If you have more than one cat, you might be familiar with catfights, technically known as inter-cat aggression. Frequent cat fights can be frustrating to pet owners and potentially dangerous to cats, even drawing blood during fights. There are steps you can and should take to calm the tension, but it's never a good idea to allow cats to "fight it out." That rarely settles conflicts and usually makes matters worse.
Why Do Cats Fight?
Cats usually display social standing with posturing and "bluffing" communication, which doesn't result in injuries. They can usually learn to tolerate or avoid each other if they don't get along as well. However, this will not always be the case and fights may break out.
Cat-on-cat fights can result from redirected aggression, play aggression, and fear aggression due to any number of reasons:
- The majority of the time, the fighting involves intact same-gender cats and gets worse during mating season. Ninety percent of inter-cat aggression can be decreased or prevented by spaying or neutering cats before their first birthday.
- The lowest ranking cat—often an older or ill kitty—can become a target that is bullied by the other felines. Acting like a victim (slinking around, using submissive body language, hiding, etc.) is the equivalent of wearing a "kick me" sign and invites bullies to increase their bluster.
- Changes to the cat's social group, such as the addition or departure of a member, can prompt an increase in face-offs.
- Environmental changes, such as moving or rearranging cat furniture or feeding and bathroom stations, can cause fights.
- Any change in routine may leave cats so stressed that they take it out on each other.
- Felines reach social maturity at 2 to 4 years of age and that's when many first challenge others for status.
- A lack of space predisposes cats to territorial disputes. Cats mark property with cheek rubs, patrolling, and urine marking. Some diabolical felines may lure others into their territory and then "discipline" the other cat for trespassing. Feline territorial aggression is notoriously hard to correct and marking behavior is a hallmark of potential aggression. Outdoor cats are more aggressive on their home turf and the cat closest to home usually wins the dispute.
- Cats use verbal and silent communication to elevate their status in the eyes of the other felines. They challenge each other with stares, forward-facing body position, hisses, growls, mounting behavior, nape bites, or blocking access to food, play, or attention. Some dominant cats use "power grooming" behavior and will energetically lick the other cat to make it move away.
How to Stop Cat-To-Cat Aggression
If your home has frequent house fights, it's important to do your best to stop it, not only for your cats' health but also for your own well-being. This is not an overnight process; behavioral conditioning can take months and requires a lot of patience and time. Stick with it, but also realize that some cats may never get along.
- Reduce the urge to fight by adding more territorial space. This can prevent the cats from having to share climbing, hiding, and perching areas where fights can break out. Also, increase the number of toys, cat trees, litter boxes, and feeding stations so there is more than enough for each cat.
- Consider an electronic cat door that is only opened by the collared victim cat. This allows the passive cat to access the entire home while having a safe area where the aggressor can't follow. The doors open with a magnetic "key" inside the collar and can be found at pet stores or online.
- Avoid rewarding poor behavior. Giving food or attention to the aggressive cat may calm the angst in the short term, but it rewards the bully. Instead, catch the aggressor before it gets hissy. Redirect its behavior with an interactive toy, such as a flashlight beam, to lure it into play.
- If the toy doesn't work, interrupt bad behavior with an aerosol hiss. Once the aggressive cat walks away and is calm, reinforce the good behavior with a desirable treat, toy, or attention.
- Go back to the basics. Treat the aggressive cats as though introducing them for the first time. Give the passive cat the choice of location within the house, sequester the bully cat, and then make the introduction.
- Speak with a veterinary behaviorist to see what kind of professional therapy may be helpful. Certain medications may control the aggressive behavior in the bully cat while decreasing defensive posturing and vocalizing of the threatened cat. While not a cure, medication may be a tool that enables further training to work more effectively.
- Use controlled situations to expose the cats to each other. Cat carriers or a harness and leash used in a hallway or large room can be helpful.
- During the controlled meetings, feed cats tasty foods or engage in play so they learn to associate each other with fun, positive rewards.
- Try pheromones to reduce tensions. Pet stores sell products that mimic natural cat odor (humans can't smell it) that can significantly reduce stress. While there are sprays available, the diffusers may be the most effective choice for a catfighting household,
- Create at least one feeding station and one bathroom location per cat. If you have the resources, adding an extra is even better.
When all tactics have failed to stop two indoor cats from fighting, one cat may need to be placed in a new home or permanently segregated from the other. Don't consider it giving up; it's making life better for the cats and you.