Playing vs Fighting

Feline housemates, just like human housemates, may not always get along. Depending on the cats involved, they may actually fight or simply ignore one another. Other cats like to play and tussle with one another, and that can sometimes look like they’re fighting.

Photo courtesy of Petcha

How do you tell the difference between tussling and actual fighting? Here are a few things to look for:

  1. Body language. When cats prepare to fight, they will adopt a defensive stance, curve their spine, bristle their fur, and flatten their ears. A big bottle-brush tail lashing back and forth is another indication of escalating aggression. By contrast, play cats will generally have calm, forward ears (sometimes they may flick back but are not flattened down) and won’t not have bristly fur or look like a classic Halloween scaredy cat.
  2. Position. Playing cats generally have looser positions as they tumble. Sometimes they put a paw around the head or go after the belly area (playing may look rough), but note that they take turns. Fighting cats square off against each other, attempt to intimidate each other with posturing and loud vocalizations, and strike only when necessary.
  3. Noise. Playing cats generally don’t make a lot of noise. They don’t yowl and scream, but if the play gets too rough, there may be a couple meows of protestation! When they do this, they teach each other manners and that biting too hard ends the game. Kittens learn this from an early age, ideally from their siblings and from occasionally disciplinary nips from their mom. Fighting cats hiss a lot, growl, scream, snarl, and generally make A LOT of ruckus.
  4. Friendship. Cats that play together generally have a friendly relationship and see each other as belonging to the same social group. They may snuggle together, groom one another, and even share toys or food. When cats do not have this kind of cordiality, they avoid one another and may have totally separate territories.

Photo courtesy of PetMD. Note these two tense cats are squaring off and just look angry.

Photo courtesy of Free Cat Images. These two cats are tussling, not fighting.

Photo courtesy of Chewy. The tabby on the right prepares to playfully bop the one on the left.

If you want more information about determining whether your cats are playing or fighting, check out Vetstreet, AnimalWised, and PetHelpful.

Do your cats play or do they fight? Do they like each other? What kind of antics do they do during a tussle session? Please share in the comments!

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