Cat fight: Stopping your cat from getting into trouble
Cats like their own space and will naturally feel stressed or insecure if there are other cats in places they see as ‘theirs’. This means that our beloved felines can often get into scraps with each other, especially in neighbourhoods or homes where there are lots of cats.
A lot of cat owners may be familiar with the sound of two moggies having a stand-off in the street. Understanding why they fight can help you take steps to avoid cat fights and the dangers and injuries that come with them for your cat.
Why do cats fight?
When thinking about cat fights, it’s important to understand that cats are pretty unique in their behaviour. Like many animals, cats use body language cues as a big part of their communication and aggressive behaviours, such as hissing, swiping and fighting can be a part of this.
Unlike dogs and people, many cats like their own company meaning they may have less ways to communicate with each other and can become stressed if another cat is around. This can lead to tensions and therefore cat fights. This is even more likely if they’ve not been used to other cats being around or if the other cat is unfamiliar to them.
When two cats meet, whether this is at home or when they’re out and about, they will need to interact with each other. This often happens when they are looking for resources such as food and somewhere to curl up for the day. If more than one cat wants the same spot or the same food at the same time, they’ll need to figure out who gets to use it. You may have seen cats sizing each other up or hissing at each other and in some cases, this will turn into a fight. Cats are more likely to fight if they feel stressed, vulnerable or there’s a new cat in town.
So what might start a fight?
Territory. Cats will have an area they feel safe in and will consider this area their territory. This could be limited to your house and garden, or could stretch much further. Unneutered cats have a higher tendency to roam which can give them larger territories than neutered ones. Your cat will want to protect their territory against other cats who come near it or if their territories overlap and they’re trying to be in the same place at the same time.
Other signals haven’t worked. Cats are naturally solitary animals and usually prefer not to fight if possible, as they could get hurt. Instead, cats might try to use sounds, facial expressions and body language to show other cats how they feel and get them to go away. You may see your cat scent marking or scratching areas– this is partly to let other cats know that they think of that particular area as theirs and to stay away. Other cats may also feel that territory is theirs though. Sometimes neither cat backs down, so fighting is the only option.
Strange new cats in the neighbourhood. Cats can fight with both strange cats and cats they know well, but fighting with cats they don’t know is more common. This is because cats that know each another tend to try to tolerate each other, especially if they have enough resources to go around. Over time, some groups of cats can work out ways to “share” territory between them. This might mean splitting it up and not crossing boundaries unless they have to, or it might be that they “time-share” areas (for example, one cat patrols a street in the morning and another in the afternoon). New cats in an area often upset the balance and can cause more fighting for a short period while they all try to figure things out again.
Living with other cats. Cats living in a home with other cats can also become stressed over their territory and resources in the home. This could be over things like food bowls or toileting areas, especially if there aren’t enough to go around. One cat may defend certain areas from others if they feel insecure and this can make the other cats very nervous. Some cats can fight when threatened but you can also notice smaller signs of stress that are harder to spot, like hiding away more or toileting in different places. This is one reason unrelated or older cats living together can struggle to get on. If you do have more than one cat in your household it’s very important to make sure controlled introductions are used when they first meet and their living environment is well thought out to help them live together peacefully.
Our top tips to stop your cat from fighting outside
Fighting can lead to some nasty injuries on cats, especially from cat bites. It may also leave your cat feeling very stressed, which can also cause some serious illnesses, so it’s best to do what you can to prevent your cat fighting in the first place.
- Consider time inside. If your cat doesn’t mind spending some time indoors, try to monitor when neighbourhood cats are around so you can engage your cat in a fun activity to keep them inside and avoid conflict. Use visual barriers such as curtains or blinds so neighbourhood cats cannot see into your home and your cat cannot see other cats outside. If your cat becomes frustrated and wants to go outside, let them, but try to monitor them so you can step in if needed.
- Keep to a routine. Making things consistent can help your cat avoid fights. A predictable schedule can help cats avoid each other. This is especially important if it’s not practical to allow your cat free access to go outdoors as they choose. If you keep having problems between particular cats, you could try to agree on a schedule with the other owner for when each cat goes outside, too. Never force your cat outside if they’d prefer to stay in. If there’s another cat in the neighbourhood that your cat doesn’t get along with, they may be choosing to stay in to avoid bumping into them.
- Get a microchip cat flap. You can buy cat flaps which only open when your cat’s microchip is recognised so that other cats can’t get into your house. This way, your cat can safely come and go as they choose without the worry of other cats coming into their home.
- Neuter your cat. Getting your cat neutered can also help as unneutered tomcats can be more territorial and unneutered females cats can have trouble with male cats who are interested in them. Find out more about the benefits of neutering your cat. If you know the owner of a cat that may be fighting with your cat, have a chat to them to check that their cat is neutered, too.
- Check your garden is secure. A garden with a high fence, especially if it has a 45 degree angle at the top, will keep your cat in and neighbourhood cats out. This will help them avoid fights but it’s important to make sure they’re plenty keep your cat occupied if they’re going to be in your garden (or house) full time. A garden full of safe plants and bushes will give them lots to sniff at and explore. Spend time playing with your cat and put up some other toys to keep them occupied as well. Read our vets’ advice on buying toys for your cat.
How can I stop my cats from fighting in the house?
Dealing with cats in a multi-cat household that don’t get along can be difficult, especially if they really don’t see eye to eye. The good news is there are some simple measures you can take to help them get along.
- Make sure there’s enough to go around. Each of your cats needs their own bed, water station, feeding station, litter tray and scratching post. You also need one of each of these spare. Make sure they are spread around the house so cats can choose to be near or further from each other and try to make sure they’re not in corners or corridors where a cat could be easily “ambushed” by another.
- Try re-introducing them. If the cats haven’t known each other long but got off on the wrong foot, it can be worth separating them and trying to re-introduce them gradually in a positive way.
- Create ways for your cats to avoid each other. Many of us have times when we want a few minutes to ourselves and this is true for cats too. Try to create ways that your cats can avoid each other by creating cat walk ways around your home. This could be by moving furniture so they form a high level platform or putting up shelves on the wall for your act to walk along. This means if your cats want to move around the house they can do it without disturbing each other and avoid causing any tension.
- Speak to a behaviourist. If you are still having a problem after following these tips, it’s a good idea to speak to a cat behaviourist, who can assess your individual situation to decide what the best course of action will be. We recommend you look for a behaviourist with accreditation from the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) or the Animal Behaviour and Training Council (ABTC), as they will have met a minimum standard of education and have a successful track record, as well as only using kind and proven methods to help your cats. Ask your vet for their recommendation.
While pheromones and medications together with behaviour therapy can often help to resolve cat conflict, it’s important to realise that sometimes rehoming one cat may be the only way to manage their stress.
Neutering your pet
Find out how neutering could help curb cat aggression, as well as preventing other health problems.
Microchipping your cat
A microchip can help reunite you with your cat if they're lost or stolen. Your cat's microchip can also work with a microchip cat flap to help keep out intruders and reduce feline stress.