A Less Than Universally Helpful Tip

If one of your cats and a stranger cat are having a catfight outside in the dark, and you want to break them up, shine a flashlight into your cat’s eyes while shooing the stranger cat away. That way your cat won’t see where the other cat is going and then attempt to follow it for a continuing beatdown.

You’re welcome.

32 Comments on “A Less Than Universally Helpful Tip”

  1. We use the beagle method. When we hear a cat fight start, our beagle, Scout (named after the character in To Kill a Mocking Bird), usually beats us to the door. We “release the hound” so to speak. She runs outside barking her head off. Our cat hunkers down (he’s learned not to run from the dog). The other cat goes apeshit and high-tails it out of there. We take our cat back into the house, the other cat is at least a half mile away by now and the dog has had fun chasing something off.

    I wouldn’t recommend this method if you have nearby neighbors.

  2. I take it this recently happened. How did you discover this trick, and which of your cats got embroiled? I’m guessing it was either Mighty Lopsided Cat or Zeus; Radiant She would consider it beneath her dignity.

    We have these disputes in our yard sometimes, sadly it’s 2 of the 4 freerange cats that have adopted us that get territorial with each other. It’s usually a certain one that starts it, and if Smartypants doesn’t tone it back a notch, he may get relocated to the Humane Society.

  3. Alas, at my house it’s the cats that live here that do the fighting. They actually do respond well to “knock it off”, however.

  4. Shining the flashlight in her eyes is also a good way to chase your chinchilla up to bed from under the sofa. It is much easier to keep following her around the room with a flashlight – she is VERY fast (built into prey animals); eventually, she gets tired and escapes the Flashlight of Doom up to the bedroom where it never follows, and she gets a treat. I think it’s her version of Hide ‘n’ Seek.

  5. Alicia, I wish we’d thought of that when we had a chinchilla. Under the sofa is one thing. Under the bookcase with 2″ clearance is another. Fast compressible prey animals.

  6. In my neighbourhood, the brawlers are the racoons. I use a little Fenix flashlight that has an amazingly bright display and a flash function. The flash is bright enough and strong enough to replace pepper spray as a deterrent. The racoons generally scatter.

    In my opinion, all cats should be declawed or at least kept indoors to prevent them from attacking birds.

  7. Actually, John. I think your cat used the opportunity to abort that fight. He/she/it saw where the cat went almost certainly even with the flashlight in his/her/its face. I remember my friend, a scientist type, who had a pet cat. One night he was playing with the cat in a low lit room with a piece of string. On a whim he got a flashlight and shone it directly into the cat’s eyes at point blank, then immediately wiggled the string in front of it. The cat didn’t miss a beat and continued to swipe at the string without hesitation.

  8. Please, please, please do not declaw outside cats! It leaves them with reduced defenses in the face of dogs, raccoons, strange cats and practicing serial killers. With all of the dangers outside that could harm my cats and the harm that could be caused to wildlife by my cats I keep mine strictly indoors. A cat who never goes outside has DOUBLE or TRIPLE the life expectancy of one who goes out even part time (ask your vet if you don’t believe me).

  9. I don’t know. A cat is part of nature. Outside is a natural environment. Birds are part of nature (so are we for that matter). Outside is dangerous for a cat, sure. It’s also more stimulating. Stuff goes on outside. Lots of stuff and a whole lot more than indoors.

    It seems keeping a cat indoors is something done for the human part of the the pet equation, right? I mean I’ve had cats as pets. One of them was very shy and fearful sometimes. That didn’t stop her from going out though. She still went out, hiding under a japanese maple in the backyard or my car, to watch all those cool things cats love to watch outside. The other cat was indoor/outdoor and loved being outside. He lived to almost 13 (he died of arf in the end—they both did actually).

  10. Please don’t declaw any cat, even one that never goes outside. It’s cruel. The surgeon has to take the first joins of all the digits, not just snip out claws. It often results in lasting physical and psychological complications. Check with a vet (one who doesn’t make a substantial income from doing the procedure). There’s also a lot online.

  11. We have no plans to declaw any of our cats. Aside from being pets they are working animals. We have agricultural fields on three sides of us. Keeping cats means we don’t get overrun by rodents in the winter.

  12. This is where it is useful to know how to reboot your cat.

    Cats, like humans, have a moderately limited short-term memory. More limited than ours, usually. What this means is that if you can arrange for a cat to have enough experiences too quickly to process them, the cat loses its short-term state.

    My usual strategy: Snap fingers quickly once on each side of its head, blow in its face, pick it up, set it down.

