Is it play fighting or real fighting?

Dexter tackling SophieIf you have more than one cat in your house, then there’s a good chance you’ve witnessed a play session or two. There’s the running around while chasing each other type of play session. There’s the play session that involves batting a string or a fluffy ball back and forth. And then there’s the play session that involves wrestling – you know the kind – where one rears up on their hind legs, paws are flying between the two, and then it ends with a pounce-attack! Does that sound familiar?

Play fighting is both natural and good for your cats. It can be a bonding experience for them and it’s also good exercise! However, sometimes it may be difficult to decipher if it’s real fighting or just a friendly play fight. Here are some things that I’ve learned and witnessed while being a cat servant owner.

Play fighting

  • Play fighting usually involves the kitties taking turns with dominating the fight.
  • If chasing is involved, one should chase for a bit, then take his turn being chased (usually not one-sided chasing).
  • Playing fighting is typically pretty quiet. Besides a minor squeak or passing grumble, the cats usually aren’t very vocal during their tumble sessions. A hiss or two may sneak out, but that’s okay. In general, vocalizations are kept to a minimum during play fights.
  • Claws are retracted and fur not puffed up.
  • At the end of the play fight, cats should “shake” paws in respect and part ways happily. Or they may begin a grooming session together.

When it may not be play fighting

  • One kitty always seems to be the aggressor or bully.
  • Hissing or growling is frequently present.
  • Body language – is one cat tensed up, not relaxed? Puffy fur, arched back? Ears flattened?
  • Is one of the cats trying to escape the situation?

Sophie's fighting faceThese are just some general things to watch for. But of course you know your own cats best and know their typical behavior toward one another. If it does end up being a real fight, it’s usually recommended to not get in the way, as you will likely end up getting hurt in the process. You can try getting their attention with treats or food, or perhaps clapping loudly to draw their focus away from each other. You should not just let them finish the fight if you feel it is an actual fight. One of the cats could end up getting scratched or hurt.

If you’re concerned about your cat’s behavior, you should consult your vet or an animal behaviorist. If you’re looking for more on fighting vs. play fighting, you may want to read this article here.

Feel free to chime in with your experiences and how your kitties play.

This video doesn’t show cats fighting for real (no one wants to see that), but it is very clear that Olive does not want to play. (Volume up!)

And this video, compliments of The Zoo Rescue, shows foster kitten Fritz partaking in a play fight with his older sibling.

Sophie bops Dexter on the head and is then taken down during their play fight.

Sophie bops Dexter


11 thoughts on “Is it play fighting or real fighting?

  1. My cats love to play wrestle, run around, etc. But I did notice that they start to hiss/growl whenever a toy comes out that has a feature or “fur” of any kind. So we just stopped buying those kind of toys and that seemed to resolve the issue.

  2. The sequence of Sophie & Dexter shots is great! How you were able to catch such clear photos is amazing. Great job! If I tried that with my two cats it’d be all black and gray blob blurs.

      1. Plus, I think your cats are photogenic. I’ve owned two black cats in my life and they are often the worst to photograph because all you see is eyes. They are like cat-shaped holes in the universe … no definition. I’m sure a PROFESSIONAL photographer can capture the essence of black cat photography well.

        1. I’ve heard that about black cats. Sometimes even photographing Olive is hard (our tortie). What’s silly is that I’ve heard some people specifically DON’T get black cats because they don’t photograph well (a weird reason not to get a cat). It’s hard enough as it is for black cats to get adopted! We’re not looking for another cat right now, but when we do decide to add another cat to our home, I want to get a black cat.

          1. Where I adopted my black cat at the local humane society, the black cats were all segregated. I’m not sure why they did this, but because I specifically wanted a black cat, this made it easy to compare them all at once.

            And if someone says that black segregation is no longer practiced in the US they are wrong! I saw it with my own two eyes (read above)!

            It’s so exciting getting a new cat! <3

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