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Are My Cats Playing Or Fighting?

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Are my cats fighting or playing? I adopted a second male recently and kept them separated for a while and the introduction went smoothly. They seem to get along and will chase each other and wrestle. I thought it was just playing, but sometimes I notice one hisses at the other as they're going at it. No one ever gets hurt and they seem to both enjoy it, but the hissing is throwing me. Does that mean they don't like each other?

Pam’s Answer: In normal feline play there shouldn’t be any hissing, growling or screaming. Hissing is a defensive vocalization. Sometimes though, playtime can get a little out-of-hand or the interaction may start as play and occasionally escalate into something else. If the hissing is a normal occurrence then I would say that the two cats aren’t really playing. If the hissing is something you just hear occasionally then I think it may have been a mis-read play cue or that playtime turned to aggression.

You should also take into account whether it’s the same cat doing the hissing all the time. If that’s the case then one kitty may be actually bullying the other. In normal feline play, the cats take turns being the mock “aggressor.” Watch their body language as well. During playtime, a cat’s ears shouldn’t be plastered back and there shouldn’t be any claws extended. You also shouldn’t be seeing any piloerection of fur or any confrontational stares where the two cats seem to be having a stand-off.

Considering that your cats have not known each other that long, they’re probably still in the phase of trying to interpret each other’s body language, play solicitations and overall territorial issues. My suggestion would be to distract them after a couple minutes of playing by offering a couple interactive fishing pole-type toys or rolling a couple of puzzle feeders along the floor. This way, the play session won’t have time to escalate into anything negative.

Distraction is an easy way to keep things positive so the cats end their play session on a friendly note. The more often you can divert their attention to something fun or interesting BEFORE things turn negative, the more easily their relationship will blossom into a feline friendship.


Pam Johnson-Bennett is a certified cat behavior consultant and the best-selling author of seven books on cat behavior and training, including her most recent release, the updated and expanded Think Like a Cat (Penguin Books). She is a former board of directors member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants and is the founder/former longtime chair of their cat division. She was a member of the American Humane Association’s Advisory Board and is on the Advisory Board of Tree House Humane Society. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, LLC, a private veterinarian-referred behavior practice in Nashville, TN.

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