Why Do Cats Fight?

Two grey and white cats fighting

Why do cats fight? You’re not the first distressed pet parent to ask this question, and you certainly won’t be the last. Cats, it seems, are somewhat predisposed to fighting with both their feline housemates and neighbourhood cats that cross their paths. Luckily, you can prevent some catfights with a little effort and knowledge about the innate feline instincts that drive this type of unwanted and stressful behaviour.

Why Cats Fight: Territorial Issues

To understand why your cat fights for seemingly no reason at all, it’s important to get back to their ancestral roots. Millenia have passed, but cats are and will always be territorial animals. When your cat determines that a specific area belongs to them — whether it’s your whole house and yard or the entire block — then your cat will fight to defend it from any other cat that tries to encroach upon said territory.

This type of territorial battle royale that occurs between cats generally involves outdoor catfights when your cat spies another cat in your yard or on your street. The other cat in this situation — which may even be a stray or feral feline — may harbour those same sorts of feelings about the territory your cat is treading on. Thus, the problem becomes significant to both cats, and fighting is generally their way of duking it out and determining who reigns supreme and what turf is whose.

That’s not to say that cats that live together indoors don’t go through this same territorial drama. Cats use scent to mark their territories, and whether you can pick up on the odour or not, other cats can. It's sometimes the case that multiple cats living in one home may spar when one cat marks the territory that another cat perceived as belonging to them.

Why Cats Fight: Aggressive Behaviour

It's the nature of some cats to be aggressive. This is especially true of male cats. It's not unheard of for a male cat to fight with a female cat as a way to dominate them. A cat may also act on their aggressive tendencies by brawling unnecessarily with other cat housemates (or even littermates). An aggressive cat has no qualms with picking a fight with a strange neighbourhood cat when given the opportunity.

Why Cats Fight: Fun and Games

Not all “fighting” between cats is actually fighting. As you know, cats love to play — and some cats can play rough. Very rough. It may look like aggressive fighting, but it could just be cats being cats. However, this type of play can easily intensify and evolve into an actual fight or result in cats causing each other harm. When play gets rough, it may be best practice to play referee between the two and separate them — assuming you can do without being harmed in the process.

How to Stop Cats Fighting

If you're asking yourself, “Why are my cats fighting all of a sudden?” the answer likely boils down to territorial encroachment by one of the two cats. And as distressing as it may be to watch two animals you adore battling it out like wild beasts, it's important to know how to control the situation without jumping in and getting scratched or bitten yourself.

If you can, try to distract your cats. Make a noise with a favourite toy, for example. This may draw their attention away from combat long enough for the whole ordeal to de-escalate and end. Try to avoid aggressive mannerisms that might scare or stress your cats even more.

If your cat engages in fights outdoors with cats that aren't part of your family, perhaps the best solution is to keep your cat inside unless you’re present. It can be particularly dangerous for cats to go outdoors after dark if there are aggressive cats in the neighbourhood.

When Your Cat Is the Aggressor

If your cat is the aggressor in the situation, you may also want to keep them inside to prevent them from injuring other cats and getting themselves hurt too. Long-term, visit your vet and discuss your cat’s aggressive behaviour. Your vet can advise you about whether or not your cat suffers from a lack of socialisation and recommend training school or behavioural therapies for your cat that can help them tame any aggression.

At home, you can work to reduce aggression that might come when your cat feels their territory is being invaded by the other cat. Provide your cats with more than one water and cat food station, and also give them plenty of areas to hide out and be alone, such as kitty cubes or separate kitty "trees" with high perches that let cats get away from it all. You might also invest in some appeasing pheromone sprays or plug-in diffusers that can reduce your cat's stress levels and in turn, aggressive behaviours. 

When it comes to why cats fight, it’s important to remember that cats have never been and never will be pack animals. Cats rarely enjoy living with other animals but tolerate the situation instead. Employing some of the above techniques can help you make your home a more harmonious place for both humans and felines alike, although catfights are bound to spring up from time to time despite your best efforts.

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