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Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

Are my Cats playing or fighting (1)

Playtime is an important part of cat life. It’s something that benefits cats, starting in kittenhood and extending all the way through the geriatric years. The way a cat plays as she ages may change but the desire to play should hopefully remain throughout a cat’s life.

If you live with more than one cat, hopefully, they have a good relationship and spend time playing together. If your cats are kittens, that playtime is also used as a tool for them to learn how gently to bite in order to keep in playtime mode. Kittens also use playtime to learn about their developing skills and practice stalking, chasing and pouncing. During playtime with their littermates, they also learn important body language and communication skills.

Are My Cats Playing or Fighting?

When it comes to adult cats, many still enjoy engaging in playtime with their companions. For some cat parents though, their cats’ playtime may look as if it’s crossed over into aggression. Cat parents are often left unsure about whether the cats are just having an enthusiastic play session or a physical battle that requires intervening before one or both cats get hurt.

Photo: Shutterstock

Photo: Shutterstock

There are a few general guidelines to help you when trying to evaluate whether your cats are playing or fighting:


  1. Play between cats can often look a bit more aggressive than we’d expect. Even between kittens, playtime can look a bit rough. Don’t expect your cats to wrestle and tackle each other with finesse and gentleness. If you’re new at living with cats and are unfamiliar with how they interact with each other, it can be easy to misinterpret playtime exuberance for aggression.


  1. Cats who normally have a hostile relationship or cats who are unfamiliar with each other won’t typically engage in play together. If you notice two cats who view each other as opponents, are now wrestling, it probably isn’t a friendly encounter. Unfamiliar or hostile cats may develop a friendly relationship and start playing together but that’s something requiring behavior modification and a getting-to-know-you period first. They won’t suddenly go from I hate you to let’s play without interim steps.


  1. Body language and type of vocalization are important clues for you to determine whether your cats are simply just enjoying a rollicking play session. Here are some typical ones:
  • Claws should remain sheathed
  • Ears should largely remain in normal position and not pinned back
  • No piloerection of hair
  • No growling
  • No hissing
  • Any biting should be minimal and done without causing pain or injury

Wrestling and Chasing Between Cats

When done in play, you should notice the cats take turns. With wrestling, observe whether they each spend equal time being on the top and bottom. If you constantly notice the same cat pinned on the bottom, the encounter may not be playtime. With chasing, it should also be reciprocal. Pay attention to whether you see the same cat always in the position of being pursued.