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!

Where Are Your Toys, Charlie?

Charlie is a busy, ridiculously cute, and rather kittenish cat. He loves to play. Fortunately–and amusingly–he is perfectly happy to play with nearly anything. I’ve seen him bat around a coffee bean and, later, a single kibble for hours. We have given him crinkly Mylar balls and Ethical Pet heavy gauge plastic springs. At times he will bat around a jingle ball and investigate a puzzle egg toy in order to get a treat out of it. (A dear friend sent me these particular puzzle toys, along with a piñata, but a similar puzzle toy can be found on Chewy.)

When Charlie is particularly frisky, my living room looks like a daycare center with toys spilled haphazardly everywhere. Of course, Charlie temporarily loses his toys whenever he bats them under furniture and cannot fish them out with his questing paws. Whenever we recover toys for him, he reacts with such unfettered glee. (Often times though, he loses his toy again within half an hour. Then the cycle begins anew.)

By far, though, Charlie’s absolute favorite toys are the two fuzzy brown mice and a fuzzy brown ball that he tore off the cat tower. (We cut away the remaining elastic strings to prevent him from being able to chew or swallow them.) It’s utterly hilarious and terribly charming when I catch Charlie carrying these toys around in his mouth. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to snap a photo of him doing this yet.

When we need to vacuum, we pick up all the toys and temporarily place them on one of the cat tower platforms. Charlie and Garrus prefer the one on the left, so we put the toys on the right platform since they don’t use it as much. At first, we did this purely for practical reasons but soon we noticed that Charlie decided this was a new game. After he realized that his toys were all in one spot, he would scale the tower, go to the right platform, and bat at least one crinkle ball off the platform onto the floor. He typically goes straight for his fuzzy toys, picks one up in his mouth, and either carries it down to the floor or simply drops it. Then he goes back to his spot on the left platform. If we immediately replace the toy, he takes it as a cue to play with extra zest and attacks the toy (and usually the scratching poles in the process), tosses the given toy back onto the floor, and usually starts batting it around for awhile after that. Sometimes chirping accompanies the toy carrying and/or the batting session. It’s very silly.

Now when we find his fuzzy toys on the floor, we surreptitiously replace it back onto one of the top three platforms for Charlie to find. We’ve also occasionally hid them inside the kitty condos or put them on a lower platform in order for him to investigate and to keep things interesting for him. I’m quite pleased when I see that he is using his mind as well as his paws to keep himself entertained.  If playtime is not occupying him, it could be mischief! 

His latest project is depositing toys around the house in odd places. It’s not uncommon to find a mouse in the middle of the hallway or under a chair after we wake up. On a few occasions Charlie has approached me with a toy in his mouth, only to drop it and scamper away. It’s not clear whether he wants me to throw said toy (he doesn’t fetch…yet) or if I should regard the toy as a present. Sleeping Garrus on the bed? Clearly a toy mouse needs to go under his tail without Garrus’ apparent knowledge. Maybe Charlie thinks Garrus needs a napping buddy. Mom’s in the bathroom? A fuzzy ball needs to be placed just outside the door…because reasons. Another mouse needs to placed in the exact center of the kitchen floor. Perhaps it is the mascot for the kitty convention they will hold under the kitchen table later.


Just a December Evening Around Here

Egads! It’s actually snowing! The temperature is at freezing. The weather has been gloppy, cold, blustery, and grey before the snow started. The cats, Garrus in particular, have not been happy about the conspicuous absence of sunspots in which to bathe. On the bright side, they have been extra snuggly. On Wednesday night, Charlie came up onto the couch next to me (Boudicca was in my lap) and lazed on the pillow, receiving lots of rubs and purring away very happily. For her part, Boudicca had no idea he was there because she was upside down asleep.

What have my cats been doing to occupy themselves during this spate of wintry weather? Sleeping. Surprise! They are cats, after all. The boys, with Garrus coming to us first with those big mournful eyes of his, politely wait for us to lay out the crocheted blankets over the couch so they can snuggle up all cozy together. Boudicca has been happy snoozing in her pink beds, although occasionally she has stolen a spot on the couch when the boys head off for their own bed or the tower for a nap.

Curiously, all three cats have been intermittently poky, frisky, and attention-hungry this evening.

  • Boudicca turned into a moderate Meower Mouth and pestered me until I picked her up. She seemed both thoroughly confused and pleased as I held her in my lap/against my chest as I sat at my desk. (She normally gets lap time when I sit on the couch.) Much purring occurred.
  • Charlie breaks out in sporadic squeaks and came over for a few pit stop visits. He kept pestering Garrus and Boudicca to play with him and, of course, Boudicca was not having any of it!
  • Garrus has been unusually frisky, complete with scampers (without Charlie instigating scampering session) and poofy tail. And he’s decided to new game (Bug Boudicca) while trying to get her to play with him (tag from the looks of it). I think he’s won every round. Boudicca is decidedly unamused by this turn of events.

