fighting cat looking through fence

Q. My cat never leaves my backyard and is mostly inside the house anyway. The other day, a cat came over the fence and attacked mine. I yelled at them and waved my arms. They stopped fighting and both went over the fence as I went to pick up my cat. My cat came back later with a bite wound that needed expensive treatment. The other cat has been back in my yard several times since. What should I do now?

A. You did the best I could have recommended by not trying to break up the cats by hand. The last thing you want to do when two cats are fighting is physically intervene, which is likely to get you badly scratched or bitten. Whenever cats get worked up, the rule is “hands off!” Never try to grab an agitated cat and never try to hold one, even if the cat is your own. Let go.

You did exactly right by startling them and redirecting their attention away from each other. If it happens again, you can also try to end a fight and prevent injuries by throwing a blanket over them or spraying them with water.

In an ideal world, you would be able to figure out who owns the intruding cat and talk to that person about the problem. The reality may be that the cat belongs to no one or that the person who does own the animal has no intention of keeping his pet from roaming. Still, it’s worth trying to find the owner and get a promise to keep the other cat at home. Even better would be some help with the veterinary bill, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that score.

What about the future? You can keep your cat entirely inside, which will end the fighting. Keeping your cat inside will also prevent it from contracting feline immunodeficiency virus (FIV), a retrovirus that can lead to debilitating disease. It's spread by cat bites. If your cat is happy inside and ignores the outdoor cat, you may just leave well enough alone. The other cat may continue to claim your yard as his territory, however, which can agitate your indoor cat, causing him to redirect his aggression toward you by spraying urine in your home or acting out with another unwanted behavior. The other cat may also begin spraying urine in your yard or even on your porch or door. 

Again, the best approach is to have the cat's owner keep the animal at home. You could also try a motion-detector sprinkler designed to turn on and spray any animal (or person) who comes into the area. (These are sold by garden centers and online.) But if the animal continues to cause problems, contact your local animal control agency and find out what legal options are available to you.

If you ever get bitten or scratched by a cat, by the way, immediately head for the sink for a lot of soap and water to wash off any bacteria the cat may have had on his nails or teeth. Keep  lathering and rinsing for about three minutes. Even a minor cat bite is like a hypodermic needle shooting bacteria deep into the flesh, and such an injury can become a severe medical crisis. Talk to your doctor right away.