries like abscesses do not always show up right away,” Dr. Kroll says. “And you may not immediately see a bite or a tear that can cause serious injury. A cat may bruise a kidney tumbling down the stairs. Observation is the key to determine if you need to take a cat to the veterinary clinic.”