Cat lovers know felines like to play and paw at each other occasionally, but sometimes the behavior can escalate. After studying hundreds of cats, researchers say they have identified some tell-tail signs of a potential cat fight.
There's a dearth of research on cat behavior dynamics, so animal experts at the University of Veterinary Medicine and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia, and the University of Lincoln in Lincoln, U.K., did their own analysis.
"This is kind of a gap in the literature whether the cats are playing or fighting and this is a very common question of cat owners when they are watching their cats," Noema Gajdoš‑Kmecová, a veterinarian and animal behavior expert and the lead author on the study, told USA TODAY.
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How did researchers study cattitude?
Gajdoš‑Kmecová and the researchers collected 105 video clips of 210 cats and kittens interacting from YouTube and from cat owners, they detail in the research published in the journal Scientific Reports.
They analyzed about one-third of the videos to create a criteria for six kinds of interactions:
Vocalization: From mewing to growling.
Inactive body posture: Head and torso are motionless and standing, crouching, sitting or lying.
Wrestling: Cat engages in physical contact with another cat, including non-injurious biting and kicking.
Chasing: Cat follows or flees from other cat.
Other interactive activities: Grooming, approaching, arched back, stalking, belly-up.
Non-interactive activities: Self-licking, walking, drinking or head shaking.
What did researchers learn about cat purr-sonalities?
Using the defined interactions, researchers rated the cats in all of the videos and found more than half (56%) were playful with behavior including reciprocal wrestling. About 29% were aggressive (vocalization and chasing); and 15% were labelled as intermediate with wrestling and other actions such as pouncing, stalking, approaching, grooming each other, and laying on their back with their belly upwards.
"It's not just black and white, playing or fighting," Gajdoš‑Kmecová said. "There are at least three options (playing, intermediate and fighting). So we shouldn't be asking ourselves if they are fighting or playing. It can be something in between and even the cats, at some point, are not sure what is going on."
Intermediate play can closely resemble aggressive behavior, so cat owners should consider the "whole relationship" of their cats when trying to gauge behaviors, she said. Fighting cats may have long periods of inactivity between them but then hiss and growl with one chasing the other, researchers said.
But compatible cat behaviors can appear similar, Gajdoš‑Kmecová said.
"It can be that the cats are not agreeing at some point and it looks like a fight, but the general relations is quite good - they share resources and they rub against each other and they groom each other," she said. "I would say some small disagreements may not be an issue."
But if you have two cats that do not want to be in the same room as each other and don't interact playfully, but fight, "there may be tension," Gajdoš‑Kmecová said.
What's the best way to break up a cat fight?
It's probably not best to try separating the cats yourself, said Gajdoš‑Kmecová, who owns two mixed breed sister cats. "You can see the cats can be redirecting aggression to the owner," she said.
Some ways to stop a cat fight:
Just look at the cats and let them know you are watching.
Turn the lights on and off in the room.
Turn on the television or change the channel.
Don't yell at your cat. It could trigger or elevate the fear emotion within them, Gajdoš‑Kmecová said.
"I would just do something that is very non-harmful so something has changed in the environment and they shift their focus," she said. "That usually works with me."
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Cat videos as research: What feline behavior leads to cat fights?