Boudicca: Mama! It’s cold outside! And the boys are bothering me! Make it stop! If I hide behind you, they won’t follow me, right?

Me: Queen B, I can’t change the weather. Boys, leave Boudicca alone.

Garrus: *looking directly at me, touches Boudicca’s tail with his tail then darts away*

Boudicca: Mama! He’s touching me!

Charlie: *looking innocent* Play?

Boudicca: No, I won’t, you plebeian! Go away!

Me: Children…

Cats with Sitters vs with Us

I always worry about my cats whenever I have to leave them for any length of time. I have not used a professional pet sitting service, although I’ve received a couple of recommendations, when I do have to leave the cats. Instead I leave the cats in the care of a friend I trust.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday and a brief business trip, I asked Tracey, a dear friend and fellow ailurophile, to check in on my cats for me, to which she agreed. (In turn, I’ve checked in and loved on her five cats for her when she and her husband Sam went to Europe earlier this year.) Boudicca loves Tracey and Sam dearly, greets them noisily and with dancing paws at the door, and demands adoration and constant snuggles whenever they visit. The adoration is mutual. Everyone wins!

Having friends who truly understand cat behavior come to visit has another advantage. I’ve been trying to expose the Downton Tabbies to other people and develop positive associations with them. Judging from what I’ve gleaned from their histories, the boys very likely did not have many positive associations with people. At best, those positive associations were irregular and brief. While they are certainly much calmer than they were in August, they are still skittish and often difficult to handle. Garrus, in particular, is evasive and completely unaccustomed to being handled so it is quite the challenge getting him to accept being picked up even a few inches off the ground for a few seconds.

Boudicca with Us

  • In general, she is fairly chill and sweet, spending most of her time in her box in my office. She is overtly lovey on occasion, begs from Aaron at dinner, and turns into a liquid purring cat during our regularly scheduled lap time.
  • If her food or water bowl is low, she lets you know A LOT. If she can see the bottom of her food bowl, she’ll be in the kitchen, wasting away…starving…
  • Boudicca has a bad habit of stealing Garrus’ kitten kibble. She’s not even subtle about it.
  • She has always been rather googly when it comes to using the litter box. We sometimes have to pick her up to remind her that there is an available Cat Genie when the other is running. Other times she has accidents, although this is partially attributed to her hyperthyroidism. She also throws up on occasion. Yuck.
  • From day one, she has always been a mama’s girl but she does seem to enjoy it when Aaron visits and talks to her.

Garrus with Us

  • He is a reserved, stoic cat. Nothing ruffles his fur much. He’s not even scared of the dreaded Vacuum Monster. (Shocking, I know.)
  • He’s lovey when he wants to be and that’s that. When he is lovey, he’s very finicky about when, where, how, and for what duration. No picking up please.
  • The highlight of his day is being able to sunbathe for several hours without interruption.
  • He does enjoy playtime but only with particular toys and has to think about it for a bit before deciding to participate.
  • If his food or water bowl is low, he just gives you a mournful look and wait patiently by the door until you to get the message.
  • Since he’s been with us, he’s had an impeccable litter box record.
  • He occasionally has wheezing spells, which may be asthma. Since we have transitioned to the Cat Genies, which do not produce any cat litter dust, he has wheezed significantly less.

Charlie with Us

  • While he can be skittish on occasion, he’s often pretty talky (squeak squeak!), purry, and very receptive to rubs, especially if he’s up on his tower. He’s learning about lap time and being picked up and enjoys visits with both of us.
  • If he’s not sleeping, Charlie spends rest of his time playing. Charlie is pretty good about using the litter box. The only time we had an issue is when he got sick.
  • Because he’s essentially a furry toddler, he puts things in his mouth that he’s not supposed to, like bits of cardboard from the scratching pads, bits of paper, leaves that were tracked in by shoes, etc. We had two non-toxic plants in the house, one of which we had to move onto a very high shelf to keep it out of his reach because he kept getting into it and trying to eat it. We ended up giving the plants to my mother because he simply cannot be trusted not to mouth things! For that reason, we have to be conscientious what toys we get for him: for example, nothing with feathers or anything that can be easily torn off.

