Greetings frazzled feline friends! Skye Blake here with ideas on how to stop cat fights…
Ever been shocked awake during the night by cats fighting under your bed… fur flying, even a blood or pee trail left behind?
Sounds like this…
It’s quite upsetting for both you and the cats!
It can take hours, days or even weeks for the cats to calm down… and maybe you too.
Let’s discover why cats fight and what you can do to restore peace!
The information here is for general knowledge… always see your vet with questions about your cat’s individual needs.
- Who Is Skye Blake?
- Why Do Cats Fight?
- Play vs. Serious Fighting
- How to Stop a Cat Fight
- How to Prevent Cat Fights
- Is Euthanasia Necessary?
- Moving Forward
- List of Sources
Who Is Skye Blake?
Skye Blake, Cat Info Detective, is a curious cat researcher (not a vet or behaviorist) who sniffs out expert, reliable sources about cats, studies their information, then passes it on to you!
Sometimes there’s not enough evidence for easy answers, so Skye gives you all sides, explains the situation as thoroughly and clearly as possible, and links you to experts on each page.
Sources are at the bottom of each page so you can do more snooping.
Why Do Cats Fight?
Why do cats attack one another seemingly out of the blue? Actually, an “out-of-the-blue” attack is extremely rare.
Cat fights have warning signs that people miss… once you understand the signs, you have the power to stop fights before they start.
The first thing to understand is the territorial instinct hardwired into every cat.
Two Main Reasons
There are two main reasons for serious cat fights…
- Mating season – tomcats will fight to the death for both females and territory
- Ownership of territory – one of the most important needs of cats
In the USA, most cats brought into a house are already neutered or spayed, which eliminates the first reason.
If your cats aren’t spayed and neutered and you’re wondering how to stop the fights, get this done before attempting any other behavior modification.
Nothing else you attempt will make any difference if your cats are intact!
Neutered male cats are 80-90% less likely to fight or pee mark territory.
Discover more about sexual aggression at “Aggression in Cats – What Causes It?“.
The second reason is much more common… ownership of territory.
Territorial insecurity means a cat doesn’t have a place to feel safe and secure.
All cats, male or female, young or old, have a strong instinct to own territory.
Not only does this instinct provoke fights, but it can cause cats to start pee marking their territory in your house!
Helping your cats be secure in owning their territory is a very effective way to stop cat fights and inappropriate peeing… a twofer!
Territorial insecurity is often triggered by people unwittingly threatening the resident cat’s safety and boundaries by bringing a new cat into the home.
They just drop a new cat in the living room instead of slowly introducing them in a non-threatening way.
The resident cat smells and sees a complete stranger, who’s now taking over her territory… ENEMY INTRUDER ALERT!
Threats, intimidation, bullying and fighting quickly ensue… and, no, they won’t work it out on their own!
You have created a high stress situation that will only cause misery for both cats… and you too.
The good news is… you can learn how to properly introduce cats with any new cats you bring home.
And, even better, the same methods will help already warring kitties to start again and at least tolerate each other’s presence.
Discover more at ” How Do You Do? – Introducing Cats“.
Play vs. Serious Fighting
Are your cats play fighting or trying to kill each other? How do you tell the difference?
There are noticeable differences between play and serious fighting.
Let’s take a look at each…
Kittens up to about 8 weeks old do a lot of rough playing with each other and mom because they’re developing hunting skills.
During this time, they learn how hard they can bite and when to keep their claws sheathed.
It’s during this early stage that their mother will teach them how to hunt and deliver the kill bite… if she learned how from her mother.
Has your cat ever brought you a live mouse but didn’t seem to know what to do next?
If kittens aren’t taught this, they won’t know how to kill prey as adults.
She followed her hunting instincts to stalk and catch prey but never learned the kill bite… and since you feed her, she doesn’t need to eat it.
After 8 weeks of age, kittens start getting more interested in playing with toys and other things.
