Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? A Cat Parent’s Guide to Telling the Difference

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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

Cats are active, curious, and playful creatures. So, it’s totally normal to see them playing, and chasing each other around your house. But as cat owners, sometimes our cats’ behavior can also confuse us. Hence, when you see your two cats in the middle of their enthusiastic wrestling matches, it’s just normal to ask – Are my cats playing or fighting?

Cats fight, but they also like playing and wrestling with one another. Even if you have two litter siblings who have gotten along well and have lived together all their lives, there is still a potential that things might change.

If you want to be able to identify whether your cats are playing or fighting, this article can help you have a strong understanding of how your cats behave.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

All cats, young and old, should play because it has a favorable effect on their emotional states. Having a regular play session relieves boredom, and fosters and maintains social relationships. In contrast to dogs, who engage in play as a means of social contact, cats, both as kittens and as adults, play mostly for the purpose of engaging in predation.

Playfighting is a common behavior among cats in the same social group. This makes it harder to draw the line between social play and an aggressive altercation.

As a feline parent, you can tell whether your cats play fight or they are already engaged in a real fight by observing their body language and cat behavior during their playtime and when they are simply resting.

How Do Your Cats Behave When They Are Not Playing?

You can get a better understanding of how bad the condition is by observing how your cats interact with one another when they are not playing. They're probably only having fun if they groom each other, cuddle up to one other, or otherwise coexist harmoniously.

As opposed to playing, some cats may feel threatened or uptight near one another when they are fighting. When that happens, they could avoid one another or even hiss or growl when the other gets too close. If they unintentionally contact each other, they could become a little alarmed.

Additionally, one or both cats may exhibit signs of insecurity. These indications may include hiding, urinating outside the cage, spraying inappropriately outside the box, acting very destructively, or even snapping at you.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? A Cat Parent's Guide to Telling the Difference 1

How Do Your Cats Act During Their Play Sessions?

Siblings frequently engage in play activities such as chasing, stalking, and pouncing that may make them look like they are fighting. Keep a close eye on your cat during play sessions because sometimes, they can be overly excited in addition to being raucous, which can be stressful for a cat who is not as exuberant. If your cat exhibits symptoms of hostility, calm the situation to prevent arousal from rising.

When presented with the ideal environment, which includes cat trees, activity centers, hiding places, and boxes with openings for entry and exit, cats are more likely to engage in social play.

Cats may vocalize, but usually they communicate by body language. General social interaction should be considered when selecting whether to play or fight because behavior can also be individualized.

You can learn a lot through body language. Jumping, chasing, and even a little hissing can occur during both playing and fighting. It's common for play fighting to seem a little hostile. In play fighting, cats often alternate between being at the bottom of the wrestling huddle and being at the top. 

Your cats may even “play bite” without hurting anyone. Even short rest breaks are possible. Your cats play fight or they may just be messing around with each other if you notice their ears or bodies positioned forward.

Your cats are fighting, not playing, if they puff up their fur or tails, hold their ears back, or flatten their ears. Your cats may display defensive, puffy attitudes, lean away from one another, hiss with bared teeth, and exhibit other negative behaviors if they feel threatened.

Another sign that everything has gotten out of hand is when someone gets injured. But of course, you don’t want to arrive at this point before coming to the conclusion that your cats are indeed fighting.

Signs Your Cats Are Playing

Kittens have a great desire to play and are quite social from an early age. The queen teaches them skills like feeding, grooming, and hunting, and the littermates work together to teach them social skills like agonistic and affiliative behaviors.

At around 8 to 10 weeks of age, social play amongst cats reaches its apex. After that, object play predominates. Playing with toys allows for natural predatory sequences, which reduces play biting.

Although social play and interactions between cats tend to wane with age, cats can remain completely active well into old age.

Below are indicators that your cats are playing or mock fighting:

  • Cats who “mock fight” are frequently calm and joyful.
  • Playing cats can have their ears turned forward or in a normal position (not backward).
  • Exhibits forward body posture with one another.
  • Their fur will be flat (no piloerection).
  • They may play bite only without aggressive sounds.
  • Happy cats don't hiss, swat, or snarl at one another or try to paw at one another.
  • Mischievous cats will alternate between rolling onto their sides and backs while taking turns on top of one another.
  • Both cats will playfully chase each other while maintaining a sense of equilibrium.

Female cats may appear less interested in loud behavior as they mature socially (around 3 years old), although male cats frequently engage in more playfights than females in certain social groupings.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? A Cat Parent's Guide to Telling the Difference 2

Signs Your Cats Are Fighting

Cats are a resourceful species that tend to stay out of fights. They are pretty much aware that fighting openly can lead to harm, the inability to hunt, and even death.

If the cat feels threatened and has few or no options for escaping or avoiding the situation, active aggressiveness (fighting) will take place.

Some cats will resort to potentially destructive combat for a variety of reasons.

Most cats will protect their territory (whether it is inside or outside the home) from intruders. Depending on personal genetics, sex, and early experiences, some cats develop active aggression faster than others.

