Do Cats Fight To The Death?

close up of a badass tabby cat snarling at an unseen foe

Do cats fight to the death? No, they don’t. Usually, they escalate confrontation till one or the other retreats accepting their lack of strength or dominance over the other. But, that is not to say that on occasion cats can kill each other. Sometimes, especially with feral cats, cats can kill one another in a fight, and in that respect, they have fought to the death.

Read on to learn more about catfighting and how these situations usually play out…

a pair of grey street tabby cats in a stand off about to fight ear flat big postures
Showdown!

Why Do Cats Fight?

Cats fight for a number of reasons, but they usually come down to territorial disputes, reproductive disputes, or play. The severity and frequency of fighting can also be determined by whether the cats in question have been neutered or spayed. Let’s take a look at the various reasons that cats fight.

Territory

Cats are territorial creatures by instinct. They like to maintain a territory for primary access to food, water, and reproductive opportunity. Even house cats, supplied with all their resource needs, will have territory. However, they are willing to share territory and divide territory into smaller shares if there are more cats in the area so long as all food resources are met. Feral domestic cats are similar.

When territory is under pressure because not enough resources are available due to poor territory or overcrowding or if shared territory leads to a meeting between two cats, a fight can develop. The fight usually results after a pattern of behavior where each cat seeks to establish dominance and therefore territorial rights over the other. Not all disputes result in a fight.

Reproduction 

A large number of fights might also occur between male cats who are vying for reproductive rights with a local female cat who has come into heat. Males will locate the female via scent and the female calling and if their paths cross with other male cats a fight may ensue to determine which male cat has reproductive rights in that particular territory over the female cat in the area.

orange and grey main coon cats both in the air slapping each other in battle
Let’s Play!

Play 

Fights may also develop that are purely for fun, stimulus, training, and bonding. Strictly speaking, they are more like a shadow boxing session with neither participant aiming to harm the other – simply, jointly exercising their skills, and instincts and working out to maintain effectiveness. To the unseasoned observer, they can look and sound very serious but they never carry the same physical threat or power as the real thing.

Kittens, bonded cats, housemates, and sibling cats will often participate in these types of rough house fighting and may well end in a relaxed heap grooming each other at the end!

Aggression

When cats are unaltered and are physically whole their hormones tend to create heightened responses. One such response tends to be heightened aggression levels.  In such unaltered cats, this can lead to more frequent and severe fighting episodes. 

Neutered cats, in the same situation probably would not fight but the unaltered cat has more aggression and is more prone to fighting over minor contrivances.

How Do Cats Fight?

A serious cat dispute usually escalates to a fight as the endpoint – but the dispute can be settled before a fight is reached if one party realizes dominance over the other. 

For instance, a physically smaller cat will often retreat from a larger cat before the dispute escalates to a fight as the smaller cat will understand they will be unable to achieve physical dominance.

Where two physically even cats fall into dispute and both hold their ground you invariably end up with a physical confrontation or fight.

To get to this point what usually happens is that two cats come face to face and start to hiss and growl – basically saying get off my land! 

an orange and tabby cat fighting outdoors
This is war!

If no immediate resolution is found they then escalate to body language sparring where the vocalizations are accompanied by visual cues of their strength and aggressive prowess. 

They will fluff up and arch backs to look as big as possible, they will stick ears back on their heads to signify a readiness to attack and defend, will go slit eyed to reduce the risk of eye injury, and start to physically dart and feint toward the opposition to demonstrate reflexes and willingness to enter the fray all accompanied by increasing volume of howling, growling and moaning! 

The opposition cat will stand firm and try to counter such advances, retreats, and feints with their own, or may raise a defensive paw looking for a defensive or retaliatory swat. 

A dominant cat might just fully launch if they believe they have superiority. 

At launch they will try to get in close, grasp, and wrestle the other cat whilst inflicting damage to the head and neck area with their jaws – at this stage, it is a very noisy flurry of activity and one or other cat may still bolt in retreat. 

However, even at this stage two evenly matched cats may wrestle and bite away looking to gain the upper hand and become the victor.

a black cat and calico stray fighting in the street
Fight!

Why Do Cats Fight At Night?

Cats are crepuscular hunters. This means they are most active at dusk and dawn. This is when they find the most success hunting. They are evolved to work well in these conditions, having eyes that are especially effective in low light conditions. They are not nocturnal animals but are low-light animals!

What this means is that many local cats are more likely to come across each other at dusk and dawn as this is when they are instinctively active. 

They are likely to be wandering around various territories and this is when disputes relating to territory and reproduction are going to come to a head. 

Now, to us, dusk and dawn is at varying times but are usually considered night. So it seems that catfights seem to break out more often than not at night – this is just the time of the day that cats are most active whilst we are winding down – so we notice the noise more.

Do Cats Fight To The Death?

Generally, no. The winner of a fight is determined before life-threatening injuries are incurred. 

Usually, as the fight escalates one cat will give in due to a size mismatch or be less dominant and retreat ending the fight. 

But, unaltered feral cats can from time to time kill each other in a fight with neither wishing to retreat – in this respect, they have fought to the death – but it is incredibly rare that one cat or other will not give ground.

a stray calico cat with one eye laying on a porch
War wounds…

How Bad Can A Cat Fight Be?

These alterations usually sound worse than they are as the vocalizations play a big part in determining who is the superior cat.  However, disputes can escalate to a test of physical strength with each cat trying to pin the other to take advantage of a biting position. 

A full-on fight can result in lost claws, torn ears, eye, and muzzle scratches and bites to the rear sustained when the loser is forced into a headlong retreat – they are usually seen off by the victor with a few bites to the rear if possible.

How Do I Know If A Cat Fight Is Serious?

Ears back, howling and actual physical confrontation is the signs of a serious fight – slapping or trying to physically overpower the other is a sign of an escalation beyond just a showdown or show of dominance. Once they are embroiled in loud, howling, physical attacks it is serious.

A play fight or roughhousing is usually less vocal, the physical attacks tend to be half-hearted without advantage pushed home and it can seem as if cats take it in turns to lead the fight. It can get quite difficult to identify as the play gets more extreme but often the game is brought to an end by one of the cats giving a vocal or physical reminder that it was all just meant to be fun – a sudden whinge and powerful swat says I am done back off! 

Two cats facing off over a sofa
Don’t even think it!

Should I Break Up A Cat Fight?

Yes, you should break up a catfight, except where it is obviously for fun because, like any animal fighting, they can take it too far and just cause loads of problems if left to it. 

Just don’t try breaking up a fight by hand alone! 

The art of breaking up the fight is to distract both cats simultaneously. A clap with a headlong rush may force them to split and dive for cover from you. A bucket of water thrown over both, a long-handled broom splitting the pair – anything that comes as a shock and doesn’t involve you physically getting in the way is the best way to split warring cats!

Final Thoughts

Do cats fight to the death? No, usually they fight till one cat achieves dominance over the other. Can cats kill each other in a fight? Yes, they can but it is incredibly rare compared to the number of catfights that happen.