Aggression and fighting between cats is inevitable – even among those who have grown up together.
Cat fights can leave pet owners stressed, particularly if one of your household cats has suddenly developed a behavioral issue and you cannot pinpoint the actual cause. Often, this could involve an underlying medical issue, or the cat could be struggling with an environmental stressor that has triggered the aggression.
If you are a pet owner dealing with feline aggression at home, you would be forgiven for asking – do cats fight to the death?
Well, cats might fight, but it does not usually result in one of them being killed, and this article will explain why.
Why do cats fight?
First of all, there are several reasons that cats fight. If you are a cat owner, it is important to understand these triggers so that you can help avoid dangerous confrontations between your pets.
The most common causes of cat fights are listed below.
1. Territorial behavior
Have you ever wondered why cats rub their cheeks and spray urine in certain parts of your home? That is because, by nature, our whiskered friends are territorial. In the wild, feline survival depends on knowing their safe areas. Hence, they are always wary of intrusions into their territory, especially during the night, and will fight at any cost to defend their space.
This strong natural instinct to establish a territory is entrenched in a cat’s DNA. So, even if you have an indoor cat who is well-fed and provided with comfortable shelter, that territorial behavior will remain. Therefore, you must ensure that your home provides a safe and private place for your cats where they can carry on their natural marking behaviors.
If you are bringing home a new puppy or cat, make sure to gradually introduce the new pet to your resident cat, in order to reduce aggression or bullying. It is also not ideal for pets to share their belongings; each pet should have its own space, toys, food bowls, and bed to avoid potential conflict.
2. Inter-cat aggression
Sometimes, cats can be sweet and affectionate to their owners but aggressive towards other pets. Males tend to be more aggressive than females, and will likely instigate more fights.
Aggression can be triggered if your pets do not have their own individual spaces or are forced to share the same toys. As mentioned, cats are territorial by nature, and this trait tends to be the most common cause of aggression in a multi-cat household.
Of course, there are also other reasons your cat might be aggressive towards another pet. Some cats become hostile due to pain or an underlying disease. The behavior could also be caused by stress or anxiety, especially if the cat has a traumatic history or feels threatened by a new cat or dog in the home.
It is very important to seek the help of a professional if your cat’s behavioral issues grow out of control. Your vet will have to rule out any potential injury or illness first; after that, you will be referred to an animal behaviorist to properly diagnose the source and curb your cat’s aggression.
3. Rough play
Most of us find it quite adorable to see feline siblings playing rough or mock-fighting. You might see them tumbling, chasing each other, gripping, or lightly biting each other. These behaviors are perfectly normal and actually help cats to bond with one another. Play-fighting also improves their abilities to hunt and guard their territory, all of which are part of a cat’s survival instinct.
Sometimes, though, our fur babies’ rough play can escalate into a real cat fight. If you notice their bodies adopting a defensive posture, along with hissing and yowling, these are signs of aggression. If you can, try to separate your cats right away to prevent them from harming each other.
Jealousy tends to be a problematic behavior in a multi-pet household. Whether you have recently brought home a new cat or puppy, or you have given too much attention to another pet, a jealous cat might react by hissing, yowling, or swatting the pet that has caused the jealousy. Aside from aggression, an insecure cat will also intrude on your space every time you give attention to the other pet. While it might sound cute, this behavior could lead to bullying of the other pet.
It is always advised to make the introduction gradual when bringing a new pet into your household. As mentioned, providing each of your pets with a separate space and belongings is also important so that the resident cat will not view the other as a rival or a threat. Keep in mind that your pets can only cohabitate peacefully if each feels secure and loved without being left out.
5. Male cats fighting over a female
Unneutered male cats will threaten and fight other males when competing for mates. Cats usually display dominance through staring, yowling, howling, or posturing until the other backs down or walks away. Cats seldom actually kill the other cat; however, the puncture wounds caused by fights can easily lead to infections that can endanger the life of the victim.
