Modern Cat

Is it Play or Fighting?

Cats fighting: 10 ways to know if it’s real or if it’s play

- By Mieshelle Nagelschne­ider, the Cat Whisperer Illustrati­on by Michelle Simpson

If you have two or more cats, you’ve probably seen your cats suddenly rolling around on the floor together, biting and kicking each other, and felt alarmed. Is it possible the behaviour you are witnessing is innocent play fighting or could it be true aggressive behaviour? Could your cats who were once best of friends have developed issues with each other?

Many cat owners often think their cats are truly fighting with each other when in fact it’s normal cat behaviour known as play fighting. They witness one of their cats attempting to pin the other cat down, biting the neck and bunny kicking the head. Even though the interactio­n can look worrisomel­y rough and a lot like real aggression, it can still be play fighting. A major difference between play fighting and real fighting is the intent behind the behaviour.

What is Play Fighting?

Cat play-fighting behaviour, also known as social play or mock aggression, is behaviour that appears to be aggressive, but without the purpose to harm the opposing cat. Some form of this pretend aggression is a normal part of all feline play. Interestin­gly, social play behaviour is present in almost all species. It would make sense that a cat owner would have difficulty discerning this social play activity from true cat-to-cat aggression—many of the postures and fighting maneuvers are the same that cats would display in an actual cat fight. However, even though the play may appear rough at times, it’s much less intense than a real cat fight.

Play fighting is a form of communicat­ion between cats.

“If your cats are play fighting, let them be. Play—even when it looks like fighting to you—allows kittens and cats to show off their assertiven­ess and strength. It helps establish social ranking within the home and so smooths out territoria­l and social issues”.— Excerpt from The Cat Whisperer book

Play Fighting Doesn’t End at Kittenhood.

Kittens, from as little as four weeks of age to well into their juvenile stage of six months to two years, have an intense drive to sharpen their hunting skills. As part of their feline evolutiona­ry biology and gene-encoded behaviour, they will have the need to practice several fighting and hunting motor pattern sequences multiple times a day. The stalk and chase, grab and bite, pounce and bite, and the “kill” bite are practiced over and over again. Once they move into adulthood, play fighting is still a normal part of their daily repertoire, but the frequency

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