May 2012 Issue

Cat Fights: What You Should Know

Here’s how to tell when it’s play and when it’s not — and how you can intervene to make some peaceful changes.

All kittens play, practicing to defend themselves by arching their backs, jumping on each other, chasing each other and maybe exchanging a few nips on the ears. “The difference between playing and fighting,” says Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, the emeritus James Law Professor of Animal Behavior at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, “is that when playing, cats will take turns chasing each other. There isn’t one dominant aggressor or one main victim.” In general, however, cats don’t play much after 16 months of age, and males are more likely to engage in play of this kind. As for fighting, cats will fight at any age. “True fighting is usually more of a one-way process,” says Dr. Houpt. “One cat will be the aggressor and the other will be the victim. Hissing, clawing and batting with the paws are more fear directed than playful. The noisier the interaction, the more likely it’s a fight and not play.”

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