The Swat Team: Why Do Cats Slap Each Other?

Updated: November 11, 2023


Watching cats engage in playful antics provides countless hours of amusement for many cat owners. Observing my feline companions engage in activities like batting at strings, chasing after lights, or batting around a crumpled paper ball never fails to entertain me. The dynamics can shift rapidly when they play with each other, transitioning from gentle interactions to more spirited bouts.

These diminutive felines can become quite exuberant in their play. A sudden pounce, a playful nibble on the ear, and bouts of slapping can ensue. Initially, I was concerned that their slapping indicated a dislike for one another.

However, I discovered that there’s more to their behavior than meets the eye. Cats are intricate beings with complex motivations behind their actions. Unraveling the reasons behind their seemingly peculiar behaviors reveals the multifaceted nature of these enigmatic creatures. Let’s delve into a few explanations for why cats engage in slapping behavior.

Read also: Why Do Cats Stare? (Bewildering and Unblinking)

Why Do Cats Slap Each Other?

There are various reasons why one cat may slap another, and understanding the motivations behind these actions involves observing the overall body language and behavior of your cats. Despite some of the less desirable reasons behind it, cats slapping each other is a natural and normal behavior for them.

Establishing Dominance

Observing your cats closely might reveal a hierarchy where one feline expects a bit more respect than the others. This particular cat may occasionally employ swatting as a means of asserting dominance. It’s crucial, however, to manage this dynamic carefully, as the dominant cat could escalate to more aggressive behavior.

Promptly addressing this behavior is essential to ensure the safety of your other cats. Avoid resorting to swatting at the cat to curb its dominance; instead, opt for gentle yet effective methods from the outset.

If you catch the cat asserting dominance over another feline, consider placing it in a separate room. This prevents the potential escalation of aggression at that moment. Nipping aggressive dominance in the bud is key to mitigating their potentially violent tendencies.

Initiating Playtime

Playful and energetic cats often use slapping as an invitation to engage in play. Cats inviting play through slapping typically exhibit body language indicative of a playful demeanor. Their whiskers will be forward, demonstrating attentiveness to the interaction. Importantly, the slapping cat’s claws are retracted during the playful slap to avoid causing harm to the other cat. In addition, there will be an absence of yowling, screaming, or hissing from the cat initiating the slapping. These nonverbal cues collectively convey to the other cat that the slapper is in a playful and inviting mood.

Seeking Attention

Cats thoroughly enjoy attention, and when they’re in the mood for play, it’s playtime for everyone involved, including fellow felines. You might observe them signaling their readiness for play by swatting at other cats.

During these playful swats, claws are typically retracted, and their ears are forward. The recipient of the swat often reciprocates with a playful slap in return, creating a lighthearted back-and-forth. Playful interactions among cats often involve gentle slaps, tackles, and playful rolls, all executed with retracted claws and a noticeable lack of aggression.

It’s important to be attentive to any signs of hissing or screeching, as these may indicate a shift toward aggression. If aggression is detected, it’s advisable to intervene and separate the cats to prevent escalation.

When you’re confident that it’s innocent play, take a moment to appreciate the interaction. Observing the classic cat “boop,” where one cat softly swats the other’s head, adds an extra layer of adorable charm to their playful dynamics.

Illness and Pain

When a cat is unwell or experiencing pain, it might resort to slapping other cats as a means of keeping them at a distance. Cats dealing with chronic pain or illness often display increased wariness around other pets in the household.

This behavior may stem from a fear of inadvertently being harmed by fellow pets. Unlike dogs, cats don’t always exhibit outward signs of arthritic changes. A study revealed that 61% of cats aged 6 years or older showed arthritic changes observable in at least one joint through x-rays, with 48% exhibiting changes in multiple joints.

It’s noteworthy that owners may not necessarily observe these arthritic changes; they are often identified through x-rays. An older cat appearing to have normal activity at home might be silently experiencing arthritic pain. This insight helps to understand why some cats may seem more irritable as they age—they could be coping with undetected pain.

Aggressive Fighting

If your cats are engaged in a heated disagreement, the reasons behind such altercations can be elusive. While the motivations for their fights may remain unclear, there are discernible signs to distinguish a genuine fight from a playful one.

