How To Stop Cats Fighting
How to stop cats fighting and a guide to cat fight wounds
Cats are a territorial species and, while many cats get on well with others, occasional disagreements and scuffles are a normal part of their behaviour.
Most cats choose not to fight, but to settle confrontations by using their body language, facial expressions and voice.
Fighting is a risky activity and cats can cause one another serious injuries. So, why do cats fight, and what should you do if you think your cat has been fighting?
Some cats don’t get on with other cats in their own household, while others have problems when they go outside. Whichever it is, the problem is normally to do with resource sharing. Cats are a territorial species and they don’t need other cats as they’re efficient solitary hunters. So, any other cat who uses the same space (whether it’s in the home or garden, or two streets away) is potentially competing for the same resources.
Cats don’t look at ‘property ownership’ in the same way that we do. You might find that neighbours’ cats, or cats with no owner, consider your garden to be part of their home range. Similarly, your own cat may not spend much time in your garden but might often be seen hunting in a hedgerow or sunbathing in a garden five minutes’ walk away. While some cats make ‘agreements’ to time-share territory, that can’t always be assumed. Depending upon how many cats there are in an area, they may struggle to avoid one another and that’s when trouble can occur.
Cats are capable of inflicting serious injury if they do get into a fight so they use strategies to avoid conflict, such as posturing, vocalisation and scent marking. If they do have a confrontation, they will normally vocalise and use body language and facial expressions to try to get their opponent to back down and leave. Some cats are relatively confident and can retain ‘ownership’ of or expand their own range. Cats who are unable to stand up strongly for themselves may find their range is condensed to a very small area, or they may feel unable to venture outdoors at all without risking an attack from another cat.
You’re more likely to hear than see cats having a confrontation, as they often vocalise a lot before they get physical. Never try to wade in and pick up your cat if you’re trying to break up a fight, as you could get hurt if, in panic, your cat were to redirect their aggression on to you. Instead, you can interrupt them by stepping in, clapping your hands, or even throwing something down next to them. Beware that if a fight is occurring close to a road, a cat may run out into traffic if you surprise them, so be mindful of this.
If your own cats are fighting in the home and you can’t separate them with a noisy interruption, you could splash them with a cup of water (unless they’re close to something electrical or valuable) as it won’t harm them and they’re unlikely to run away and get hurt. While cats don’t like being splashed by water, it’s preferable to a bite wound.
Interrupting a fight won’t remove the reason for the fight in the first place and, while fighting might be a rare occurrence in your own cats, you’ll need to watch closely to see whether there is ongoing tension. Initially, you can try separating cats for a day or two after a fight to give them time to calm down and decide whether they still have a problem with one another.
If you’re seeing aggression between your own cats, you’ll need to try to work out why so that you can improve things. This might mean that you need to speak to your vet about a referral to a behaviour counsellor. Look for a reason for the aggression. For instance, if a cat has had to leave the home for a time to go to the vet’s, it will smell strange to the others when it gets back and this can make them uneasy and more likely to react aggressively to it until it’s had time to settle and begin to smell more familiar. You can try to prevent this by keeping the returning cat in a separate room overnight.
Consider the different personalities of your cats and take a good look at the resources you provide for them. Cats all have different tolerances for other cats competing for shared resources. Whilst some will coexist quite happily if there is provision for everyone, others just cannot tolerate having another cat in the household and, once they’ve already fought, the situation can be so stressful for them that they develop anxiety-related behavioural and health problems. If this happens, the only real solution may be to rehome one or more of the cats to a home where they won’t have to share.
Besides providing adequate resources, it’s a good idea to run pheromone diffusers made specifically for multi-cat households and to use pheromone sprays in resting and hiding places. These can help cats to feel more relaxed.
Sometimes, cats who share a home will wrestle and it might look more like a game than a typical cat fight. Claws will be tucked away, any biting will be inhibited and there won’t normally be any vocalisation unless one cat gets too rough. However, being made to wrestle might not be fun for every cat, so you’ll need to watch carefully to decide whether both cats appear to enjoy the game equally. If you think one cat is being picked on, you could try to separate them by providing resources in different parts of the house and you might need to re-think your furniture layout to minimise ambush spots. Providing lots of alternative ways to exercise your ‘stalking’ cat’s hunting behaviour could also help so that they don’t feel the need to ‘hunt’ their housemate.
Female cats may be more likely to become involved in fighting if they have kittens and want to defend them and any resources from other cats. If you have a queen with a litter, you’ll need to provide her with everything she needs and allow her some privacy from other cats, who should have their own resources in a separate part of the home.
A confident cat may bully a more vulnerable one without actually fighting – cats can use passive aggression quite readily. You may see the bully cat sitting or lying in a thoroughfare used by the victim or blocking their access to a resource or to the cat flap. They might stare at the victim until they move away or they may push them off resting places. It can be quite subtle and the more it happens, the more a victim cat is at risk of becoming so anxious they develop stress-related behavioural or health conditions. If you think this could be happening, try separating the cats so that they have different ‘ranges’ and resources in the home – you might even be able to install a second cat flap for use by the victim cat. If you need support to get your cats to stop fighting, talk to your vet, who will be able to refer you to a cat behaviourist.