The Cats with the Sitter

  1. Charlie [cute beyond all reason]
    1. [First visit] AAAHHH! Strangers! I must hide! Behind the couch I go!
    2. [Second visit] Um, excuse me? Why are you here? You’re not my humans. Oh, but you seem to be nice. You want to pet me? You are being quiet and talking softly to me. I like that. And you are offering rubs. OH I LIKE THIS. I may hide again though. I haven’t totally made up my mind. Don’t mind all the toys I have left in odd places around the house.
  2. Garrus [restrained British voice]
    1. [First visit] Yawn. I say, you are not my humans. But you are attending to my needs adequately, respect my space, and appear to have achieved acceptable cat parent achievement status. You may pet me as long as I do not have to get up from my spot on the bed.
    2. [Second visit] I see you are paying homage to the Queen. *waltzes in to my office, tail up in the air* Excuse me, madam. I do not believe that you and I have concluded exchanges of affection yet. I would like more scritches please. *gives vampy smile and lots of tail hugs*
  3. Boudicca [think Bette Midler’s campiest voice]
    1. [First visit] Sam and Tracey are here! No other humans exist! *dances at the front door, greeting them excitedly, talking nonstop* Pick me up, pick me up! Do NOT stop snuggling me! Adore me! Love me! Why are you stopping to take a photo? I protest–just LOVE ME! Sam, dahling, where have you been all my life? PURR. PURR. PURR. *commence intense googliness protocols* *air biscuits, flop, liquid cat, air biscuits* I am so HAPPY!
    2. [later] Oh, by the way, don’t mind the mess I made on the bathroom floor…And I’ll just help myself to Garrus’ food. You don’t mind, do you? You think I’m totally adorable, right? Um, excuse me, why have you stopped petting me? Why are you paying attention to those insignificant boys? Hello! Pay attention to me! I am the Queen!
    3. [Second visit] Well hello Tracey luv! Where’s Sam? He’s my new boyfriend! But you’re my biggest fan, right?! *babbling, big tail hugs, dancing paws, flop* Love me, adore me, feed me! Where are my kisses? I’m going to shed all over you and make silly air biscuits as you pet me. PURR. PURR. *commence intense googliness protocols*

I Will Pick You Up and You Will Like It

IMG_2110When we brought the Downton Tabbies home as fosters in August, it was evident they were completely unaccustomed to being handled on a daily basis. Aside from visits from volunteers who loved on them and foster care, probably most of what they had experienced was rough manhandling that involved being scruffed, put inside a carrier, and taken to the shelter, the vet, or a temporary home, all of which are stressful places and situations for cats. The whole experience must have been like an alien abduction to them.

Picking up and holding a cat is part of socializing that cat, a topic I’ve discussed at length with my vet once I took the boys in as fosters. It is also an integral part of having to hold and, on occasion, restrain an animal for certain situations. Good examples would be to trim a cat’s nails, clean their ears, or to administer medication. Also, getting them into the carrier is a challenge every cat owner and cat must face!

With some coaxing and a lot of patience, Charlie is submitting to being picked up. The trick is getting him to disengage his claws from fabric or his tower. Once scooped, he does well if he is held close to the body in a semi-circular ball. I think he likes the reassurance, support, and security my arms provide as I hold him. I also give him smooches, sneak in belly rubs if his tummy is exposed, and talk to him. On several occasions I’ve been rewarded with purrs. For some reason, Aaron hasn’t had as much luck being able to catch and pick up Charlie as I have.

Garrus is another matter. He hops, wiggles, shimmies, darts, and skitters away from both of us when we try to pick him up. If we’re able to actually get a grip on him and hold him for a few seconds, he uses his long back legs to kick off of our arms or chest to spring away. Then he looks back reproachfully at us. Once he’s onto us, he gives us a wide berth until he is certain that we won’t try to pick him up. Clever boy.

I’ve spoken about his tactics with his vet and her technicians, who have provided a few tips and a lot of encouragement. We have to move slowly with Garrus and acclimate him accordingly. Aaron and I have made it a goal to habitually pick him up just a few inches off the ground a couple times a day. We don’t pick him up each time we pet him or else he will avoid our approach. As I’ve mentioned, he’s smarter than Charlier and a bit feistier.

This evening I demonstrated both persistence and patience as he walked in figure-8s around my legs, apparently wanting rubs but seemingly catching onto the idea that I might want to pick him up but not sure exactly when I might do it. In due time I picked him up twice, each time putting one hand in front of his chest (to prevent him from hopping off) and the other beneath his hind legs and bottom to give him ample support (and to prevent him from kicking).

I gave him a break and rewarded him with his favorite form of affection: scritches on the side of his neck and chest simultaneously. He began to purr, relaxed, squinted his eyes, and semi-flopped on the floor. Stroking him and talking to him all the while, I managed to scoop him up into my arms and held him for about half a minute–a record! Amazingly he continued to purr! I smooched his head and told him that he was such a good boy. I’m not sure if Garrus appreciated such praise but Aaron concurred.

Then Garrus had enough and flew out of my arms, his back paws flying off my chest. He didn’t give us the side-eye this time because instead he got a treat for not being such a wiggle-worm when being held. His claws left a tiny hole in my shirt. C’est la vie. I still won.



Charlie is a hoot sometimes, especially when he’s full of beans and squeaky. The other day I heard him squeaking up a storm on the other side of the bathroom door. When I opened it, I found him sitting patiently, looking up at me. He held a fuzzy brown toy mouse in his mouth. He stood up, dropped the mouse, and scurried off.

I’m not sure if this was a present for me, his way of showing off his latest prize, or a cheeky invitation to play. When I followed him, he proceeded to zoom around the house. Cats are weird, adorable, and often amusing beyond all reason.