Small cats try to avoid fighting but they are adapted to combat

I was going to ask if small cats fight but that’s a dumb question because all of us know that they do and fights can be horrendously fierce and sometimes seriously damaging. It all stems from being non-social animals (for all the small wild cats) and therefore solitary with a desire to protect that bit of territory (often very large even for small cats) that they’ve claimed as their own. Domestic cats are fairly social thanks to 10k years of domestication but their inherited solitary nature comes through in encounters over territory.

Small cats fighting
Image: MikeB (using Canva).
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The point is though that small cats do a lot to avoid fighting and the damage that it can cause. Very sensible I’d say. It’s about survival. Fighting is a last resort as it can cause injury which can lead to the death of a wild cat as they might no longer be able to hunt.

As you know they use urine and faeces and their anal sac secretions to mark their home range boundaries. These have been described as “calling cards” by Dr. Desmond Morris because they tell other cats that this is their home and territory. And because the smell of the urine fades gradually cats can tell when the resident cat deposited it. This allows each to avoid the other in a version of time share if applicable due to overlapping ranges and thereby avoid a fight.

Also, sometimes, small cats scream loudly at their neighbours not to encroach on their territory.

So they use scent, sound and sight to discourage an encounter but if those don’t work there has to be direct engagement and a potential fight but even then they do their best to avoid it through sumo-style stand-off signals with the resident cat trying to convince the encroaching cat to understand that they will lose the fight and therefore they are better off retreating and disappearing.

And if they do have to fight because none of these avoidance strategies work, small cats are well adapted to the consequences of fighting. For example:

  • Small cat skin is not tightly attached to the muscle below the skin (James Sanderson and Patrick Watson in Small Wild Cats).
  • A cat’s body is loosely enclosed within the skin. We know this when we handle our cats particularly by the scruff of the neck.
  • The muscles move and slip inside the skin and a cat can seem to rotate their body within the skin.
  • These adaptions allow the cat to squirm free. Comment: my cat can wriggle free from a harness if he really wants to and there’s not much you can do about it.
  • Also, the hair covering cats makes it difficult to grasp the body because the hair seems to slide in the grasp.
  • Claws and teeth might be able to penetrate the hair and skin but it almost certainly won’t penetrate the muscle underneath.
  • Cats are able to escape and wriggle free, avoiding the fatal grip of the aggressor.

Normally both combatants emerge from a fight without serious injury. They simply go back to the way they were, to their respective home ranges and continue to patrol their borders.

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