Cat fight: How to know when it's just play among felines

Kittens born in the same litter learn many lessons through play with their littermates. They learn to stalk, chase, pounce and bite. They learn how to communicate with other cats and that claws and teeth can cause pain. These lessons are safely learned with mother nearby to set boundaries.

Play fighting continues to be part of an adult cat's daily activities in multiple feline households as an outlet for exercise and socialization.

While it is normal for cats to chase each other and have wrestling matches, some pet parents wonder when play fighting is no longer playing and they should intervene.

Cats just getting to know each other bond before engaging in play fighting. When a new cat becomes a member of the family, look for signs of bonding, like sleeping together or grooming each other, before trusting their encounters are just for fun.

Cats can be difficult to read, but there are some signs to look for that indicate the difference between fun and aggression.

First, cats lean toward each other during playtime. Felines with arched backs and puffed out fur in a leaned-back position are ready for a fight.

Cats also take turns being the aggressor when playing. One kitty may tend to be more dominant than the other, but if one is always the aggressor, it is probably not friendly play.

Cats usually take breaks for a few seconds when playing. In a cat fight, the action is continual.

Check out their ears and eyes. Cats with friendly intentions have their ears forward and relaxed. The ears of kitties ready for a fight are turned back, sometimes pinned back against their heads. Buddies may look at each other while playing, adversaries stare at each intensely.

Watch for biting. Playing cats may put their teeth on each other but will generally not bite hard enough to cause pain.

Listening to cats also gives clues to their intent. Cats who are playing are generally quiet. An occasional meow or hiss may occur during play, but if growling or hissing is frequent, their rendezvous is not friendly.

Once it is determined cats are fighting, be careful when trying to break it up. Never put your hands into the middle of a fight — your hands will most likely end up bleeding. Instead, try making a loud noise — stomping your feet, clapping your hands or banging two pots together — to startle them.

Once cats separate, chase one into a separate room. Or throw a towel over one of them to pick him up to move to a separate space. Give them time to de-stress in different locations.

Never punish cats for fighting. Instead of decreasing their propensity for fighting, punishment may serve to increase their animosity toward each other.

Let your kitties have their fun, but pay attention to their feline tells and be ready to intervene if their play fighting becomes too aggressive.

• Diana Stoll is the practice manager at Red Barn Animal Hospital with locations in Hampshire and Gilberts. Visit, or call (847) 683-4788 (Hampshire) or (847) 426-1000 (Gilberts).

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