Date updated: 17 11 2017
Life with a cat can sometimes be complicated - and even the most easy-going moggies can have their off-days. When hissy-fits spill over into full-on feline warfare, things can get messy for everyone involved. So from playing peacemaker to patching-up wounds, here’s how to keep the effects of scrapping to a minimum…
Why do cats fight?
Fisticuffs start in the cradle. And apart from being super cute, the rough and tumble between kittens actually serves a very useful purpose. Think of it this way: you’re a couple of weeks old, you’ve got these tiny paws and teeth - and you’re still working out what they’re for. Just like with tiny humans, brothers and sisters provide ideal sparring partners.
So play fighting is totally normal; something that applies to teens and adult cats as well as kittens. And most of the time, they’re smart enough to know the boundaries. Accidentally going too far with a bite or scratch means game over!
But even family members and besties can have the odd feud. You can tell if things have gone beyond play fighting and into full-on conflict if you notice the following:
Things have escalated from pawing to biting
Also, remember that cats are territorial. If a new cat enters the home or sees a stranger on his patch, a little anxiety is natural.
How can I stop it?
Here’s how to stop your buddy getting into the type of situation where fights are common…
Consider keeping your cat indoors. Being allowed to roam free sounds great in theory. But apart from the traffic threat, cats are much more likely to get a nasty fight wound if they regularly meet strangers. And with combat comes close contact, which increases the risk of picking up contagious diseases.
Get your buddy neutered. Intact toms are much more likely to fight than queens or neutered males (it’s all to do with competition). They also tend to roam across a much wider territory. Neutering reduces this aggressive and territorial urge.
Be careful with the intros. Take the gentle approach to introducing new cats to increase the chances of a friendly relationship. Read our guide to cat introductions for more tips on this.
Should you break up a catfight?
Definitely. Standing back and letting them ‘clear the air’ isn’t a good idea. It risks injury to one or both of them and gives the signal that you’re okay with this behaviour (which of course, you’re not).
That said, physically walking over to separate them isn’t a good idea either (you could end up with a nasty scratch). A couple of blasts from a squirt gun or a half-filled cup of water usually does the trick. They’ll separate in seconds!
Don’t be tempted to pick up your buddy right away. They’re still on edge and need to calm down. Give it half an hour and then have a look for any wounds.
If you know for a fact that your cat has been involved in a fight, make sure you examine your buddy’s fur and skin for signs of cuts, scratches and bites. Obviously, fights can happen when you’re not looking so it’s important to get into a routine of regular physical inspections. Grooming sessions are ideal for this: look out for scratches, skin redness and discolouration of the fur.
With long-haired breeds especially, a little rough and tumble can easily lead to tangled and matted fur; use your fingers to tease out smaller knots, and a wire brush, comb or mat-breaker for serious tangles.
For scratches and nips where just the surface of the skin is affected, it’s a matter of cleaning up and keeping an eye on it. Using a clean cloth, apply a sterile saline solution to the wound twice a day. If you see any redness or pus – or if there’s a smell coming from it, these are all signs of infection, in which case, it’s time to make an appointment with the vet.
If infection does set in, treatment usually involves antibiotics – either applied as an ointment to the wound or taken orally.
Fight wounds that go all the way through the skin definitely need vet attention. Lacerations that are more than an inch or so long usually require stitches under general anaesthetic.
Even if the wound looks clean, the fact that it was caused by a bite makes it pretty much inevitable that infection will take hold. So in preparation for this, the vet may place a drain at the wound site before the stitches are closed. This allows the infection to drain from the wound while it heals.
So first off, try to keep your buddy out of harm's way. And if they do come away with a few battle wounds, make sure they are patched up or dealt with promptly!