New insights into whether cats are playing or fighting
The findings could help cat owners distinguise between social play and aggression.

Researchers have identified signs of when a scrap is serious.

It can be hard to judge the line between rough-and-tumble play and genuine fighting when it comes to feline behaviour. A new study, published in Scientific Reports, aims to clarify the issue and help cat owners better understand interactions between their pets.

The researchers, based at the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia, looked at over 100 videos of “fighting” between pairs of domestic cats, sourcing the footage from YouTube and cat owners.

They found six common behaviours that tended to indicate whether a fight was playful, serious, or somewhere inbetween. Signs of a serious fight often included chasing and vocalising, whereas wrestling was often a sign of a playful fight (although not in all cases). 

It is hoped that the findings will help cat owners with the sometimes difficult task of distinguishing between social play and aggression, making it easier for them to know when to seek professional assistance to manage behaviour and prevent major problems.

Responding to the study, Cats Protection’s central behaviour officer Daniel Warren-Cummings said: “It’s great to see work undertaken to better understand our marvellous moggies as historically cats have been under-studied, despite being so prevalent in our day-to-day lives. Bad inter-cat relationships can be a significant cause of stress and poor welfare, which can put them at risk of developing medical issues.
“Cats are not as overt as dogs in letting owners know they don’t like each other, so can often live through years of stress by being forced to live with another cat they are not bonded with. As well as fighting, signs of stress can include withdrawing or hiding away, which can be more difficult to detect.
“We encourage owners to look for signs of affiliative behaviours between their cats such as reciprocal grooming or rubbing up against each other whilst displaying ‘happy’ body language, including a relaxed up-right tail.”
You can find more information on cat behaviour on the Cats Protection website.