Are Your Cats Really Getting Along?

It’s pretty obvious when your cats are fighting and the fur is flying. But cat conflict can be subtle so how do you know when trouble is brewing?

A Quick Reference Guide For Identifying Problems

Cats who get along will share resources like sleeping spaces.

As with any individuals who aren’t ourselves, it can be very difficult to get inside the minds of your cats. The guide below is meant to help you consider if your cats really are getting along or if there could be some conflict that needs to be addressed. If your cats fall mostly in the first category, you probably don’t need to worry. If there are multiple warning signs or any behaviors from the last column though, you probably need tp taking steps to build a better relationship, even if you are certain that issues between the cats are not the biggest problem in your home. Issues with a roommate can affect behavior in a lot of ways.

All Is (probably) RightWarning SignsNo, They’re Not Getting Alone
Mutual groomingOccasional hissing or light swatting at one anotherOne cat will not walk past the other
Sleeping touching each other or very closeLitter box issuesThe cats actively avoid each other
Mutual play (see below)Changes in normal behavior such as preferred sleeping spots or eating habitsThere have been fights, with or without injury
Both cats are eating and using the litter boxProlonged staringChasing (that isn’t play)
 One cat gives the other lots of space when walking by Frequent hissing or growling

Is it Play or Fighting?

Because cat play is based on hunting behaviors, it can be a challenge to decide if your cats are playing or fighting.  Check out the chart below for guidance:

Probably PlayFighting
Little or no hissing or growling (individuals vary however)Injuries occur
Little chasing or cats take turnsDeep growling, lots of hissing
Loose bodiesContinued chasing when one tries to run
Movement back and forth, into and out of gameTense bodies, airplane ears, claws out
Cats take breaks in action 
Both cats initiate the interaction at various times 

A good way to tell if the game is fun for both cats, especially if there is lots of chasing, is to “consent test”:

  1. Briefly interrupt the cat that seems to be instigating or chasing
  2. If the other cat returns to the game, it’s play! If not, remove first cat and give the other cat a break.  
  3. Do this when you see the “game” get intense or occasionally when it is just starting and you will soon see a pattern that should make it clear if everyone is having fun.

If you feel one cat wants to play but the other doesn’t find it fun, look for ways to give the first cat play in other ways, such as interactive play.

Building a Better Cat Friendship

Have you discovered you may have “frenemies” in your home? Mild conflict can often be handled with a few changes in the home.

  • Increase Vertical Space to Increase Territory: More perches, cat trees, or raised beds can make your home bigger in your cats’ eyes and decrease tension.
  • Separate Resources: Move litter boxes, food/water stations, perches, beds, etc to different areas of the home to decrease competition and allow cats to avoid each other if they want.
  • Play: It keeps coming up; play really is useful for nearly every issue.
Cat trees help increase vertical space and decrease conflict

If your cats are really fighting, one cat’s behavior has changed (hiding, not using litter box), or you see other signs that they are definitely not getting along, you need to take more dramatic action. Separate them to prevent fights and injuries. Start a process of reintroducing them slowly. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. The longer the conflict goes one, the harder it will be to rebuild the relationship.

If your cats are fighting or maybe just getting a little tense, consider scheduling a private behavior consultation.