Is your cat not getting on with other cats, or do you want to stop your cat from fighting?
Much like their wildcat ancestors, many of today’s cats enjoy their own company. Your cat may love being with you, but when they meet other cats, things can get tense. Cats are territorial animals and occasionally this can lead to fighting, even with cats who have lived together for many years!
In this guide, we’ll help you understand the difference between cats fighting and playing, what it means when cats fight outside and how to avoid brother and sister cats fighting.
Cats living together
Cats like their own space and don’t usually need a companion to be happy. They can live harmoniously with other cats if they believe themselves to be part of the same social group. It’s also helpful if they don’t feel they have to compete for resources such as food, water and comfortable places.
Signs of happy bonded cats include grooming, rubbing against each other, and sleeping touching together. If you notice your cats displaying these behaviours towards each other, you can safely assume they are in a shared social group.
Even when cats seem to tolerate each other there can be underlying tension that can be hard for owners to spot. Cats are territorial and with more than one cat in your home, they might find it stressful to share this territory.
Constant tension between cats can lead to stress related health issues such as cystitis or overgrooming and behavioural problems such as toileting in the house. How comfortable your cats are together should not only be decided on if they fight or not as many cats living together can be stressed, without ever engaging in conflict.
There are few things you can do to help your cats live peacefully together:
- make sure there’s plenty to go around – Ideally each of your cats should have their own food and water bowl, a bed, a litter box, and a place to sleep or hide, plus a spare just in case
- keep resources out of communal areas – Try to avoid placing resources in busy areas and too close to other cats, this is particularly important for litter boxes as if your cat doesn’t feel safe, they may have accidents in your home
- provide hiding and climbing places – If cats feel threatened, they like to have spots they can hide in or climb up high. Consider giving them things like boxes and cat trees to make them feel secure. Ensure there is vertical space in narrow areas like hallways where the cats have less opportunity to avoid one another.
- use a pheromone diffuser – Products such as Feliway Friends or Optimum release calming cat pheromones that can help your cats feel happy and safe, reducing the chances of conflict
- spend time with each of your cats – Playing with each of your cats encourages natural behaviour and reduces stress, try using fishing rod toys to get them moving!
- If you notice your normally calm cat is showing aggressive behaviours, it’s worth checking in with your vet to see if there may be an underlying medical condition.
How can I tell if my cats are fighting or playing?
It can be quite difficult to tell the difference between cats fighting and playing, as many of these behaviours can look similar, particularly as cats like to ‘hunt’ each other when playing, which involves running around your home! Bonded cats in particular love to play fight.
The best way to distinguish between cats playing and a genuine fight is to pay close attention to your cat’s body language. If your cat feels threatened or annoyed, you may notice signals such as their ears being flat and a swishing tail.
If your cats are playing, you may notice the interaction is:
Find out more about your cat's body language
- silent – Play fighting is usually quiet, with lots of little breaks as cats wiggle to reposition or prepare to chase each other
- gentle – Biting is normal, but you’ll notice that biting is gentle and claws are usually retracted, so they don’t injure each other
- reciprocal – Your cats will change roles frequently, ie one cat chasing for a while and then being chased
- calm – Usually after playing, your cats will return to normal with no obvious tension or aggression
Here’s what to look for if you think your cats are fighting:
- flailing paws – If your cats are standing on their haunches rapidly swiping at each other with their front paws, it’s likely to be an aggressive interaction
- aggressive body language or sounds – Flattened ears, a tense body posture, swishing tail, and sounds such as growling, hissing or screeching
In the event of a cat fight, you should try to separate your cats to avoid injury. Don’t be aggressive or heavy-handed when interrupting a fight and try to avoid physically separating them with your hands as in the heat of the moment, you might get hurt.
Try distracting them with a toy or by making a loud noise, this will get their attention and pause the fight. Give your cats time to cool off before you stroke them or pick them up.
Why are my cats fighting suddenly when they’ve always got along before?
Cats like to avoid conflict wherever possible, and fighting is always a last resort. There are lots of reasons why your previously happy cats may be fighting.
- They’ve spent time away from home – When cats are in the same social group, they have a communal scent that helps them recognise each other. If your cat smells strange after a trip out, they might be treated like a stranger
- Redirected aggression – Sometimes your cats fight because one of them is feeling frustrated or scared, eg because they saw a strange cat through the window or a firework or loud noise frightened them, so they hiss or attack
- Something at home has changed – Cats like routine and if something has changed in their environment, such as new furniture or visitors coming to stay, your cats might feel threatened
It can be especially tough when you have indoor cats fighting, as it may be difficult for your cats to get away from each other. The best thing you can do is make sure you have enough resources to go around. Remember to have plenty of safe places to hide so they can feel safe and secure as they cool off.