Below are signs that your cats are fighting:

  • They exhibit wide-open eyes with dilated pupils and aggressive glares.
  • Their ears are raised and pressed against their head.
  • Have forward-facing and spread-out whiskers.
  • Teeth may be exposed in an open mouth, and one cat may bite another.
  • You’ll hear vocalization that often involves snarling or hissing.
  • They will exhibit body and tail piloerection (puffed up looking twice the size).
  • Your cats may have tensed, sideways posture and they may avoid making eye contact.
  • During battles, you will notice your cats’ claws retracted, and most often they will swat or strike with their paws.
  • Cats have vertical tails with the tip up or down, sometimes lashing or twitching.

Due to their poor social communication abilities, cats are unable to defuse a hostile situation; therefore, owners must take proactive measures to do so.

Once aggression increases, it may take a cat a couple of hours to calm down. It's preferable to keep the cats alone in separate rooms until they are completely calm. Don't put them in a single room.

Why Are Your Cats Fighting?

Just as there are several signs that can tell you whether your cat is fighting or playing, there are also different reasons why cats fight.

Below are some of the common reasons:

Adult Cats with Poor Socialization When They Were Kittens

For kittens, the socialization phase (2–9 weeks) is critical. Anecdotally, hand-raised kittens who have not been socialized with other cats during the crucial age are in danger of showing problematic behaviors such as anxiety, aggressiveness, and a diminished ability to adapt to changes in their environment.

The Presence of a New Cat in the Household

In a 2017 survey of 2492 multi-cat owners, 73.3% of respondents noticed evidence of squabbling during the first few days of the new cat's entrance. When a new cat entered the home, arguments were more frequent, and stress symptoms manifested more frequently as a family's cat population expanded.

Scarcity of Resources

When cats from various social groups are fed close together and when the cat food is in short supply, food aggression can lead to conflict. Inter-cat conflict can also result from competition for resources or human attention.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? A Cat Parent's Guide to Telling the Difference 3

Territorial Disputes

We frequently hear territorial disputes between roaming cats, especially at night. Cats prioritize protecting their territory over relationships with humans or other cats. Many unruly cat behaviors are a result of perceived threats to this security, which are frequently the result of conflicts with other cats.

Presence of an Underlying Illness

Inter-cat violence brought on by sickness frequently manifests as unexpected attacks without prior disagreement amongst the participating cats. If this happens in your home, it’s best to go to the nearest clinic for veterinary advice.

To Protect Their Kittens

Aggression may also occur in households with breeding females, especially when queens are defending their young.


The oxytocin receptor, one of the genes linked to problematic cat behavior, has been found to contribute to irritability, suggesting that genetic testing may play a significant role in the field of veterinary behaviorists.

What Should You Do When Your Cats Are Fighting?

Fighting and inter-cat conflict can be quite stressful for you and your resident cat(s). And while you may be tempted, it's crucial to refrain from taking physical action.

You must be very careful not to put your hand or any other body part between two fighting cats because doing so could seriously hurt you and necessitate immediate medical assistance (cat bite wounds tend to be deep, and harbor bacteria and other pathogens).

Water cannons and noisemakers are frequently used as deterrents, but they can startle and frighten cats who are already apprehensive. Never discipline or handle your cats during these times since this could make them scared of people, which could unintentionally reinforce their violent behavior.

To settle the conflict, cover both cats with a towel or small blanket. The idea is to divert the cats' attention and distract them again so they may both calm down.

Baby gates, cardboard, wood, or plastic boards, as well as other types of barrier separation, might be effective for obstructing each cat's view.

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How to Break Up a Cat Fight?

If your cats are just playing and got a little out of hand, chatting to them may be enough to divert their attention and stop them from fighting. If things get serious, clap your hands, but get out of the way because getting caught between two combatant cats may be quite unpleasant and dangerous.

How to Minimize Cat Fights and Help Your Cats Get Along?

Don't give up if you believe your cats are fighting; you still have some control. When things start to get tense, attempt to divert your cats' attention by waving a feather around at first. However, as mentioned earlier, you should avoid stepping between your fighting cats or attempting to grab one and pull it apart from the other.

Lack of activity might cause cats to become aggressive with one another. Install cat trees, condos, and window perches so that they have more areas to claim as their own.

Reduce stress by providing your cats with a variety of resources around the house, including litter boxes, beds, scratching posts, bowls, hideaways, and perch boxes. This will improve their ability to handle disruptions.

Give them interactive toys, and spend lots of time playing with them. To exercise their minds, you may also try clicker training. If you have a cat collar and leash, you can even take them on walks in your backyard.

All cats, regardless of whether they have access to the outdoors, should have toys, puzzle feeders, foraging opportunities, and supervised outside time. Indoor cats, however, should have additional enrichment to reduce play aggression.

Finally, your cats' aggressive behavior can be reduced by neutering or spaying them, especially if they are intact males.


Play fighting is normal for cats. They swoop down, strike, roll, wrestle, scratch, and some cats bite one another. It is not only permissible but also ought to be seen as a positive aspect of maturing as long as it is a game and neither cat sustains any harm. Some cats do fight, though, and if you notice growling, puffed-up hair, or hissing, you might need to break up or discourage the fight.

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