Signs of aggression between cats, and how to prevent it

You adore cats, so you decide to add another feline companion to your little family. But, no matter what you do, they just keep picking fights. It can be so disheartening when your cats attack each other continuously. Luckily, there are several ways you can resolve the issue. With some knowledge and a little time and patience, you can stop the aggressive behavior and finally get your beloved cats to live together in harmony! 

Why do my cats attack each other? 

There are many reasons why cats attack each other. By nature, cats are solitary animals that hold their own individual territories. Male feral cats have been observed roaming a territory of up to 150 acres! Females tend to stay closer to home, with territories of around 40 acres. Now, think back to how much space your cats have at home. I guarantee it’s a lot smaller than that! Domestic cats have had to learn to live in more confined spaces which can easily lead to aggressive behavior if your cats’ individual needs are not met.  

Aside from the distressing aspect of your cats constantly attacking each other, cats can also do a lot of physical damage. A cats’ sharp claws and teeth can easily cause puncture wounds in a victim. These injuries are then at risk of becoming infected. So, it is essential that you nip aggression in the bud as soon as possible. However, to do that you will first need to find the root cause. Below are the main reasons why your cats may attack each other: 

Cats attack each other
Sharp claws and teeth can inflict plenty of damage during fights. Instead of punishing a cat for violence, see if you can work out the reason for such behavior.

Redirected aggression

So, your cats previously got on well and then suddenly one cat starts to attack the other. This type of aggression could be caused by stress from an outside trigger. For example, a feral cat wanders into your garden. Your cat will be desperate to defend it’s territory but he can’t get to the intruder. The frustration could cause your cat to lash out at something closer, like your other cat! 

Health issues

Sudden aggression should prompt a trip to the vet as it could be caused by an underlying health issue. Especially if you have noticed a change in eating or toileting habits. If your cat is in pain, it may lash out to avoid being touched. For example, cats with osteoarthritis may avoid certain movements and will resist any person or cat touching their joints. This can lead to aggressive behavior.

Territorial aggression

As mentioned above, cats are used to having large territories. In a multi-cat household, cats may struggle to work out a territory. If the area is too small, this can lead to one cat attacking another. Territorial aggression usually manifests as hissing, swiping, chasing, and ambushing the ‘intruder’.

Inter-male aggression

Male cats will threaten, and even attack, rival males, especially if there is a female present. Cats may also show dominance aggression to solidify their high status in a cats loose hierarchy. This is more likely to occur in cats that have not been neutered or spayed. This type of aggression often shows as stalking, rigid body postures, yowling, and intense eye contact.

Maternal aggression

Female cats are incredibly maternal in the first few weeks of their kittens lives. This is why you must provide the new mom with a quiet, secure nest so she feels safe. If another cat (or a person) approaches her, she may perceive them as a threat and lash out. These aggressive tendencies usually go away once the kittens have been weaned.

Play aggression

kittens play fighting

Kittens learn how to hunt and interact with other cats through play. Often, this can appear as aggression but it is actually a very important development skill. During play, cats may stalk, chase, pounce, kick, or even bite each other but usually it is fairly harmless. However, play sessions can sometimes become too overstimulating which can lead to your cats attacking each other. This is more likely to occur between cats with a significant age difference.

Understanding feline body language

So, we have talked a lot about the different behaviors of cats and how they relate to aggression. However, cats will generally not just attack each other. Instead, they will first display numerous subtle body postures to indicate they are getting wound up! As an owner, it is essential that you are able to notice these signs to prevent aggression from escalating further. The only time where you may have an issue with this is if your cat has not been properly socialized. Highly stressed cats or those that feel constantly threatened may also lash out without warning. Every cat is different so you should observe your own cats body language to determine the cause and find the best solution.

Below are a few common body postures that indicate an attack is imminent:

  • Ears facing back or flattened against the skull
  • Tail held down low or thrashing in rapid movements
  • Hissing or growling
  • Arched back
  • Dilated pupils

How can I stop my cats from attacking each other?

If your cats’ behavior has changed suddenly then you should seek the advice of a vet to rule out any underlying health issues. Especially if the aggression is accompanied by a loss of appetite, increased vocalizations, and other behavioral changes.

cats can attack each other during a play session

Next, you will need to work out the triggers for your cats aggression:

Has anything changed in the home recently?
Are there other cats in the neighborhood that may be causing stress?
Do your cats have enough stimulation, sleeping places, and toys?
Have your cats been introduced to each other gradually?

Once you find out the root cause of your cats attacking each other, you can then move on to finding a solution! Here are a few handy tips to help your cats get along:

Neuter/spay all your cats

Unneutered cats are more likely to display aggressive tendencies towards other cats, especially males. Intact males have a need to defend larger territories and are also prone to displaying dominant behavior to compete for breeding females.

Provide a safe ‘territory’ for each cat

Cats do not particularly like to share! Aggressive territorial behavior can easily develop over shared resources. So, ensure each of your cats has its own food and water bowls, as well as scratch posts, sleeping areas, litter trays, and toys, to minimize competition. Providing additional perches of different heights will also give your cats somewhere to escape to when they feel threatened. If you live in a small house, consider building an enclosed catio in your back garden to provide your cats with additional space and stimulation.

Use calming feline pheromones

Cats have an incredibly strong sense of smell which they use to assess their surroundings. There are plenty of calming sprays and diffusers on the market that are specifically designed for cats. These may help to create a more placid environment and reduce aggression.

Encourage playtime

Play sessions are excellent for releasing pent-up frustrations. If you notice your cats are getting anxious around each other. Try distracting them by pulling out a wand toy. You can even make your own! It may just be enough to get their attention away from the other cat.

Reinforce positive behavior

When your cats interact nicely with each other – reward them! This could be in the form of treats or a bit of fuss. However, be careful to ensure that rewards are distributed evenly to prevent jealousy!

What NOT to do

It can be a scary sight when one of your cats suddenly attacks another. You should never let cats just fight it out as this can lead to injury. Similarly, you need to be aware of your own safety and not simply jump in to separate them. The easiest way to separate cats is to distract them with a loud noise. Then you can swiftly move one of your cats into a separate room until they have calmed down. NEVER punish a cat after a fight as this is likely to cause additional stress.

Depending on the severity of your cats fighting, you may need to keep your cats in separate rooms until you have worked out the trigger. Then you can make any necessary changes and begin slowly introducing them again in a controlled environment. Positive reinforcement such as yummy food and treats work wonders to help cats build up a positive association with each other. However, remember to always go at your cats pace! Rushing an introduction is likely to cause even more aggression.

Cat aggression is complex but by following these steps, you can get your feline companions to stop attacking each other and maybe even become friends!

With a little time and patience, you can get your cats to live in harmony

References

https://figopetinsurance.com/blog/science-roaming-cats
https://www.paws.org/resources/aggression/
https://pets.webmd.com/cats/aggression-between-cats-in-your-household

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