If your cats continue to fight despite your efforts, it’s best to separate them and contact a behaviourist from the APBC or ABTC as soon as possible.
Brother and sister cats fighting – what to do
While family bonds among people tend to be strong, it’s very different for cats. Just because they came from the same litter does not guarantee they’ll be best friends for life.
Brother and sister cats fighting is not uncommon. In fact, feline siblings can sometimes drift apart as they reach social maturity around the age of 18 months, even if they were bonded before.
It’s also normal for siblings to play rough; kittens and young cats tend to engage in quite rough play. If it is play fighting and you are worried that it is too intense, increase human-directed play and enrichment feeding to give an alternative outlet for their energy.
How can I prevent fighting with a new cat in my household?
Introducing a new cat into your home is both a wonderful moment and a potential source of anxiety for many owners, if you already have a cat. There’s a chance your cat will see this lovely new ball of fluff as a threat to their territory and resources. Cats are often brought to us because they haven’t got along with cats at home.
First impressions count, so take your time when introducing new cats. If you do it slowly and pay attention to your cat’s behaviour, you’ll give them a good chance of living together peacefully. Here’s a few things you should do to make the transition as smooth as possible.
- Create a sanctuary – Start slow by keeping your new cat in a separate room, definitely with the door closed. Ensure there is no glass on the door with everything they need in one place.
- Swapping scents – Use a cloth to gently wipe their cheeks and forehead and switch cloths between the room of each of the cats, so they can get used to each other’s smell before they meet in person.
- Use pheromones – A Feliway diffuser can be helpful to make the environment reassuring for all cats, try spraying it in places where they like to sleep.
- Use a barrier – After a minimum of 3-5 days, introduce your cats through a barrier where they can’t touch, such as a glass door or a baby gate with mesh across.
- Reward good behaviour – Whenever your cats have a positive interaction, make sure you give them a treat or praise them, so they know it’s the right thing to do.
Once your cats are comfortable looking at each other and don’t show any sign of aggression, you can let them meet face to face. It’s important to let them do this in their own time, and that you give them space to leave and hide if they feel the need to. If they fight, separate them again and repeat these steps slower.
Find out how to introduce cats to other cats
Cat being ‘bullied’ by neighbour’s cat
It’s not uncommon for owners to tell us ‘my cat is being bullied by another cat’. When your cat is out and about in the world, they might run into other cats.
If your cat has established their territory, they can find it very stressful dealing with an intruder.
Usually when two strange cats come face to face, they will give each other space to avoid conflict. But occasionally, some cats are confrontational and will stand their ground.
Signs that your cat is stressed because of a neighbourhood cat are things like spending time staring out of the window or through their cat flap, and problem behaviours such as going to the toilet in inappropriate places. They may also be reluctant to go outside in case they run into the other cat.
Here’s how to stop your cats fighting with the neighbour’s cat and prevent conflict:
Top tips to prevent cat bullying
- get a microchip cat flap – These will only open for your cat’s microchip, meaning other cats can’t enter. You can also get collars with magnets that open cat flaps
- secure your windows – A cat might be coming into your home through an open window, try to keep your windows secure; you could also cover them to prevent neighbourhood cats glaring into your home
- talk to their owner – If you know the owner of the other cat and you feel comfortable discussing it with them, you might be able to agree a solution, such as only letting your cats out at certain times of day to make sure they don’t run into each other
- keep essential resources away from windows and cat flaps – Placing food bowls or litter boxes near windows and cat flaps might make your cats more anxious as they feel the need to watch out for the other cat
How to stop your cat fighting outside
Cats fighting outside can be a problem, as it’s more likely they’ll be injured by these encounters. We’ve got lots of tips to help keep your cat safe outside, one of the most important being protecting them from potential danger. Here’s a few things you can do to stop cats fighting outside:
- neuter your cat – Aggression is common in unneutered males and they’re more likely to roam away from home, so consider neutering your cat to keep them safe
- stick to a routine – If you’re able to control when your cat goes outside for the day, you can prevent them bumping into cats they may fight with. Talk to your neighbour about ‘timesharing’ – by making an arrangement to avoid the times their cat is out, it may reduce conflict
- keep them indoors at night-time – It’s a good idea to keep your cat indoors after dark to help keep them safe from other cats or road traffic accidents, which are more likely to happen at night
- go outside – One of the easiest ways to stop cats fighting outside is to go out if you hear your cat in distress, as often strange cats will run at the sight of a human