Why are your cats wrestling? Scientists reveal the answers

If your cats are vocalizing, and chasing between periods of inactivity (such as crouching), they are most likely fighting. Vocalization is an especially important clue here to an aggressive rather than playful interaction. Chasing is OK if it’s mutual, but if one cat is chasing or one cat is running away, that’s not so positive.

The intermediate group is the tricky one. It contains elements of both playful and agonistic behaviors, although it was more closely related to the playful than the agonistic group. This suggests play could become agonistic, depending on what happens during the interaction.

In particular, the authors observed frequent breaks within the interaction, which may allow cats to reassess their partner’s interest in playing and avoid escalation from play to aggression.

The big fights are easy to spot

This study is the first to apply a scientific approach to cat behaviors anyone can identify, describing three types of interactions to help identify between play and fighting in cats.

We all know when cats are really fighting, but the main strength is in working out intermediate examples – where it could be OK but could also escalate.

The study focused on obvious behaviors anyone can observe, but cats can be quite subtle, too. They also use facial expressions, ear, and tail placement, and pheromones to communicate. These subtle signals may be just as important in differentiating between what is playing and what is fighting.

If your cats really are besties (sleep in close contact and share food and toys), the occasional bit of agonistic play is okay.

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