Are my cats playing or fighting? how to tell it apart

Cats are somewhat chaotic animals. That’s why we like them so much. Sometimes they can engage each other in a kind of mismatched dance that borders on playing and fighting. It’s definitely hard to tell if they’re playing or fighting, and that can be dangerous. Logically, if they just play there is no problem and we can let them indulge. On the other hand, if it is a cat fight, we should try to separate them before they hurt each other. As it is difficult to differentiate these behaviors, a team of scientists from Slovakia and the United Kingdom has carried out an investigation, aimed at finding those unique factors of each of them.

For it, they took 165 videos, which showed the interactions of 228 different cats. Some videos were downloaded from YouTube, while others were donated by the animal’s owners. The goal was to classify them as fighting cats, playful animals, or somewhere in between. I mean, maybe they started playing, but suddenly one of them got fed up. Or simply that, from the beginning, one cat wanted to play and the other didn’t. That generates an intermediate situation in which one believes that he plays, but the other fights.

The classification was carried out in two ways. On the one hand, four experts in feline behavior were hired, who had to evaluate what was seen in the videos. And, on the other, six different traits were analyzed: fight vs. inactivity, vocalizations, chasing, no interaction, recurrent interactivity and prolonged interactivity. In this way, by comparing the results of the experts with the different scores in this classification, they obtained a model capable of predicting if the video showed a cat fight or if it was actually two furry friends having a good time together. .

The keys to differentiate the game from a cat fight

The first step in the study was to remove videos that clearly showed catfights taking place. These are, for example, those in which one or both animals end up bleeding or with the claws of the other nailed violently.

The key was distinguishing those videos with more subtle differences. But even being subtle, they managed to find them. For starters, vocalizations were the most representative feature of cat fights. In fact, it is common for them to initiate ritualized vocal duels. The chase in the fight and the recurring interactions in the game were also very significant. This is because, when they are fighting, it is common for one to try to escape and the other to chase him. They can chase each other while playing, but it’s a different chase, which also tends to last less.


Regarding recurring interactions, this study concludes that cat fights touch less. It is more normal for them to chase each other or for there to be periods in which one is submissive, for example bending over or half sitting. On the other hand, when they play they do maintain physical contact with each other for much longer. Finally, it is important the fact that in the fight there is usually more offensive / defensive behaviors, such as the hair standing on end or the movement of the ears and tail.

The authors of the study emphasize that it is important to know how to establish these differences, since in cat fights serious injuries could be done. So these traits can be a good starting point. If not, there is always the option of asking the vet or hiring a behavioral expert to evaluate them. Even if we think that no one knows our furry friends better than we do, sometimes it may be necessary to ask for help.