Mention the word “dog fight” and most pet owners will be cringing in horror – but many overlook the fact that cat fights can be very serious too. Your pet feline may look like a docile “pussycat” but a ferocious tiger may be lurking under that tabby fur, capable of inflicting serious wounds and injuries, if he or she gets into a fight with another cat. In fact, cat fight injuries are one of the most common reasons cats are seen and treated by veterinarians.
Why Do Cats Fight?
While cats may fight to defend themselves, especially if they are cornered (e.g. by a dog), most adult cats fight with other adult cats over resources such as territory, food, preferred sleeping and toileting areas, mates and even owner attention. Fighting also often occurs when two adult cats meet for the first time and are trying to assert their dominance. Un-neutered cats, especially tomcats, are much more likely to get into fights as they are more aggressive and more likely to challenge other cats for territory and access to mates.
Can My Cat Really Inflict Serious Injuries?
Cats may be small but they have some serious arsenal in the shape of teeth and razor-sharp claws. All cat fights usually involve biting. Although cat teeth are smaller, they are still extremely sharp and capable of inflicting puncture wounds. While these may not be as deep or hard – and therefore won’t cause as much extensive underlying tissue damage as dog bites – the very small size of these bites means that they are often overlooked until they have developed into large, painful, infected abscesses.
And even if they are small, cat bites can still be serious. Cat mouths are full of bacteria, thus contaminating any bite wounds they inflict. In fact, cat bites have a higher chance of becoming infected than dog bites, especially because they are often overlooked until infection has set in. In addition to basic infection, cat bites can also transmit many of the deadly feline viruses, such as Feline immunodeficiency virus and feline leukaemia. In countries where it is present, cat bites can also transmit rabies.
How Do I Know if My Cat Has Been in a Cat Fight?
If you haven’t caught your cat actually fighting, it can often be hard to know if they have been involved in a cat fight. Because cat bites are small, they often do not bleed a lot. However, there are some signs you can look out for which may prompt you to examine your cat more closely yourself or even take him or her for a vet exam. Obviously, any signs of bleeding or limping are an obvious giveaway but other more subtle signs include your cat becoming suddenly lethargic or having unusual swellings or lumps in the skin. If you suspect anything, check your cat over carefully for any puncture wounds or scratches. Puncture wounds are usually small red or blue-tinged holes in the skin and while they are usually found in pairs, if the cat only managed to hook one fang into the skin, there may only be one hole. Cat bites are very painful so your cat is likely to flinch (or possible even bite itself) when touched.
How Bad Can Cat Fight Injuries Get?
Puncture wounds are also usually accompanied by redness and swelling – if the wound is infected, it might even be seeping pus. If the infection becomes serious, it can lead to fever, aching joints and occasionally even permanent injury to the tissue. In some cases, cat bites have been known to not only cause soft tissue infection but even infection to nearby bones and joints too or in some severe cases, cause blood poisoning. Unlike dog fights, bone fractures are less common as the cat jaw isn’t strong enough to fracture bone when it bites down – however, if cats are fighting on an elevated surface (e.g. roof), there is a likelihood that one may fall and injure a limb in the process.
How Are Cat Fight Injuries Treated?
All injuries should be cleaned and protected from further contamination by removing any dead tissue and treating for infection through antibiotics. For the best chances of healing, wounds should be treated within 12 hours of injury. Some cat bites may need to be sutured but usually they are open to drain and heal of their own accord. Beware, though, that if you live in a hot climate, you should keep your cat indoors and away from flies during the healing process maggots may invade the wound.
How Can I Protect My Cat From Further Fights?
Having your cat neutered if it is not already goes a long way toward preventing fights. Keeping your cat indoors, especially at night, to prevent it roaming and encountering other strange cats (especially feral cats) will also make a big difference. Finally, if you have a multi-cat household, ensuring that you have more than enough resources to go around (e.g. litter boxes, food bowls, beds) and give your cats lots of choice and access will help to preserve a harmonious atmosphere.