Cat lovers know the feelings of helplessness and dread when their cats violently battle with each other. It is easy for owners to react in the moment and make serious mistakes, escalating the wars or becoming painfully injured. In an attempt to stop the violence, often pet parents wade into the middle of the battle intent on separating the cats with their hands or bodies. It usually doesn’t go well — instead of stopping the fighting, they often end up with serious cat bites. Other common reactions to the brawls are yelling, chasing, or punishing the combatants. Instead of defusing the situation, these tactics add fuel to the fire — frightening and stressing the cats and sometimes causing them to fear their people.
Some people believe in non-action. Their philosophy is to let the cats fight it out. This isn’t ideal either. In addition to inflicting serious injury on each other, cats who “fight it out” often become sworn enemies, gunning for each other at every opportunity.
These tactics are not recommended, but there are others that will end hostilities before they begin, as well as some that will stop them in the moment.
Stop the war before it starts
The most effective and safest way to stop a fight is to not let it begin. Here are six tips that will help end the fighting before it starts:
- Increased grouchiness and unexpected aggression can be caused by medical issues. Painful teeth, arthritis, tummy aches, and other diseases can cause cats to feel cranky and project their unhappy moods onto others. A medical intervention may be needed. Take cats who are cantankerous or displaying other changes in behavior to veterinarians for thorough examinations.
- The sudden absence of a resident animal disrupts the other cats in the household. The loss muddles the hierarchy, changes the dynamics between the cats, and often leads to squabbling. Although hierarchies are flexible, the loss creates a vacancy that cats vie to fill. You can help cats demonstrate their positions in their changeable hierarchy by adding vertical territory such as tall cat trees and shelves in all of the areas the cats hang out.
- Some cats pick fights with others around meal times. They might be hungry — if they are not fed enough or have long waits between meals. Reduce the crankiness factor by feeding them good quality food while increasing the number of meals they are fed every day.
- There are many reasons that cats fight. Redirected aggression, which makes enemies out of bonded buddies, is a common one. It is caused by neighborhood cats and other animals hanging out in full view of the resident kitties. The unwanted visitors’ presence agitates and frustrates them. Unable to reach the intruders, the cats vent their frustration on whoever is closest. If there are unwelcome guests hanging out around your home, make the area unattractive for them by using motion-sensitive ultrasonic devices, lemon, Bitter Apple, and other safe deterrents. Additionally, trap stray cats and have them spayed and neutered.
- Inter-cat violence is often caused by cats being introduced to each other too quickly. Cats are territorial and typically do not appreciate newcomers in their homes without the benefit of slow introductions. Take your time, separate the cats, and introduce them to each other gradually. It is better to err on the side of caution and take it slow.
- Fights don’t normally start out of the blue. Cats usually indicate their intentions to battle through body language and vocalizations. Eyes usually become fixed on the target of their wrath; sometimes the cats stalk or assume a pouncing position. Ears may flatten or turn back; tails swish fast and furiously. Fur often stands up (piloerection), making cats appear more scary to their opponents. All of these displays are usually accompanied by hissing, growls and caterwaulings. Don’t ignore the body language. At the first indication of a fight, block the cats’ views of each other. Large pieces of cardboard, poster board, and pillows work well for this. The loss of view will give one of the cats enough time to retreat to safety. Depending on the situation, you may be able to use the barrier to gently herd one of the combatants into another room. Keep warring cats separated from each other.
In the moment
In the real world it isn’t always possible to avoid conflict. Instead of risking life and limb, punishing the cats, or doing nothing, try the following:
- Cat fights that aren’t all-out brawls can be stopped through distraction. Throw a toy parallel to the floor across the cats’ line of vision. Often, that is enough to distract one of them so the other can escape. Laser pointers and flash lights can also stop the violence. Direct the beam on the floor and move it away from the cats. Never shine it in their faces.
- Intense fighting calls for extraordinary measures. Throw a pillow or other object next to the battling pair. It can momentarily stop the fighting, diverting their attention onto the object and off each other. Water from a squirt bottle often stops the fighting. Aim for sides only. Never squirt kitties in the face. Cold water dashed on their sides and back may also stop the war.
After battling cats are separated, they need to have a cooling-off period away from each other and the other household residents. It can take a few hours, a day, or longer for cats to calm down. After they have cooled down, they may have to be gradually reintroduced to each other.
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Got a cat behavior question for Marilyn? Ask our behaviorist in the comments below and you might be featured in an upcoming column. If you suspect a behavioral problem, always rule out any possible medical issues that may be causing the behavior by first having your cat examined by a veterinarian. Marilyn can also help you resolve cat behavior challenges through a consultation.
Marilyn, a certified cat behavior consultant, owner of The Cat Coach, LLC, solves cat behavior problems nationally and internationally through on site, Skype and phone consultations. She uses force free methods that include environmental changes, management, clicker training and other behavior modification techniques.
She;is also an award winning author. Her book Naughty No More! focuses on solving cat behavior problems through clicker training and other force-free methods. Marilyn is big on educationÔÇöshe feels it is important for cat parents to know the reasons behind their cat’s behaviors. She is a frequent guest on television and radio, answering cat behavior questions and helping people understand their cats.
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