Cats fighting

Hiss! Yeow! If you've ever been startled by these sounds, then you've probably witnessed a catfight between your usually tolerant tabbies.

Your first reaction was probably to grab one of your cats by the scruff of the neck, putting a quick end to the terrifying tango of clawing and biting.

Wrong idea.

In this frenzy, one or both felines can puncture your skin with bites or deep scratches, which can become infected, requiring antibiotics, sutures or even surgery. Serious infections can even lead to cat scratch disease.

Dr. Jane Brunt, who runs a feline-only practice in Baltimore and is past president of the American Association of Feline Practitioners, says there are better ways to disrupt a kitty rumble. “In a catfight, seconds count, so you need to intervene quickly to decrease the arousal,” Dr. Brunt says. “Cats have flexible spines and can kick their hind legs with power.”

1. Distract Them

Dr. Brunt advises pet owners to try tossing a jacket or blanket on top of fighting cats, or hurl soft sofa pillows in their direction. Another tactic is to create a commotion of your own by clapping your hands, stomping your feet or banging a wooden spoon against a pot. As a final option, sprinkle some water on them.

2. Separate Them

As the cats dash off in different directions, try to separate them by closing doors, allowing them to calm down.

3. Gently Assess Damage

The final step is to check each cat for signs of bleeding, swelling and puncture wounds. Speak calmly, approaching each cat slowly. And dim the lights if possible. Wrap one cat in a thick bath towel and examine him from head to tail, then do the same with the other cat.

Consult your veterinarian if you find any wounds. Also be sure to re-examine each cat the next day, because infections and abscesses can develop within a day or two following a fight.