In contrast to the earlier mentioned playful swatting, an aggressive cat typically extends its claws, a natural defensive instinct shared among all cats. When claws are unsheathed, it signals a brief window before the cat may decide to launch a more intense attack.

Observing the ears is another key indicator. If a cat’s ears are pulled back and flattened against its head, it signifies a sense of threat or fear. A cat in this state is prone to agitation and prepared for a confrontation.

Pay attention to vocal cues, such as hissing, screeching, or an aggressive form of meowing. Angry meowing is often described as a louder and more guttural version of their typical vocalizations. When these sounds emerge, it’s a signal that intervention may be necessary to break up the conflict.

It’s essential to recognize that not all catfights imply animosity between the felines. Aggression among cats can arise from fear, particularly if one startles the other. Given the quick and stealthy nature of these creatures, sudden movements can lead to rapid, defensive clashes.

Excessive Slapping

If you observe your cat engaging in frequent slapping, and you’re uncertain about whether it’s normal behavior, it’s advisable to consult with your veterinarian. Sudden shifts in behavior or a heightened display of aggression could indicate an underlying issue. Illness or infection, for instance, might manifest in unusual behaviors, prompting your cat to act out in ways that deviate from their usual demeanor.

Lack of Resources and Interact Aggression

While it’s certainly possible for cats to coexist peacefully, that harmony isn’t guaranteed, especially when living in close quarters. Instances where cats cohabitate but engage in fights often point to a phenomenon known as inter-cat aggression, potentially explaining the slapping behavior. The body language exhibited when cats slap each other due to inter-cat aggression starkly contrasts with the more playful slapping seen in cats initiating play.

In cases of interact aggression, cats displaying aggressive behavior appear visibly tense. Their ears are pressed flat against their heads, and their faces assume a tight expression, drawing their whiskers back. These cats vocalize their discontent, emitting the distinctive sounds of an irritated cat—growling, hissing, and screaming.

Interact aggression is a nuanced behavioral problem as every cat is an individual with unique triggers. However, aggression can often be traced back to a lack of resources within the home. Resources extend beyond essentials like litter boxes and water bowls; they encompass items such as toys, beds, and vertical spaces like cat trees and shelves. Addressing these resource-related issues can contribute to a more harmonious living environment for multiple cats.

Why Do Cats Slap Objects?

We previously explored the concept of cats slapping others out of fear, and this behavior extends to interactions with inanimate objects as well. If a cat encounters an unfamiliar object, especially one that moves or produces sounds, it may react with slapping due to fear.

Conversely, a cat might swat at an object out of curiosity. Similar to humans exploring and learning about an object through interaction, cats are motivated by the same curiosity. Observing them engage with an object can be a prolonged affair, involving poking, swatting, and nudging until they either feel satisfied or lose interest.

This tendency to swat extends to their toys as well. When cats playfully swat at toys, it’s a harmless and enjoyable activity. Whether it’s batting at strings or chasing after balls you dangle above them, kittens, in particular, find immense pleasure in such interactions.

Watching your adorable cat indulge in extended play sessions, delivering gentle slaps to their toys, can be incredibly entertaining. The tactile experience of the soft slaps on the pads of their paws adds to the joy of playtime for your feline companion.

Why Does My Cat Swat At People?

It can be a bit awkward when your cat immediately swats at a friend who visits your home. I vividly recall my first visit to a childhood friend’s house, where her two new kittens seemed to have a great time playfully slapping at my feet. As it turned out, they considered me a brand-new toy.

If your friends happen to have dangling jewelry, long ponytails, or anything shiny, it’s a good idea to give them a heads-up that your cat may see them as potential playmates. A friendly reminder that if the cat slaps them, it’s all in good fun can help ease any concerns. In these instances, the slapping is typically playful, and there’s usually no need for worry.

However, if a person startles the cat, their instinct might be to slap in self-defense. This natural defense mechanism doesn’t indicate any harmful intent; it’s merely a reaction to feeling threatened. Generally, it’s advisable to avoid startling cats.

Cats are astute creatures capable of recognizing their surroundings. If they find themselves in an uncomfortable or unfamiliar environment, such as a visit to the veterinarian, they may resort to slapping as a means to break free. So, don’t be surprised if a cat gives a gentle slap in an attempt to regain a sense of control in such situations.

Much like how cats might slap at each other to kickstart playtime, they might also swat at you as a way to grab your attention. While this behavior can seem assertive or demanding, it’s typically a playful gesture, and it’s not advisable to respond by slapping the cat.

