Are my cats playing or fighting?

Gloria J. Towle , Special to The County
4 years ago

We have been overwhelmed by the generosity of individuals and businesses this holiday season. So many wonderful donations have come in, much needed supplies, pet food, toys and especially all those new families who have opened their homes and hearts and have adopted a pet. We are so very blessed to have the community support of so many, and we are truly thankful.


“Are my cats playing or fighting?” This is a common question asked by cat owners. 

While mock-fighting is normal and is an important part of the development of any cat (these behaviors include stalking, chasing and pouncing), it is sometimes difficult to determine whether cats are playing or fighting. In order to make that determination, here are some important clues from

Body Language: Take a look at the cats’ posture. Upright, forward-pointing ears or ears that are mildly angled back indicate general friendliness or playfulness, whereas flattened ears angled back indicate hostility, irritation or aggression. Are claws sheathed or unsheathed? Pawing is totally normal so long as the claws aren’t out, but watch out for unsheathed claws coupled with a cat that is leaning back and swiping. Also, watch out for hair standing on end and a burled tail—these signs indicate a hostile climate.

Rules of Fair Play: Do your cats take turns? Starting and stopping play is normal, whereas true hostility climaxes fast and is enduring. Do your cats take turns dominating? Some biting or nibbling is totally normal so long as it doesn’t cause injuries. Biting in sensitive areas is off limits.

Vocalization: Growling and hissing is a solid indication that things aren’t friendly. Yelps may also indicate which cat is being attacked. Silence usually means that fair play is commencing.

The Aftermath: Do your cats avoid each other after an encounter, or are they cuddling, grooming each other and sharing the same cat food bowl shortly after? Oftentimes, hostility will persist. Play pals will typically return to their usual activities once they have tired.

It’s important to remember, for your safety and the safety of your pets, never to get physically involved while breaking up a fight. Cat bites and scratches require medical attention. Never hit an animal that is misbehaving. The message they get from being hit is that their owner is a bully and is willing to hurt them. This is not a great way to establish a loving pet/owner relationship.

If there are behavioral or bullying issues between your cats, making sure that they are fixed (spayed, neutered or sterilized) is the first step in reducing the problem. This not only calms both pets down but is also important as a public service. Allowing your pet to reproduce adds to the problem of pet overpopulation. 

Be a part of the solution: always spay and neuter your pets.

Happy New Year from all your furry friends at the Central Aroostook Humane Society.

Gloria J. Towle is the secretary and a member of the board of directors of the Central Aroostook Humane Society.