Know that intact cats tend to fight more than those that are neutered or spayed. This is one of the reasons it is advised to have your cat spayed or neutered if you do not intend to breed them. Spaying or neutering will also reduce unwanted behaviors such as frequent roaming (to search for a mate) and spraying.
Do cats fight to the death?
If one of your cats has aggression issues, then fighting might be a common occurrence at home and you might begin to worry that your pets might actually kill each other during a fight.
As mentioned, cats fight each other for several reasons, one of these being their territorial nature. Despite this, it is rare for cats to actually cause life-threatening injuries to other cats. In most cases, one cat will show superiority over the other through intense vocalizations and a display of defensive postures. As the fight progresses, the less dominant cat will often retreat and walk away to end the fight.
However, there are instances when cats do fight to the death – especially intact feral cats. When both cats refuse to retreat, the fight can end up with one of the cats severely injured or even killed. Cat fights can also result in muzzle scratches, bites (especially on the rear areas), lost claws, and torn ears.
Why do cats fight at night?
Cats are most active at night since this is the best time for them to find and hunt prey. Their senses are sharper while the rest of the world is sleeping; their eyes are keen even in low-light conditions. For this reason, many neighborhood cats roam during the twilight hours and will possibly encounter one another.
Outdoor cats, stray cats, and feral cats may all wander out of their own territories to hunt or find a mate, and this can result in territorial disputes. Hence, it should be no surprise if we are awakened at any hour by yowling and growling outside our windows!
Should I intervene in a cat fight?
Yes, you must intervene in a cat fight. Although cats do not usually end up fighting to the death, animal fights can escalate to dangerous physical attacks that lead to serious injuries. Aggression does not always resolve an underlying issue, whether it is caused by a behavioral problem or disease.
However, never try to break up a cat fight with your bare hands, as this will likely result in physical injury. The best and safest way is to distract the warring cats with sudden noises or movements.
Instead of getting physically involved, you can distract the pair with a loud clap or by spraying them with water to force them to split. You can also use a long stick or broom, or any household item that will help you end the fight right away.
Lastly, do not punish your cats after a cat fight, as this will only make them fearful or anxious. Also do not soothe or give them attention. Instead, leave them to their own space until they calm down.
How to stop cats from fighting
Behavioral issues among household cats can be resolved in a number of ways. Depending on the severity and cause of the problem, feline aggression can be curbed through medication or therapy. Make sure to have your cat checked by a professional for proper diagnosis and treatment.
There are also several tips you can follow to prevent your cats from fighting, as summarized here:
- Have your cats spayed or neutered. Intact cats tend to be more territorial and susceptible to feelings of aggression. When the cat is spayed or neutered, these behavioral issues can be reduced.
- Provide each cat with a private space to hide or climb, such as a cat tree or high perches. These hiding spots will make them feel safe whenever they feel threatened or just want to get away from your other pets.
- Reduce jealousy and territorial aggression by providing your cats with their own belongings, such as toys, food bowls, and beds. Additionally, make sure that all cats receive equal love and attention from you.
- Never punish your cats for bad behavior. Instead, use positive reinforcement, such as toys and treats, every time they display calm behavior.
- Use a pheromone spray to calm an anxious cat. These calming sprays mimic the natural feline “happy hormones” to help cats feel more comfortable and reduce aggression.
- If two cats do not seem to get along well, consider separating them for a few days and then gradually reintroduce them to each other.
Cats do not always fight to the death; however, it is possible for both warring cats to suffer injuries that could become seriously infected. There may be instances where cats, especially ferals, will fight to the death, but this rarely happens.
Because cat fights can endanger the health (if not the lives) of your pets, it is important to break up the fight before it escalates to a dangerous physical confrontation. It is also best to have your furry friend checked by the vet to rule out medical issues and treat any behavioral issues right away.
Image: istockphoto.com / Nils Jacobi