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?
Cats like their own company and, to them, another cat is usually a nuisance. Fighting can be a way to keep other cats out of their territory. Cats are more likely to fight if they feel things are uncertain or there’s a new cat in town.
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. This could give them larger territories than neutered ones. Your cat will want to protect their territory against other cats who come near it.
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 – 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 strangers and cats they know well, but fighting with cats they don’t know is more common. This is because cats that know each another can 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 multi-cat household can also stress over their territory in the home. Conflict can be over things like food bowls or toileting areas, especially when there aren’t enough to go around. One cat may defend certain areas from others if they feel insecure and this can make other cats very nervous. Some cats can fight when threatened this way, but it can be more common for them to just show smaller signs of stress that are harder to spot, like hiding away more. This is one reason we don’t recommend unrelated cats live together, but if they do it’s very important to make sure 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 often lead to some nasty injuries on cats, especially from cat bites. It can 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.
- Let your cat choose when to go outside. If there’s another cat in the neighbourhood that your cat doesn’t get along with, they’ll quickly learn each other’s routine. Your cat might know when their sworn enemy is usually out and about and can choose to stay in to avoid bumping into them. Never force your cat outside if they’d prefer to stay in.
- Keep to a routine. Making things consistent can help your cat avoid fights. A predictable schedule can help other cats avoid them. If it’s not practical to allow your cat free access in- and outdoors as they choose, this is especially important. 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.
- Choose a cat flap which recognises your cat’s microchip 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.
- Getting your cat neutered can help as unneutered tomcats can be more territorial. 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. If they’re restricted to your garden (or just your house) then make sure there is lots to keep your cat occupied there. 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.
- 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.