How to Stop Cats Fighting Over Territory
Behavioral Problems

How to Stop Cats Fighting Over Territory

Territorial aggression in cats is commonly caused by not neutering or spaying, or a lack of socialization when cats are young. Of course, some cat combinations just don’t get along well. The good news is that there are ways to stop territorial cats from fighting with each other.

Reduce territorial fighting by spaying or neutering your cat if it is still intact. Cats are more dominant and protective of their turf when their hormones are raging. You can also prevent fights by separating your cats’ resources and keeping them apart until they get along.

Cats are hierarchical, so territorial fighting is a natural instinct. Instead of letting the two cats fight it out, you should stop the fight as soon as you notice any clear signs of conflict and excessive competition.

Why Do Cats Fight Over Territory?

Hostile relationships between neighborhood cats can develop for several reasons. These are as follows:

  • Intact cats
  • Lack of socialization
  • Insecurity and defensiveness
  • Personality clash
  • Connection to an earlier bad experience

How to Reduce Territorial Aggression in Cats

The strategy that you choose to stop feline aggression depends on the cause of the problem. Here’s a summary:

Two male cats fightingNeuter/spay the cat
Intact cats fightingNeuter/spay the cat
House cat vs. neighborhood cat fightsKeep the cat indoors and close the blinds
Mild aggression in two indoor catsSeparate the cats and their resources (food, water, toys, etc)
Severe territorial aggressionKeep cats in separate rooms at all times

Spay or Neuter your Cat

Cats that haven’t been spayed or neutered are driven by hormones, and that can lead to two cats battling over territorial control.

According to the Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, spaying and neutering can resolve aggressive behavior between two rival cats.

An unneutered male will exert his masculinity and dominance over another male cat due to his high testosterone levels.

High testosterone levels can make a cat more aggressive and frustrated. He may show his territoriality by spraying around the house and fighting any male in its vicinity.

An unspayed female cat is likely to be anxious, restless, and loud. While territorial aggression from hormones is less pronounced in females than in male cats, a female cat is likely to be calmer after being spayed.

Both male and female cats may defend their territory against an intruder. The size of the territory can be as small as a single room or yard, or as big as a neighborhood or a block.

Spaying or neutering will make your cat feel more relaxed and docile, thus reducing its activity levels and chances of fighting.

Intervene Before a Fight

Most cats don’t like to get physical unless it is completely necessary. Their squabbles are largely benign (or bluffs) that involve rubbing on household objects and scent marking. Their interactions may involve incessant staring without actually leading to a real fight.

Sometimes, cats are obnoxious or destructive with their territorial behavior. They may spray urine on clothes or eliminate outside the litter box, or claw at furniture and other household items.

When you find your cat showing signs of aggression, stop them immediately. Cats cannot resolve any issues through fighting. If anything, fighting will make their relationship more toxic.

Interrupt the fight before it starts with the following techniques:

  • A loud clap
  • A burst of compressed air without any noise
  • Using a squirt gun
  • Interrupting the aggressors’ line of sight. For example, placing a large pillow between them
  • Placing a blanket on top of the cats

Territorial behavior becomes dangerous when a physical fight erupts. During a fight, cats may claw and bite each other, causing severe injuries. With injuries that involve cuts to the skin, there’s always a risk for harmful infections if not tended to promptly.

Owners must never use their hands to break up a fight. It’s also important not to soothe or pick up an agitated cat as this will end up with the owner getting scratched or bitten. Your cat is still frustrated and is likely to redirect its built-up heat towards you if you jump in physically.

Instead, try to lead the agitated cat into a quiet room where the door can be shut so that your cat can calm down and return to its normal behavior.

territorial aggression in cats

Reduce Competition for Resources

If one of your cats is bullying your other cat and both have been spayed or neutered, you may benefit from separating their resources.

Provide multiple, identical beds, food bowls, water bowls, and litter boxes and place them in different areas of your house. Territorial behavior is a natural instinct in cats, and owners cannot blame them for it.