Rather than retaliating, consider engaging them with a ball or a bit of string to initiate some play. While dogs are often seen as the primary playful companions, the truth is that cats, too, thrive on playtime. It not only brings you closer to your feline friend but also fosters trust between the two of you.

Is Slapping Normal?

You might have stumbled upon this article because you’re curious about whether your cat’s slapping behavior is within the realm of normalcy. It’s entirely normal for cats to engage in slapping—it’s an inherent part of their playful nature. They enjoy swatting at their feline companions, their toys, and even their human owners.

Moreover, slapping can be a natural defense mechanism for cats. Their feline instincts are powerful, and they swiftly react to perceived threats, which can sometimes lead to defensive slapping. It’s crucial to stay vigilant and attuned to your cat’s behavior. If you ever notice unusual or aggressive actions, it’s advisable to promptly reach out to your veterinarian for guidance.

Watch Your Cats Play

Kittens have an innate love for play, especially when living in a multi-cat household where they frequently engage in joint play sessions. To understand their typical play behavior, take time to observe their interactions. Not only is it a source of entertainment, but it also allows you to discern what constitutes normal play for them.

Cats often exhibit unique play styles when interacting with each other—some may roll around, while others initiate play with enthusiastic tackles. While observing their playtime, make mental notes of their usual behaviors.

A common sight during their play sessions is the repetitive slapping of each other, a clear indication of normal feline behavior. This consistent behavior across different play sessions serves as a reliable marker of their standard play patterns, helping you recognize any deviations.

If, however, you perceive their play as excessively aggressive, take proactive measures to separate them when needed. If one cat appears to be mistreating another, it’s advisable to reach out to your veterinarian for guidance on managing their interactions.

Is it normal for cats to slap during play?

Yes, playful slapping is a common behavior among cats. It’s often a part of their interactive play sessions, and the slapping is typically gentle, with retracted claws. This behavior helps them establish social bonds and hierarchy.

What does aggressive cat slapping look like?

Aggressive slapping involves tense body language, flattened ears, a tight facial expression, and vocalizations like growling, hissing, or screaming. This type of slapping is indicative of interact aggression and may require intervention to address underlying issues.

Can illness or pain cause cats to slap each other?

Yes, cats in pain or suffering from chronic illnesses might engage in defensive slapping to protect themselves. Observing changes in behavior, especially if accompanied by signs of discomfort, warrants veterinary attention.

How can I differentiate between playful and aggressive slapping?

Playful slapping is accompanied by relaxed body language, forward whiskers, and the absence of aggressive vocalizations. Aggressive slapping involves tense postures, flattened ears, and vocal signs of distress.

Do cats use slapping to communicate with each other?

Yes, slapping is a form of feline communication. It can convey playfulness, establish boundaries, or signal discomfort. Understanding the broader context and considering other body language cues is crucial in interpreting their communication.

What should I do if my cats are slapping each other excessively?

Excessive slapping, especially if aggressive, may indicate underlying issues such as resource competition or territorial disputes. Addressing these issues, providing ample resources, and seeking guidance from a veterinarian or behaviorist can help resolve conflicts.

Can cats live together peacefully after slapping incidents?

With proper intervention, cats can often learn to coexist peacefully. Identifying and addressing the root causes of slapping, ensuring an adequate supply of resources, and employing positive reinforcement techniques can contribute to a harmonious multi-cat household.


The world of cat behavior, particularly the act of slapping, is as nuanced as it is fascinating. Through the exploration of numerous frequently asked questions, we’ve delved into the diverse reasons behind cats slapping each other, ranging from playful interactions to more serious issues like interact aggression or underlying health concerns.

Understanding the subtle cues in a cat’s body language, distinguishing between playfulness and aggression, and recognizing the impact of resources on interact relationships can significantly contribute to a harmonious feline household. Whether your cats are engaging in spirited play or displaying signs of tension, this comprehensive guide provides insights into their behavior, helping you navigate the intricacies of feline interactions.

Michael R

Michael R

I'm a publisher and editor at Cat Guide 101. I imagine that since you’re here, you likely own a cat — or two! — so helping you better understand them is my aim. I'd like to invite you to check out our about page to learn more about the Cat Guide 101 story.

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