Use wand toys that imitate the movement of birds flying or mice running along the floor.
Your cat will be able to fulfill the hunting instincts without focusing on your hands and feet.
This is a great way to distract your cat before she pounces on you or your kids.
She learns that she wants to hunt the toy instead… toys are much more fun than hands and ankles!
One way to tell that your kittens (or adults) are just playing is that nobody’s running away to hide.
One or Two Kittens?
Kittens playing together learn from each other how to “cat” and burn much of that kitten energy.
Behavior experts recommend adopting two kittens together, instead of just one, so you don’t have to be the other cat.
Discover more at ” Playing with Cats the Right Way!“
This video helps you understand what play fighting looks like…
Serious cat fights are no joke… they’re intended to drive away the other cat, if not through intimidation, then by serious injury or death.
It’s not about domination… it’s about eliminating territorial threats.
This video is an example of a serious fight (warning: this can be disturbing).
Watch the body postures, ears, eyes, and vocalizations building up to the fight… all clues you can use to stop it before it starts.
There’s much more communication between cats than people realize… including silent intimidation and aggression.
Eyes, ears, whiskers, body posture, twitching or swishing tails are all tools used by cats to send a message.
If one cat is communicating threateningly to another, the second cat has only two choices… escape or stand and fight.
Some signs that a fight is brewing are…
- Stiff, sideways body posture, often with the “halloween cat” arched back
- Raised fur
- Unblinking challenge stare
- Twitching or lashing tail
- Ears swiveled back or flattened
- Strange vocalizations (caterwauling) – growls and/or deep gutteral sounds
Reading these signals gives you an opportunity to calm everyone down… but only if you know what you’re doing!
When a one cat is staring, unblinking, at another cat, dog, or human, that’s the most crucial sign that an attack is imminent.
The intensity of the attack depends on how threatened the cat feels… again, body language gives you clues.
But no matter what other signs are happening, the “stare down” is the one you need to be aware of most.
Redirection before or during that stare is the key to calming things down!
Who Started It?
When you’re trying to stop constant fighting, you need all the information you can get.
Don’t assume you know who’s starting the fights… you might be surprised.
Setting up cameras in areas where fights happen is a good way to see how, why, and when things heat up.
It will aid you in finding areas where you need to do environmental enrichment like setting up escape routes.
It will also give you clues you can use to help each individual cat become confident in his ownership of the territory.
You’ll use different methods for a wall-hugging insecure cat than an aggressive insecure cat.
How to Stop a Cat Fight
Cat fights are very upsetting to anyone in the vicinity… and dangerous too!
Your instinct might be to yell at them and reach in to try to pull them apart… STOP!
Yelling or screaming at them will only upset the cats more.
Putting your hands, arms, legs or any other body parts in the middle will get you shredded and bitten.
It’s like putting your hand in a blender!
Cat’s paws aren’t called “murder mittens” for nothing… our teeth are no joke either, since bites can be very deep and easily get infected.
Fighting cats are acting completely on survival instinct… incapable of realizing they’re attacking a friendly human.
Block Their View
Use something that will block their ability to see each other… breaking the stare is the key to stopping things before they start.
A large, flattened cardboard box or similar item is useful to wordlessly put in between the warring cats, breaking their focus while keeping your body at a distance.
If they’re already at each other, this can work when they break apart to regroup and attack again.
Using a broom or spray bottle won’t work well because they can still see each other, maneuver around it and continue fighting.
Using the cardboard, calmly guide one cat into a quiet room, keeping the barrier between the cats the whole time until you can close the door.
This may take some maneuvering if a cat is trying to find ways to still get at the other.
Separating them gives both you and the cats a chance to calm down, which can take anything from a few minutes to days or weeks.
Once both cats have calmed down, start SLOWLY reintroducing them using only smell and hearing, not sight.
Don’t allow them to see each other without doing this or the fights will continue.