If your cats aren’t willing to share, simply providing separate items for their use will prevent scent marking and power struggles between them.

You should also have plenty of scratching items around the house, such as scratching posts and trees.

Perches and Hiding Places

Cats love to perch. Even if your home is safe, it can be overwhelming for a cat, especially if it shares its space with another cat. Perching provides your cat a valuable respite from being bullied or touched by other housemates.

Furthermore, a perch gives your cat a great view of its environment and makes it feel like it’s out of reach from potential nuisances.

The same applies to hiding places. Include plenty of cat caves, baskets and other safe hiding spots around the house so that your cat has a safe, quiet and dark place to rest in when it wants some time away.

Remove Scent Marking Targets

Cats are sensitive to smells. So, an insecure cat that feels threatened may scent-mark with chin rubbing or urine spraying as a warning to other cats.

According to the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, urine spaying in a selected spot is often a sign of territorial behavior, or anxiety in cats.

Has your cat been scent-marking certain objects and areas in your home? Prevent your cats from accessing these rooms to reduce fighting. Towels and mats are appealing scent-marking targets for cats, so avoid leaving them lying around the floor.

Scents and urine spraying are like fences. Cats use these techniques to inform other cats that their turf belongs to them. If another cat does challenge your cat, your cat may return with stalking, ambushing, hissing, growling, staring, biting, scratching, and swatting.

Separate Your Cats

If interaction causes one cat to bully another, allow one to roam around the house while the other stays in a room.

Make sure both cats get equal turns. This will include some variation in their routine and allow them to experience each other’s scents, without having to make any physical interaction.

If your cats used to get along and suddenly start fighting, you may have to separate them for several weeks.

Relationships can change when cats mature. As a cat reaches one to 3 years of age, social maturation can trigger territorial aggression between cats that used to get along.

Cats that are kept separate should also be given a different set of bowls, beds, and litter boxes. You can place their food bowls on either side of a closed door. This helps both cats feel close together while doing something they enjoy.

It may take several days for your cats to become relaxed with one another. Once they’re ready, open the door by one inch. If your cats stay calm, open the door gradually. They’re probably ready to be together if they continue to be relaxed.

Be sure to reward desired behavior. Offer treats or praise your cats when you see them interacting with each other calmly or in a friendly manner.

However, if your cats show signs of aggressiveness, such as hissing, growling, swatting, tail flicking and staring, separate them and start the reintroduction process again.

why do cats fight outside?

Rub Some Tuna Water on the Cat

It helps to rub some tuna water on your cats’ heads and bodies once they have been reintroduced. This will occupy your cats with grooming, helping them relax and be not bothered by each other.

If your cats are in the mood, they may even groom each other because they won’t be able to clean up the water on their own heads.

Use Artificial Pheromones

Use a diffuser while the fighting is being resolved.

Artificial pheromones mimic natural cat odors that humans cannot smell, helping aggressive cats feel calmer.

How to Stop Severe Feline Territorial Aggression

Separate your cats, but for a longer period. You’ll also want to reintroduce your cats much more gradually. This may take anywhere around several days to even a few weeks. Here are some additional tips include:

  • Daily introduction sessions. Slowly introduce them every day, making them move closer under your careful supervision.
  • Use harnesses, leashes, and crates. This will make it easier for you to control your cats, if needed
  • Keep introduction sessions short. Distract both cats with treats, food and play during each session. Start with both cats far apart and allow them to take their time to get used to each other.
  • Avoid a relapse. Keep your cats separated after each reintroduction session.

To avoid a relapse, you’ll have to wait until your cats are able to peacefully play and eat within 2 feet of each other when they’re left alone.

It’s going to be tough, but you will have to leave your cats alone for short periods in the beginning and then slowly increase this time as their relationship progresses.

If your cats still don’t get along, try contacting a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB). An animal behaviorist will assess the issue.