Cats who get into fights outside the home could have issues with one or more other cats who use the same areas. Some neighbourhoods will have a resident ‘bully’ or ‘despot cat’ who attacks the others and even comes into homes to help himself (they are usually male cats) to other cats’ food. This can lead to a great deal of anxiety for the victim cats, who don’t feel safe in their own homes. If you witness another cat coming into your home and your own cat appears content to let them, it is very likely they are simply too worried to challenge the intruder.
If you have a cat like this in your area, you can try to improve defences against it. Make sure your cat flap only allows your own cats in, by having a built-in microchip reader. Lock your cat flap and, if possible, place something sturdy against it when your cat is shut in, for instance at night. You can modify the fencing and access points in your garden to ‘cat-proof’ them and you could accompany your cat if they do want to go outside.
If the ‘despot cat’ has an owner, it would be reasonable to have a tactful discussion to request that they shut him indoors at agreed times, for instance, overnight or during the day, as appropriate. This would allow other cats in the area some time outside without being attacked. Confrontations and injuries could be avoided while still allowing all the cats in the area, including the despotic cat, some freedom. Bells are sometimes worn on cats’ collars to warn wildlife of their presence. While wearing bells can make some cats feel anxious, bells on the collar of a despotic cat can help to let other cats know they’re around and to avoid them, which can be for the greater good. The home environment of the troublesome cat can be adapted to give him things to do while he is shut in – some ideas for environmental enrichment can be found here.
Sometimes, problem cats don’t have an owner and, in this case, contacting a cat welfare charity about them, neutering if needed and re-homing them to an area with a low cat density, could be a solution.
When cats fight, they risk physical injury. They’re equipped with sharp claws, long canine teeth and a powerful bite. Most cats try to avoid a confrontation escalating to physical contact but, when this does happen, puncture wounds and lacerations are common. Local infections can set up deep within the tissue and can develop into painful CBAs.
Besides local infections, serious systemic infections can also be transmitted when cats bite and scratch each other. Feline immunodeficiency virus, also known as FIV and feline AIDS, can be passed on when an infected cat bites another cat. Another important virus, feline leukaemia virus, or FeLV, can also be transmitted via a bite as the virus is shed in saliva, as well as in urine, faeces and milk.
As well as physical injuries and infections, fighting can also cause chronic anxiety. Stress and anxiety can lead to behaviour such as house-soiling and indoor urination. Some cats who are being bullied by more assertive cats, whether outside or in their own homes, may experience such anxiety that their life quality is seriously compromised. Cats who are suffering from chronic anxiety are at increased risk of developing urinary tract disease, including cystitis, which is painful and can lead to life-threatening bladder blockages in some cases.
You can’t really discipline cats. They don’t understand the same rules as humans do and they can’t recognise that they’ve done something ‘wrong’. Furthermore, if you try to tell cats off, you can make them become fearful of you because they won’t understand why you behave unpredictably towards them and this can result in other, anxiety-related problems. If your cat is doing something you don’t want them to do, you’ll need to look at why they’re doing this, find a way to prevent it from happening and encourage alternative behaviour. At all times, if you’re concerned about the way your cat is behaving, your vet can help and can, if necessary, refer you to a feline behavioural counsellor.
Like other animals, cats just do what they think they need in order to survive. Because cats are designed to be able to live without cooperation from other cats, they can view the presence of others as a threat to their survival. This can make them become aggressive towards other cats.
Aggression can also be a sign that something else is wrong. If your cat has become aggressive towards humans, this might be a sign that they aren’t feeling well or are in pain. Also, a cat’s environment and the way it interacts with people and with other animals can lead to aggressive behaviour. For instance, cats may begin to behave aggressively if something is making them anxious. If they don’t like being picked up and a family member loves to pick them up and cuddle them, the cat may have been trying to let them know that this makes them feel uncomfortable. If the cat’s more subtle signals have gone unnoticed, the cat might escalate their level of communication and start to behave aggressively if they think someone is about to pick them up or stroke them.
A check-over by your cat’s vet is a sensible first step in investigating aggression, if it’s not obviously a disagreement between cats over territory.
If your cat has been getting on fine with the other cats they know and has suddenly become hostile to them, first check for physical reasons. Have your cat examined by their vet to rule out any signs of discomfort or illness.
Next, look at your cat’s environment and at the other cats within it. Has a new cat arrived either in your own household or in your cat’s territory? This may have unsettled your cat and the delicate, dynamic social balance in which cats live. A new cat in the neighbourhood can be enough to upset the harmony between cats in a previously settled group. If a cat in the household has had a visit to the vet, they may also cause temporary hostility when they return home, as their unfamiliar smell can confuse and worry the other cats. In this case, keep them separate from the other cats for the rest of the day and overnight, so that they can groom themselves and lose the unfamiliar smell.
