If you are in a multicat household, you may have sometimes wondered, “are my cats playing or fighting?” It’s wonderful to see your kitties playing together and keeping each other company and cats will often mock-fight and wrestle. But if your cats’ playtime suddenly turns into hissing, growling, or other signs of aggression, you may need to intervene. If you are curious about the true signs of aggression in multi-cat households, or are asking yourself, “are my cats playing or fighting,” the team at Union Lake Veterinary Hospital sheds light on the issue.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

Most cats, especially younger cats, enjoy wrestling and playfully attacking their peers. It is a normal way for them to express their instinctual behaviors and hone their hunting skills. They may even attack your foot or ankle, or bat around pieces of paper, toys, and other small items. But sometimes this form of playing goes a little too far.

There are a few indicators that your cats may be prone to aggression or ready to get into a fight. Let’s take a closer look at these.

Watch Your Cats’ Body Language

Your cats’ posture and stance will give away a lot about how they are feeling and interacting together. Stiff postures with the ears held back, close to the head, generally says that they are stressed or afraid. You may notice that the fur rises, and they may display their fangs. You may also see that their eyes are dilated, the tail erect, and they crouch or arch their body. This is definitely a sign to separate the cats until they are less stressed. See examples of cat body language that indicate upset and fighting. 

Hissing and Vocalization

The sounds your cats make during play can tell you much about whether it’s turning too rough. Hissing, growling, and screaming are the definitive clues that your cat is saying, “back off” to their brother or sister cat companion. Most cats don’t vocalize when they are playing and having fun. If they begin to growl or hiss, make sure to separate them and give the cats a time-out for a while, until they settle down.

Check in with Them 

Another indicator that your cats are just goofing around is their response to you. If you call them and interrupt their interaction, do they return to playing when you walk away? That means they’re having a good time. If one of them goes into hiding, or there is tension to the point of them ignoring your calls, they may be primed for a fight. Cats who run away and hide or try and get away from the other cat companion, may be feeling threatened or bullied. This is why observation and interruption help you assess the situation.

Bites and Scratches

Sometimes, playtime can result in minor injuries when your cats play together. You may even be the object of roughhousing. Play bites and scratches are often a behavior in young cats. Make sure not to encourage this by interrupting the cats during rough play. If they are scratching or biting you, walk away or re-direct their attention to a toy or treat. This will let them know that playtime with you ends when they become a little too feisty.

If you have any questions about cat behavior, including cats playing versus fighting, please give us a call. It’s wonderful to see cats getting along and enjoying each other’s company, as long as they stay in the fun zone.