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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? 6 Vet-Reviewed Ways to Tell the Difference

Written by: Christian Adams

Last Updated on April 18, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

cats in grass

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? 6 Vet-Reviewed Ways to Tell the Difference


Dr. Paola Cuevas Photo


Dr. Paola Cuevas

MVZ (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats love to wrestle and play, but they also fight. Even if you have two litter siblings that have lived together their whole lives without any problems, there is a chance that something can change. One might get carried away, or the dynamic in the relationship might change for some reason, and what was once playing can quickly escalate to become proper fighting. You should have a good idea of your cats and how they behave, but you can use these six steps as a guide if you want to tell whether your cats are playing or fighting.

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The 6 Ways to Tell If Cats Are Playing or Fighting

1. If It’s Quiet, It’s Probably Playing

If your cats are rolling around with little to no noise apart from the occasional meow or chirp, there’s a good chance it is only playing. Cats don’t vocalize their playtime in the same way that they do their fights. The occasional meow or chirp you hear is likely one cat telling the other they got a bit carried away.

2. If There’s Growling, It’s  Probably Fighting

If you hear aggressive noises, it is turned into a fight. Aggressive cat noises include growling, hissing, and spitting. Your cat will not make this noise if they are only playing, and they will reserve yowling for a proper fight. If it sounds serious, it probably is.

cat fighting close up
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

3. Ears Back Means Stress

Cats are good at non-verbal communication, and their ears can be highly expressive. They act as an effective barometer of their emotions. During a play or fight session, if their ears are straight up or forward, they are probably playing. If their ears are folded back, there is a good chance that the cats are involved in a fight, and you may need to intervene.

4. There Are Other Physical Signs of Confrontation

A cat’s fur will stand straight up, with their tail erect and upright, and their eyes will be dilated if they are involved in a real fight. If their body language looks relaxed, they probably feel relaxed and enjoy rough play. If they look tense, they might be scrapping for real.

cat fight
Image Credit: Gerhard G., Pixabay

5. They Take Turns to Play

It is common, especially among littermates, for cats to share the role of top cat during a wrestling match. Watch them together: If they are swapping and taking turns to be the cat on top, there’s a good chance that they are playing.

One of your cats may prefer to always play at being the top cat. This is fine as long as it isn’t a problem for the other cat.

6. If They Don’t Know Each Other, They’re Not Playing

If one of the cats is new to your home and they don’t know your cat, it is doubtful that they are playing. Cats will not usually play with other cats they don’t have a relationship with.

cats fighting_rihaij_Pixabay
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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Frequently Asked Questions

Should I Let My Cats Play Fight?

Play, when it is genuine, is fun and healthy. It enables your cat to get exercise and allows them to vent a little energy with one another. It could also save your furniture and even your arms. As long as one cat isn’t overly aggressive toward another, it’s safe and natural.

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Do Cats Bite Each Other When They Play?

All feline play is mock aggression, which means that your cats are pretending to fight one another. Fighting involves biting, so it is common for cats to bite and nibble one another as part of a game. The bite should not be as severe as a proper fight bite but should not be discouraged unless it is hurting the other cat.

How Do You Break Up a Cat Fight?

If your cats are playing and get a bit carried away, simply talking to them may be enough to get their minds off it and stop them from scrapping. If it becomes serious, clap your hands, or make noise with a can—don’t direct toward them, though. The idea is to get their attention without reinforcing what they are doing and without trying to get in between them. Being stuck between two warring cats can be dangerous and painful.

cats playing II_Gundula Vogel_Pixabay
Image By: Gundula Vogel, Pixabay

Will My Cats Ever Stop Fighting?

If it’s play fighting, the cats will end their scrap and go about their day as usual. If it’s a real fight and an isolated or rare incident, one likely got carried away, and they should be friends again soon. If it is regular, you may have to take steps to try to positively socialize them. If things are really bad, it may require an animal behaviorist.

Additional Information

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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

To cats, playing is just mock fighting. They pounce, hit, roll, wrestle, scratch, and even bite one another. As long as it’s a game and neither cat is getting injured, it is not only acceptable but should also be considered a beneficial part of growing up. However, some cats do fight, and if there is growling, puffed-up fur, or hissing, you need to discourage the fight.

Featured Image Credit: Astrid Gast, Shutterstock

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