Two kittens or cats may be romping around, wrestling and engaging in rough play and enjoying themselves. But then, you hear that ear-splitting screeching: “Rrrreeeeer!” Oh, no. Does that mean the play fight has turned into a serious cat fight? Let’s learn what cat fight sounds (and other factors, like body language) signify a true cat fight versus a play cat fight.
Typically, when roughhousing for fun, cats won’t really vocalize — so if you hear them make any loud noises, your kitties may have crossed the line into a full-blown fight. Screeching meows and growling are cat fight sounds that say, “I don’t like what you’re doing,” says Dr. Sally J. Foote, DVM, executive director of CattleDog Publishing, which publishes books about animals.
If you hear guttural meowing sounds, screeching, hissing, yowling and growling, those are cat fight sounds and mean a fight is brewing — and soon, the cats might be biting each other’s necks, which is a predatory move, Dr. Foote says.
Yet sounds alone may not distinguish a serious cat fight from a play fight, so you need to observe the interaction visually, explains Cathy Bosley, Certified Feline Training and Behavior Specialist at Best Friends Animal Society in Utah.
Don’t know if you’re hearing cat fight sounds? This video includes some typical cat fight sounds.
“Actually, unfortunately, many times they sound pretty much the same, which can cause the cat caregiver to run to the cat’s aid, even when they do not need to,” Bosley says. “If you’re looking to see if the cats are having a real fight instead of simply playing rough, the best course of action is to look at their body language. The cat’s body language is the best indicator and it will also indicate if the fight is escalating to a real fight.”
When kittens and adult cats are playing and having fun, they will play with their bellies up or run sideways, Bosley tell us. However, when kitties are on the offensive, they will lower their tails, which will be rigid and twitching. If you see the cat’s hair erect and standing up, this indicates that the cat is either afraid or aggressive. Ears flattened against the head indicate fear; however, ears swiveled down and not against the head indicate a confident aggressor who will attack, she says.
It’s not just outdoor stranger cats who engage in cat fights; feline siblings and roommates, just like humans, can get into intense fights even if they otherwise love each other, advises Dr. Foote. Even bonded cats can be sleeping together one minute — then, later, they may get into a vocal spat and bite each other.
“Buddies still fight,” explains Dr. Foote, who is the president of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior. “Compared to dogs, it does not happen as intently. You don’t have cats ripping each other’s ears off.”
Still, pet parents shouldn’t underestimate cat fights, Dr. Foote advises, even though they don’t hurt each other as much as dogs do. “It’s so hard for people to appreciate that this is really fighting in the cats because they don’t actually go into injuring each other,” says Dr. Foote, who owns the Okaw Veterinary Clinic in Tuscola, Illinois.
Just like with human siblings, resident cat buddies can fight over territorial issues and become agitated when other felines intrude on their turf. The more cats a household has, the more likely it is that cat fights will break out.
“The cat is a creature that likes his own world,” Dr. Foote explains. “Even in colonies, each cat needs his own space.” In some territorial situations, a cat may think: “Even though you’re my brother, you’re just another cat to me,” she says.
You can minimize territorial issues in a multi-cat household by giving each cat his own place to eat, so they don’t feel like they have to compete with each other, Dr. Foote says. Don’t make cats share toys either; let each have her own.
You can sense when a cat fight is about to break out by observing body language; ears pointed backward in one or both cats are a sign of trouble brewing. If one cat is staring at another one, it is a sign of aggression, and the cat is likely to pounce on his victim. You can break the stare with distraction: Try tossing the aggressive kitty’s favorite toy at him, Dr. Foote recommends. This can help prevent the aggression from becoming physical, and it shifts kitty’s focus.
“You not only redirect it but give him an outlet toward the predatory prey,” she says.
If a fight has already broken out and fur is flying, the No. 1 rule is not to get into the middle of it: You and/or either cat could get injured, Bosley says. For milder play fights that are getting a bit too rough, use a spray bottle to break their concentration, or make a loud noise like clapping your hands or dropping a book onto a table.
For more aggressive fights, try dropping a towel or blanket on top of the warring cats, or pour a glass of water on them, she says. Once the cats separate, try to direct them into separate rooms so they can calm down. Don’t touch a cat that is aroused from fighting; the kitty might redirect the aggression at you, she explains.
“In fact, cats can take hours to calm down and can sometimes redirect many hours after the fight,” Bosley says. “The best thing to remember is to remain calm — yes, this is much easier said than done — and try to never use punishment to resolve any fights.”
Tell us: Do your cats fight? What does it sound like?
Photography ©kimberrywood | iStock / Getty Images Plus.
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