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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting? 6 Ways to Tell the Difference

Cats love to wrestle and play fight with one another, but cats also fight. Even if you have two litter siblings that have lived together their whole lives without any problems, there is a chance that something can change. One might get carried away, or the dynamic in the relationship might change for some reason, and what was once playing can quickly escalate to become proper fighting. You should have a good idea of your cats and how they behave, but if you want to be able to tell whether your cats are playing or fighting, you can use these six steps as a guide.

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The 6 Ways to Tell if Cats are Playing or Fighting

1. If It’s Quiet, It’s Probably Playing

If your cats are rolling around with little to no noise, apart from the occasional meow or chirp, there’s a good chance that it’s only playing. Cats don’t vocalize their playtime in the same way that they do their fights. The occasional meow or chirp you hear is likely one cat telling the other that they got a bit carried away.

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2. If There’s Growling, It’s Probably Fighting

On the other hand, if you hear aggressive noises, it’s turned into a fight. Aggressive cat noises include growling, hissing, and spitting. Your cat will not make this noise if they are only playing, and they will reserve yowling for a proper fight. If it sounds serious, it probably is.

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Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock
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3. Ears Back Means Stress

Cats are good at non-verbal communication, and their ears can be highly expressive. They act as an effective barometer of their emotions. During a play or fight session, if their ears are straight up or forward, it means that they are probably playing. If their ears are folded back, there is a good chance that the cat is involved in a fight, and you may need to intervene.

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4. Other Physical Signs of Confrontation

A cat’s fur will stand straight up, their tail erect and upright, and their eyes dilated if they are involved in a real fight. If their body language looks relaxed, they are probably feeling relaxed and enjoying rough play. If they look tense, they might be scrapping for real.

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Image Credit: Gerhard G., Pixabay
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5. They Take Turns to Play

It is usual, especially in littermates, for cats to share the role of top cat during a wrestling match. Watch them together: If they are swapping and taking it in turns to be the cat on top, there’s a good chance that they are playing. This isn’t always the case, though, if the two cats are evenly matched, one could have the upper hand and then the other. Also, one of your cats may prefer to always play at being the top cat. This is fine as long as it isn’t a problem for the other cat.

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6. If They Don’t Know Each Other, They’re Not Playing

If one of the cats is new to your home and they don’t know your cat, it is highly unlikely that they are playing. Cats will not usually play with other cats that they don’t have some kind of relationship with.

cats fighting_rihaij_Pixabay
Image Credit: rihaij, Pixabay

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Should I Let My Cats Play Fight?

Play, when it is genuine, is fun and healthy. It enables your cat to get exercise and allows them to vent a little aggression with one another. It could also save your furniture and even your arms. As long as one cat isn’t being overly aggressive toward another, it is perfectly safe and natural.

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Do Cats Bite Each Other When They Play?

All feline play is mock aggression, which means that your cats are pretending to fight one another. Fighting would involve biting, so it is common for cats to bite and nibble one another as part of a game. The bite should not be as serious as a proper fight bite but should not be discouraged unless it is having an adverse effect on the other cat.

How Do You Break Up a Cat Fight?

If your cats are simply playing and got a bit carried away, simply talking to them may be enough to get their minds off it and stop them from scrapping. If things get serious, clap your hands, but do not get in between them because being stuck in between two warring cats can be quite dangerous and painful.

cats playing II_Gundula Vogel_Pixabay
Image Credit: Gundula Vogel, Pixabay

Will My Cats Ever Stop Fighting?

If it’s play fighting, the cats will end their scrap and go about their day as usual. If it’s a real fight and an isolated or rare incident, one likely got carried away, and they should be friends again soon. If it is regular, you may have to take steps to try and stop the fighting. If things are really bad, this may require an animal behaviorist.

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Additional Information

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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

To cats, playing is just mock fighting. They pounce, hit, roll, wrestle, scratch, and even bite one another. As long as it is a game and neither cat is getting injured, it is not only acceptable but should also be considered a beneficial part of growing up. However, some cats do fight, and if there is growling, puffed-up fur or hissing, you may need to discourage the fight.

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Featured Image Credit: Astrid Gast, Shutterstock