How Do You Intervene In a Cat Fight?

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Problem behavior in cats, such as aggression and fighting, may develop suddenly or over time. It can be stressful to witness your cat fight with their playmates at home or other cats outside the house. But don't lose hope! There are ways to stop cats from fighting, both in the short and long term.

In this article, we'll answer the questions of why cats fight, how to intervene, how to prevent cat fights, and what long-term solutions you can consider if it keeps happening.

Why Do Cats Fight?

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Professionals categorize the reasons for cats fighting into three main factors:

  • Territory: Cats can be territorial creatures and often fight to defend what they perceive as their territory. This behavior is frequently observed in outdoor catfights, where a cat may feel that another cat has invaded its space. Alternatively, a stray cat might contest your cat's presence in the area. Such conflicts also occur among cohabiting cats. Cats use scent to mark their territorial boundaries, and your home is no exception. If you have a multi-cat household, they may frequently quarrel over territorial issues.
  • Aggression: Some cats can be naturally aggressive, with male cats being particularly prone to aggression. They may fight with other cats, including their own siblings, and even dominate female cats.
  • Rough play: Sometimes, cats play roughly, which may look like aggression and fighting, but it's not. However, this kind of play could escalate into a fight or cause harm to one or both cats. In such cases, it's best to safely separate your cats.

How Can I Tell If It's Real Fighting?

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It can sometimes be difficult to distinguish between play-fighting and actual fighting in cats. Several body language clues can help determine if the fight is real:

  • Territorial aggression or defensive aggression can be communicated through vocalizations such as growling, hissing, and yowling.
  • Engaging in full-contact fighting can lead to injuries.
  • Displaying signs of aggressive body language, including fluffed-up tails, arched backs (heckles), tense posture, low body position, and ears turned backward, sideways, or flat (airplane ears).
  • Confrontational stares with wide eyes, blank expressions, and a lack of blinking.
  • A low or tucked tail could mean your cat is anxious, while a thrashing tail may suggest agitation.

How Do I Intervene In a Cat Fight?

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Watching the cats you love hurting each other is upsetting! If your cats used to get along but have recently been fighting, here are the things you can do to intervene:

Separate the cats carefully.

When you first see two cats fighting, your immediate instinct may be to step in and separate them. However, it's essential to exercise caution in this situation. Cats can become quite aggressive when agitated, and attempting to intervene without care can lead to scratches and injuries. It's best to approach the situation calmly and attempt to gently separate the cats, prioritizing your safety. You can use long poles to break the fight gently without being too close to the situation.

Distract them.

Cats can become deeply engrossed in fighting, but you can attempt to distract them. Find something they enjoy, such as a cat toy, and make a loud noise. This may capture their attention and halt the fight.

The most crucial thing to remember when intervening in a fight is to avoid getting injured and refrain from causing additional stress or fear to your cat(s) with the methods used. So, avoid being aggressive towards your cat, and do not employ forceful methods.

After a fight, there are additional measures you can take to prevent it from happening again…

Reinforce positive behavior.

When you witness your cats getting along and interacting in a friendly manner, it's beneficial to reward them. This can be in the form of cat treats or affectionate gestures.

Provide separate areas in the house.

Consider allocating separate areas in different parts of the house for their litter boxes, bowls of food and water sources, and beds. They can still detect each other's scent but won't interact, providing them the necessary period of time apart. You can also rotate rooms daily to help them get accustomed to each other's scent.

Let the cats eat separated by a closed door.

By doing this, your cats will be separated but engaged in a joint activity that makes them feel good.

How to Help Cats Get Along

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Any sudden changes in your cat's behavior are important, as they could indicate an underlying medical condition. Medical issues such as hyperthyroidism, osteoarthritis, dental disease, and nervous system problems may cause aggression issues. Therefore, seeing a veterinarian is vital to ensure your cat is healthy.

Socialization can also help stop catfights. You can also seek advice from a pet behavior specialist. Behavior modification plans vary depending on the specific aggressive behavior and may involve desensitization, counterconditioning techniques, or medication use.

Here are some ways to manage cat aggression:

  • Spaying or neutering your cats. Inter-male aggression often happens with intact (unneutered) males and intact females may exhibit maternal aggression.
  • Providing additional perches and hiding spots, such as boxes and cat trees, allows cats to escape or hide when they feel threatened or fearful.
  • Ensuring abundant cat supplies, including multiple food bowls and water sources, litter boxes, perches, and toys to prevent resource-related fighting. Place the resources in different locations.
  • Reinforcing good behaviors. Praise your cats and give healthy treats as rewards for doing the opposite of problem behaviors.
  • Trying pheromone products that mimic calming natural cat odors to potentially reduce aggression in cats.
  • If necessary, keep cats separated, especially during mealtimes. If severe aggression persists, cats may need to be separated for several weeks before a gradual reintroduction.

Reducing Cat Stress

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Cats are solitary animals and typically prefer to live alone rather than in small or large groups. However, there are ways to make sharing space less stressful for multiple cats. This includes providing separate feeding areas for each cat, offering multiple water stations, and creating quiet, private hiding areas and vertical spaces for each cat to have their own 'me time.' Additionally, using cat-appeasing pheromone products, such as sprays for furniture or plug-in diffusers, can help reduce stress and bad behavior. These techniques can be handy when introducing a new cat or dealing with aggression in a household with multiple pets.

What NOT to Do When Cats Are Fighting

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When attempting to facilitate harmony between your cats, it's crucial to distinguish between playful feline behavior and active aggression. If a genuine fight breaks out, it's essential to intervene and respond appropriately afterward.

  • DON'T let the cats fight it out. Never allow your cats to resolve their issues through physical aggression if it's real fighting. Cats do not settle disputes through fights, so diverting their attention using loud noise or sudden movement is the better way to handle.
  • DON'T put your body between cats nor try to pull them fighting cats with your bare hands as this may cause injury.
  • DON'T punish your cat. Disciplining your cat for negative behaviors toward another cat can exacerbate fearful or aggressive tendencies.
  • DON'T sooth your cat. Similarly, do not attempt to soothe or calm your aggressive cat. Instead, give them space.

Keep Your Cat Indoors

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Sometimes, if your cat roams outdoors, it may encounter active aggression from other cats. These confrontations can be recurring, with reports of a particular cat persistently targeting another. This is particularly concerning if your cat is docile and unlikely to retaliate. The resulting injuries may necessitate multiple visits to the vet and cause significant anxiety.

Keeping your cat inside is the most effective way to avoid fighting due to inter-cat aggression in this scenario. Allowing them outside at night can be particularly risky.

Cats are territorial animals, so conflicts are inevitable. Therefore, keeping them indoors is imperative to avoid being involved in catfights.

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