Is the cat indecisive? Cats hint if fur is about to fly, study finds

When cats get together, it can be hard to separate rough and rolling play from a fully developed scrap. Now researchers say they’ve decoded cat behavior to help cat owners recognize when fur is about to fly.

Understanding cat interactions can be difficult, said Dr Noema Gajdoš‑Kmecová, a cat owner and first author of the study, from the University of Veterinary and Pharmacy in Košice, Slovakia.

“Many homeowners ask themselves the question, are these cats playing or fighting? Or what’s actually going on? “We learned that there was little scientific evidence to guide us in answering this question, so we decided to go ahead and examine interactions between cats.”

Writing in the journal Scientific Reports, Gajdoš‑Kmecová and colleagues describe how they studied the behavior of 105 pairs of interacting domestic cats recorded in videos collected from YouTube. They also advertised for cat owners.

The researchers randomly selected 30% of the videos and analyzed the cats’ movements to create six behavioral categories, including wrestling, chasing, vocalization, and squatting. Each of the cats in the complete sample was then evaluated for these categories.

When the team looked at the frequency and duration of each of these six behavioral categories for different cats, they found that they were divided into three clusters.

Experts within the team then reviewed all 105 videos of the 210 cats, labeling each interaction as fun, combative, or moderate.

The team discovered that the three behavioral clusters found in the initial analysis overlapped with the classification of interactions by experts; which suggests that certain behavioral patterns or types of cats may indicate whether cats are a playful interaction or a junkie.

“Cats most likely play when they’re young and wrestle and don’t make a sound,” the team writes. But when there are prolonged pauses, vocalizations, and chases, cats can be in the middle of a fight.

The authors write that intermediate behavior is associated with prolonged interaction and includes features associated with both playful interactions such as lying on stomach or jumping, and aggressive behaviors such as bending the back and pulling back.

However, Gajdoš‑Kmecová said that even wrestling can take place in a positive and negative context, so it’s important to look at the overall behavior pattern and whether these are being displayed by both cats. For example, when claws and howling are involved, a wrestling is unlikely to be a sign of play; and if only one cat was trying to wrestle, the game was also unlikely.

Gajdoš‑Kmecová said it is important to be aware that a playful interaction can turn into an intermediate or combative situation. “Very, very, dynamic,” she said. “When cats start making noise and avoid physical contact [for example] Taking inactive breaks during interactions [situation] may be changing to become an agonist.

Gajdoš‑Kmecová added that the study shows that cat interactions are not always a binary choice between playing and fighting, but their behavior may provide helpful clues. “Maybe ask yourself if they’re playing games, fighting or something in between,” she said.

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