If your cat has one other in particular with whom they are having problems, you could try separating them for a few days. Once they’ve had time to calm down and relax away from one another, they may get on well again. If this doesn’t work, you could try to re-introduce them in the same way that you would introduce an unfamiliar cat, following a longer period of separation. We’ve got some tips on introducing new cats here. If this is unsuccessful, you might find the cats are only happy if you keep them separated permanently and if this isn’t practically possible then you may need to consider rehoming one of the cats. While this does seem a drastic measure, it can turn out to be for the best, as living with anxiety is no fun for a cat.
Any sort of environmental change can make cats feel anxious and this may show as hostility towards other cats. Changes in the human family, for instance, new babies, small children who have become mobile, upset or change within the adults, and even visitors to the home, can unsettle cats. Arrival of other pets, such as a dog, can have the same effect. Removal of a cat from environmental influences that could make them feel anxious, for instance, by setting up all their resources somewhere in the house where a toddler or a puppy doesn’t have access, may improve things.
Wound & Injuries Advice
Sometimes, cat fight wounds are obvious – your cat may have a torn or scratched ear or a wound on their skin. Typically, cat fight injuries are puncture wounds, because cats tend either to swipe each other with their claws or they bite, using their long canine teeth. If your cat has been involved in a fight, you might suspect from their behaviour that they have suffered a scare or a traumatic event. Sometimes, cats who have been hit by vehicles look or behave like cats who have been fighting. Clues that could suggest a traumatic incident like this are scuffed claws, broken teeth, fast or very obvious breathing, or oil, road grit, urine or faeces on the coat. If there’s any chance at all that your cat could have been hit by a vehicle, it’s important that they are examined by a vet as a matter of urgency, because they could have internal injuries.
Often, the signs of a cat fight are subtle and your cat might just seem jumpy and on edge, subdued or lame. They may rush indoors and hide, because cats often feel upset and traumatized after a fight. These symptoms normally subside after a few days but seven to 10 days after the initial problem, your cat might seem unwell in themselves. They could be lame, have a floppy tail or develop a swelling, perhaps on the face or head, or over the base of the tail and hindquarters. This happens because bacteria and dirt are injected into the skin and deeper tissue by the other cat’s teeth and claws, and this causes inflammation and can lead to an infection or abscess. Cat bite abscesses (CBAs) are very painful and can make cats feel unwell and grumpy, especially before they burst. If your cat has a burst CBA, you’ll probably notice unpleasant-smelling pus and possibly some blood on their coat. Cats often try to clean themselves up, but it’s not a good idea to let them swallow pus. Abscesses may create quite extensive areas of dead tissue and large holes in the skin. This can look alarming but, if the wound is managed appropriately, it should heal.
Once your cat has calmed down, and if they’ll let you, the best way to check your cat for fighting wounds is by using your fingertips. Very soon after a cat gets bitten or clawed, before the wound begins to swell, a tiny bead of dried blood or serum (clear fluid) usually appears on the punctured skin. These can take time to find, but they are much more obvious to feel than to see.
Once you’ve found clear evidence of a cat fight wound, you’ll need to decide how to care for it. A cat fight scratch wound normally needs to be managed differently to a puncture wound.
Scratch wounds from cat fights are open to the air, which makes them easy to monitor and allows them to drain if they have been contaminated with dirt or bacteria.
To clean a cat fight wound, you can either use an appropriately-diluted solution of a veterinary wound wash – making sure it is suitable for cats – or you can use warm salty water. As a guide, a rounded teaspoon of table salt dissolved in a mug of warm water is about the right strength. Salty water won’t hurt your cat if they should lick at the area after you’ve bathed it and it won’t interfere with the healing process. If your cat will let you, use cotton wool pads, dipped in the wound bathing solution to remove any dried blood or other material from the surface of the wound. Discard each pad, rather than dipping it back in the solution. Cats don’t usually like sprays so, if you’re using a proprietary wound cleansing spray, put that on to cotton wool, rather than spraying it straight on to the wound.
Puncture wounds, on the other hand, are difficult to spot because they don’t normally bleed much. They are normally quite painful and often require some pain relief.
The skin over a puncture wound often heals over quickly. This seals in all the bacteria and dirt deep within the tissue and prevents oxygen from getting in, which can promote the growth of certain infection-causing micro-organisms. You might not be aware there is a puncture wound unless your cat seems tender or painful when you touch the area, or if infection causes the wound to swell. Puncture wounds can’t really be cleaned on the surface, as there is nothing much to clean. If you do find a puncture wound from a cat fight, it is a good idea to trim away some hair from the area so that you can locate it if you need to show your vet, and so that you can monitor it for any developments over the next couple of weeks.
You’ll also need to arrange for your cat to be checked by your vet if you notice a puncture wound is becoming more painful than it was at the beginning, or if you are suspicious that your cat is developing a CBA. Cat bite abscesses often need to be lanced and flushed out by a vet if they’re to have the best outcome. A burst CBA should also be assessed, so that your vet can check the extent of the damage, identify dead or dying tissue that could prevent healing, and flush out the cavity if appropriate. Antibiotics are not normally needed in otherwise healthy cats, especially once an abscess is open and draining. Your own vet will advise you on the most appropriate course of action for your cat.
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