Tuesday, November 18, 2014

What to do to break up a cat fight

Beorn and Jasper are street fighters, and they have the scars to prove it. (Notice Jasper's notched ear in the shot above. That came from a cat fight, and it never did heal quite right.) I do what I can to keep them from brawling, including putting them inside a safe space at night, but they still manage to get into squabbles from time to time.

At the moment, their arch nemesis is the neighbor's cat: Riley. I have no idea why there's bad blood between my cat beauties and this big boy, but these cats really despise one another.

Often, the best advice involves prevention. Keeping cats from fighting in the first place means that everyone stays safe and sound. But, it's hard to do 24/7 prevention when your cats spend a lot of time outside. They go where they want to go, and they do what they want to do. There's little one can do to enforce a perimeter.

I try to keep Riley out of our yard by putting on a mean anti-cat face when I am outside. It's hard, because I love cats, but I don't want him to think that our yard is a good place for him to hang out. So when I see him, I make a lot of noise, and a throw down a lot of angry arm movements. Meanwhile, I shower my cats with treats and attention when they're in my back yard (where Riley doesn't go).

The net result is that my cats stay in the back yard 90 percent of the time, and Riley stays off of our property altogether. But in that 10 percent of time remaining, cat fights sometimes break out, often on my front lawn (hello, neighbors!). Here's what I do.
Step 1: Grab the water bottle.
I keep a standard spray bottle on my desk, filled with cool water. When a fight breaks out, I'm ready to handle it. 

Step 2: Walk toward the cats while yelling. 
If the cats are in the yelling-but-not-hitting phase of a fight, they might break apart when you offer a distraction. A loud noise is often enough to break their focus, which means that one cat or another might choose to walk away. 

Step 3: Direct a stream of water at the center of the conflict. 
If the cats will not break apart after you yell at them, a spray of water might do the trick. Try to hit both cats with the water at this point, so they'll both be surprised enough to stop moving. Ideally, they'll look at you, and you can move onto the next step.

Even if cats break apart while you yell, you might need to spray one cat. For example, Riley often looks up when I yell, but that moment of distraction can inspire my cats to smack at him. He's not looking, so it seems like a great time for a sneak attack. Be ready to spray, just in case.

Step 4: Continue to spray the cats until they separate. 
Cats that are still close together can fall right back into fighting if they're close together. Be ready to continue to spray the cats until they start to move apart. I direct the majority of my water to the cat that's showing the most aggression, which allows the other cat to run away to safety.

Step 5: Put yourself between the two cats. 
When one cat runs, the other sometimes chooses to follow. That can result in a continued fight just a few feet away. I put my own body between the fleeing cat and the aggressive cat, and I keep spraying that aggressor to keep that cat in place until the other is gone. 

Step 6: Stay put until one cat has completely left the area. 
Cats can be surprisingly stubborn, and sometimes, really breaking up a fight means sticking to the spot for a long time. If you leave too quickly, they may start in again. Stay in place until you can no longer see the fleeing cat.

Step 7: Put your own cat in a neutral spot.
Once the fight is 100% contained, it's time to find your own cat. If your cat is the aggressor, that's easy. You've been spraying that cat for ages, and know right where it is. If your cat has fled, the work is a little harder. I rattle treat bags or shake the food dishes to lure the cat back. Then, I pick up my cat and put that cat in the backyard, far away from the action.

Yes, this is a lot of work. And thankfully, it's not work I have to do very often. Prevention is always better. But should you have to break up a cat fight, these steps might work best for you, too.

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