Discover more at “How Do You Do? Introducing Cats“.
This video explains the stare and how to stop fights…
How to Prevent Cat Fights
The best way to stop cat fights is to prevent them.
Understanding the different types of feline aggressive behavior is crucial for deciding how to prevent them.
It gives you the power to either avoid situations that will trigger a fight or redirect your cats if one becomes upset.
Whether you’re reintroducing two enemy cats or introducing strangers for the first time, there are steps you can take to satisfy your cats’ needs and reduce or eliminate potential problems.
- Every cat is an individual – Get to know each cat’s specific personality, tolerance levels, and medical situation.
- Lower your expectations – Even if they never cuddle together, but tolerate the existence of the other without fighting, that’s a win!
- Provide a cat-friendly home – Use environmental enrichment to provide escape routes and other ways of feeling secure owning territory
- Use your cats’ natural daily routines and rhythms – Regular playtimes and mealtimes are important for their “hunt, catch, kill, eat, groom, sleep” cycle
These steps will go a long way toward setting everyone up to live together peacefully.
If you’re overwhelmed, a certified cat behaviorist can help guide you with your specific situation.
Is Euthanasia Necessary?
If you’re at your wits end and can’t seem to stop the cat fights, you may be wondering if it’s best to euthanize an aggressive cat for the sake of other cats, your human family, and your own sanity.
The odds are slim that you have a cat who truly can’t live in peace in your home.
Before making a final decision, discuss the situation with your vet and a qualified cat behaviorist, if possible.
Their advice is valuable when dealing with complex situations that seem to have no answers.
Pam Johnson-Bennett is a Certified Animal Behavior Consultant and a pioneer in feline behavior.
She says this about euthanasia…
“In the many years I’ve been doing this, I have come across a couple of cats who had to be euthanized due to severe aggression (the cause in those cases was an untreatable medical condition). It’s not a decision to be rushed into.”“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 145-6
Understanding our mysterious feline ways can be exhausting sometimes!
But not to worry, the more you discover, the more empowered you’ll be to orchestrate a peaceful home for all your cats… (and you too).
When dealing with warring cats, separating them and beginning the reintroduction process is that path forward.
Just take it slowly and don’t rush… let the cats tell you when they’re ready for the next step… discover more at “How Do You Do? Introducing Cats“.
Sources used on this website are either primary or secondary.
Primary sources are always preferable and have the most reliable information because they’re original and directly referenced.
Scientific abstracts and data are good examples of primary sources.
Secondary sources are weaker because they usually consist of opinions or articles that give no sources of their own.
However, sometimes they refer to primary sources.
When I use secondary sources, most are those with some authority, such as veterinarian or cat behaviorist books and articles.
List of Sources
“Bad Moods”, Chapter 13, Cat Wise by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Penguin Books, Penguin Random House LLC, New York, pp. pp. 242-257
“Do Cats Mean to Be Mean?” by Terry Marie Curtis, DVM, MS, DACVB, Decoding Your Cat, by Editors, American College of Veterinary Behaviorists, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Co., New York, hmhco.com, pp. 143-164
“Feline Aggression: Accepting and Managing Your Cat’s Inner Wildcat”, Chapter 7, The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider, Bantam Books, The Random House Publishing Group, New York NY, 2013, www.bantamdell.com, pp. 125-170
“How to Train Your Queen Cat to Avoid Aggression” by Amy Shojai, The Spruce Pets, Updated on 03/03/19
“Sensory and Neural Behavior Problems”, Feline Behavior: A Guide for Veterinarians by Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, MS, Dept. of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, College of Veterinary Medicine, Texas A&M University, Texas, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia, PA, 1980, 1992, pp. 43-47
“Think Like a Cat, How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat – Not a Sour Puss” by Pam Johnson-Bennett, Certified Animal Behavior Consultant, Penguin Books, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, New York, NY, 2000, 2011, pp. 134-147
Updated December 28, 2023