Conflicts between cats: how to manage?

Conflicts between cats are trying times, especially when they tend to repeat themselves and settle over time. In these cases, like any time behavioral issues arise, the best course of action is always to figure out why cats are in conflict, so that you know how to handle the situation.

Conflicts between cats: why?

They are said to be solitary, because they have an independent nature, but the great behavioral plasticity of the cat, that is to say its ability to adapt to its environment, means that it is not uncommon to see cohabiting peacefully with its congeners, including in the wild.

However, this is not always the case. So much so that aggression between cats, and particularly cohabitation conflicts, constitute almost half of the specialized consultations with feline behaviorists.

Cats and conflict

Generally, cats don’t like conflicts and confrontations. They will most often seek to flee from them (avoidance phenomenon) and this will only degenerate into a (real) fight if there is no other way out.

Thus, the reasons which lead cats to come into conflict are few. Most often these are questions of:

  • Resources;
  • Territory;
  • Fear ;
  • Inappropriate play;
  • Health ;
  • Sexuality.

The resources

Food and water are essential resources to the survival of the cat. But his bowls, his litter box, his toys, his scratching posts and baskets, are also some of the resources which are under his control.

When a cat has enough resources to meet its needs, with rare exceptions, it won’t look elsewhere. And if he can sometimes agree to share them, it is not uncommon that he totally refuses to do so.

Also, in the case of a newcomer, but also with a fellow member to whom he is accustomed, to see his personal resources occupied or used by someone else, him in loses exclusive control. It is a frequent reason for conflicts between cats.

The territory

Cats organize their territories according to the available resources and their activities, which are relatively few:

  • Rest – the isolation zone;
  • Hunting, play – the activity zone;
  • Elimination – the area of ​​needs.

In nature, these areas can be more or less extensive and when an intruder occurs, the solutions of delay, fallback or escape, are numerous and rivalries that really degenerate are quite rare. Corn in a small space (house or apartment), conflicts related to territory are common.

They occur more particularly when a cat enters, without having been “authorized”, in the areas of isolation or activity of the other cat.

The arrival of a congener, sudden changes, moving furniture, new smells, can also cause conflicts.

Fear and redirected aggression

Cats are not particularly fearful animals, but they can be fearful just like us. And when placed in the impossibility of evading it, cats can attack in a very violent way.

These anxiety-provoking situations can also lead to the cat attacking another target (cat or human), which has nothing to do with the situation that frightens it. It is a totally instinctive mechanism, known asredirected aggression.

Loud noises, ill-treatment and punishment, coercion, unusual smells, unfamiliar situations, but also poor socialization, promote aggressive behavior.

Inappropriate play

The cat that has not been fully or properly socialized, may not necessarily be able to learn to play appropriately (bites retained, claws retracted). And in the phases of play with a congener, it will then tend to bite and scratch it. This behavior, even devoid of aggression, will be experienced by the other cat as aggression and will often be a source of fights.


Sickness, pain, stress, or hormonal changes, because they create more or less intense discomfort and are an “abnormal” situation, are likely to disrupt the behavior of cats who become intolerant to contact, to solicitations and therefore aggressive.


This type of conflict most often occurs between two adult males when a female in heat is nearby. They will clash until one of them gives up and takes flight. The resulting fights can be very violent and it is not uncommon for one of the two to come out injured.

Conflicts between cats: how to manage?

Managing conflicts between cats, even when you have managed to identify the cause, is not always easy.

First of all, it is necessary differentiate between a conflict and a game. Because our little companions can jump on each other, chase each other, kick each other with their paws, without being in the least in the world in conflict.

Then you have to assess the stage of the conflict, because depending on the level he has reached, the answers to be provided will not be the same.

It is only from there that it will be possible to solve this problem.

Game or conflict

The most noticeable difference between cats that are playing and cats that are in conflict is the loudness of their exchanges.

Indeed, when they engage in shared gaming activities, they can reproduce behaviors of predation, attack, flight, but they are relatively silent.

Conversely, during a conflict, the intensity of the exchanges is unequivocal. Hissing, rumbling, hissing and howling are in order and if this does not necessarily turn into a fight, it is a sign that the conflict is open.

The observation of facial and body postures also makes a difference. Ears lying on their sides or pinned back, pupil contraction, open mouth, arched back, drooping tail and bristling hair are characteristic of the postures that precede the phases of aggression.

The different stages of the conflict

There is a classification that characterizes cohabitation conflicts between cats. It is divided into 3 stages which make it possible to know how to manage the situation.

1 – Distancing

Cats who meet for the first time will seek to intimidate each other. There may be chases and voice threats, but it’s not going to turn into a drama. The belligerents have access to resources on the territory, they tolerate each other and seek to adapt.

The solution : cats will naturally organize the sharing and definition of the territory. The often transitory period of conflict will tend to develop satisfactorily. We must not intervene, under penalty of interrupting the process and prolonging or aggravating the conflict.

2. Skirmishes

At this point, one of the two cats turns into an abuser and the other into a victim. The victim hides, isolates himself, is afraid to go out and can become anxious. The aggressor pursues him, prevents him from accessing food and resources, but there is no fighting.

The solution : here again, you must avoid intervening as much as possible, but always ensure that the victim can access the resources. Disposal areas should be separated (provide a litter box for each cat and an additional one). Multiply the water and food bowls and organize the territory with distinct areas, high points, where cats will be able to move without mingling. The dissemination of socialization pheromones can help ease the situation.

3. Obnubilation

In this phase, both cats are in severe stress. The aggressor is literally obsessed with the aggressor. He watches for him, pursues him. The victim is prostrate, terrorized. Screaming is very common, sleep and eating can be disturbed. Compulsive behaviors can occur and fights repeat. Cohabitation seems impossible.

The solution : when the attacks reach up to the fighting, they are most often very violent. In that case, it is strongly recommended not to intervene physically, at the risk of being seriously injured. Screaming, sprinkling with water or brushing brushes are totally prohibited. They will increase the stress and could increase the fight tenfold. You can try to interrupt the brawl by diverting the cats’ attention by throwing a nearby pillow, or attempting to throw a blanket over one of the two cats to cut off visual interaction. When it’s done, isolate cats in different rooms, closed, in which you have a complete set of resources for everyone and let the pressure drop.

Consult a veterinary behaviorist

When conflicts have settled down for a long time, fights are recurrent and stage 3 of the conflict has been established, it is then essential to consult a specialist. The stress that the two cats undergo must be stopped, so as not to turn into pathology.

Behavioral therapies often help to put an end to this type of problem. And in rare cases, it will unfortunately be necessary to note that cohabitation is impossible and to consider definitively separating the cats.