How Can I Tell If My Cats Are Just Playing or Actually Fighting?

Two cats play fighting
Dreamstime

Not sure if your indoor cats are just play wrestling or actually getting ready to erupt into a full-blown fight?

Here’s a clue: listen.

Cats who play wrestle behave like feline mimes. They will tumble and paw thump without emitting yowls or meows.

Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinary behaviorist who serves on the executive board for the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior, shares a few other clues that point to a friendly tussle rather than a real feline feud.

  • Cats who play fight do not move at a fast pace.
  • Each cat takes a turn at being on his back and pouncing on his feline friend.
  • The pair will stop and start a lot, much like wrestlers moving on a mat to get into position.

I recently spotted my cats, Murphy and Zeki, playfully wrestling in a hallway, so I recorded them. Their silent melee drew the attention of my two dogs, Chipper and Cleo, who (as the below video of the feline acrobatics depicts) assessed the situation and walked away.

Just like dogs, cats need physical exercise to keep their muscles toned as well as fend off boredom. Plus, cats form select friendships with other felines, which they exhibit through mutual grooming — and the occasional mock fight.

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