My Cats Play-Fighting: 7 Moves that Kill Me (in a Good Way)


I love to watch my cats play fight. I could care less about human fighting (in any manner: wrestling, or boxing, or whatever), but when my cats get into a play fight, I think it’s the most amazing thing imaginable. It’s extra rewarding when I see it happen for the first time.

In this case, the newly introduced Zorro (who joined the household of five other cats at the end of March and was quasi-feral) is finally relaxing enough to know that his survival is not on the line. He doesn’t have to be aggressive to protect himself among the other cats. Watching Zorro play fight with Norton has been extremely entertaining. It also makes me proud. Call me crazy or easily pleased, but I’m happy that these two are friends. Also, now Norton has someone who can match his energy. It’s a good thing!

I’ve watched many cats play fight over the years. I see a number of common elements that always shine through, no matter which cats are involved.

Here are seven classic play-fighting moves:

1. The glance over the shoulder

This often starts the play fight. Both cats have to be in the mood. One cat looks over his shoulder, just long enough, to tempt and engage cat No. 2. Cat No. 2 pounces. And we’re off!

2. The headlock

Cats are amazing. They act as if they were wrestlers in a former life. When Zorro and Norton get going, they wrap their paws around each other’s heads. They look like some kind of symbiotic organism joined at the necks. They’ll flail around like this for quite some time.

3. The “let’s touch paws” dance

This can be adorable. Cat No. 1 raises a paw. Cat No. 2 raises a paw as well. Paws touch. Cats keep raising and touching paws, then bringing them down. Somewhere in this cute action is probably the cat’s desire to swat the other cat, but often it doesn’t progress that far.

4. The rear-paw pounding

One cat grabs another. They’re often in a position that we humans might call spooning, but they’re moving and nowhere near as relaxed as spooning humans. The grabbing cat begins to pummel the other cat with his rear legs. We’ve all seen this. Sometimes I’m amazed an eye doesn’t get taken out or an ear scratched. The cats always seem to emerge from play fighting uninjured and fulfilled, as if they’ve satisfied their predator drive.

5. The classic one-up-one-down posturing

This one I love, perhaps because I’ve seen so many cats do this, and it brings back a lot of nice memories. One cat rears up, without rearing up. He sits up, puffs out his chest, and somehow makes himself look bigger. There’s an expression that comes across his face that’s hard put a human quality to: disdain, superiority, or simply the gathering-of-forces. Cat No. 2 flops down on the floor, submissively looking up at the superior cat. What’s really amazing is that this always seems to be some kind of ritual that the cats need to go through. The cat on the floor often doesn’t get pounced on here, even though he’s in a vulnerable position. That comes later.

6. The I’ll-walk-away-and-pretend-it’s-over move

They’re so smart. We’ve all seen this one. Cat No. 1 slowly starts to saunter away. I’ve had enough, his movements say. Cat No. 2 lets his defenses down for one small moment. Cat No. 1, in the flash of a paw, turns and jumps on No. 2. No. 2 never saw it coming, or he did and is just enjoying the ancient ritual of cat play fighting.

7. The ambush

My cats make clever use of a small cat condo, but any barrier will work. Cat No. 1 walks unsuspectingly by a barrier where Cat No. 2 hides. Cat No. 2 pounces with glee, and both cats are soon a wriggling wrestling mass.

Honestly, our cats are too smart to fall for some of the ploys that I’ve seen demonstrated in play fighting. I think it’s all a big ritualized dance, with the cats enjoying it as much as everyone else does.

How have you seen your clever cats engage in play fighting? What strategies do they use? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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About Catherine Holm: Told that she is funny but doesn’t know it, accused of being an unintentional con artist by her husband, quiet, with frequent unannounced bursts into dancing liveliness, Cat Holm loves writing about, working for, and living with cats. She is the author of The Great Purr (cat fantasy novel out June 1), the cat-themed memoir Driving with Cats: Ours for a Short Time, the creator of Ann Catanzaro cat fantasy story gift books, and the author of two short story collections. She loves to dance, be outside whenever possible, read, play with cats, make music, do and teach yoga, and write. Cat lives in the woods, which she loves as much as really dark chocolate, and gets regular inspiration shots along with her double espresso shots from the city.

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