    With most cats, this results in the cat sitting looking confused briefly, licking itself a couple of times, and then wandering off as though it had just woken up and was now looking for something to do. This will usually completely stop a cat from activities like “trying to get at that catnip I just saw you putting up on that shelf”. You may need one or two more steps for a smart cat.

  13. Seebs, I am totally trying that next time my Jo-Jo gets all “mom I reeeely-reeeely-reeeely looooove you” when I’m trying to get some writing done for my job. Maybe it’ll keep him from trying to nudge me off my office chair! :-)

  14. My preferred technique for retrieving an escaped housecat who is picking a fight with a neighbor cat requires preparation, but once you establish the all-important connection in the feline brain, it’s a perfect and long-lasting method.

    Every time I give our two tuxedo boys a nibble of dehydrated salmon, I preface it by saying “TREAT! Would you guys like a TREAT? Yes, it’s time for a TREAT!” They know “treat” so well that I have to be careful how I use it in conversation – if the boys hear The Word in ANY context, they expect me to open the cupboard and get out the box of salmon nuggets. It works almost 100% of the time (the exception is when I make the mistake of getting the cat-carriers out of the closet before I entice the cats with treats).

    So, when the grey tabby down the street taunted our cat from the front garden until Finn tore a hole in the screen so he could escape and administer a drubbing to the interloper, all I had to do was to run outside calling “Finn, treat! Finn, treat!” to get him back. The interloper took off like a bat out of a hot place, and as soon as Finn heard his name and The Word, he started answering me. It was like a game of Marco-Polo – he was hiding under the shrub yowling back at me every time I called “Finn, treat!” as I triangulated the yard narrowing in on the sound (a mostly black cat hiding under a bush late at night is difficult to find). The neighbors must have thought I was nuts — well, ok, they already KNEW that, I just offered more proof.

    But the important thing is that regardless of the neighbors’ opinions of the multiple-species chorus in the front yard, I was able to retrieve Finn and run off the grey tabby with no damage to either of them.

    Hope your kitty is ok, Mr. Scalzi, and that he or she has learned a good lesson. Give the wanderer a chin-scratch from me!

  15. Just Some Guy & Reno Hates Me: Hmm, I’m against declawing cats, though I’ve never had one. Of course, I’m also against letting them roam outside, but I live in a dense urban environment where it’s a tremendous problem. They also kill too many birds (as in, songbird populations are dropping precipitously).

    Currently we have kittens in our back yard. They are not from our building. Mom does stop by occasionally and feed them, and apparently two of them have vanished since my friend on the ground floor first spotted them. We’re hoping that they really are someone’s cats (despite the lack of a collar and because of their lack of feral behavior and well-fed appearance) and that the kittens disappeared because they were placed in a good home (not because they were eaten, run over, or killed by a Baby Dahmer), and that they aren’t using our yard as a catbox, and that we won’t find dead kittens come December.

    John’s cats are working animals. There are none such where I live. I think Hoboken needs an ordinance that provides for an Animal Control Officer to capture any cats s/he sees outdoors, and for a substantial fine for letting cats go outdoors at all. Also, unfixed/spayed cats (or dogs, for that matter) caught in this fashion should be fixed or spayed at the owner’s expense. If you want fertile animals, keep them indoors, in a fenced yard, or on a leash.

    (Remember I’m not proposing this for rural areas like where John lives, but for urban ones where stray pets are a nuisance and a menace to songbirds. How to get cats to kill rodents but not songbirds I don’t know; I can think of some techniques, but they’re not things you probably want to do to your cat.)

    But this is marginally on topic at best. Cool technique, John! Gonna test out Seebs’ rebooting technique at some point too.

  16. Hah, my brother used a similar trick to save his cat from a coyote. He shined the light in the coyotes eyes, though, so the cat could run to safety without being chased down. Hope that taught her to not bolt out the door.

  17. The idea of imprisoning a cat indoors for its entire life, never to lay in the sun and enjoy the breeze, or chase small rodents or whatever, is utterly repulsive. So is declawing cats–that’s maiming the animal and rendering it defenseless for YOUR convenience. If you can’t handle a cat with claws, don’t own a cat.

    I’m sorry, I don’t get all hysterical at the idea a cat might catch a bird. They’re predators, it’s what they do. If you can’t handle small predators catching and killing small prey (and bringing it home to ‘share’ with you), don’t own a cat.

    I doubt songbird decline has anything to do with cats; it has a whole lot more to do with habitat destruction in tropical wintering grounds and in summer breeding grounds. If a cat catches a songbird, said cat has just winnowed out the slow and inattentive–think of it as evolution in action.

  18. Dragoness Eclectic: I fully agree about cats catching birds. Predators gonna prey. The way I see it, birds have a natural defensive advantage: cats are surface bound, whereas birds can fly.

  19. The problem with the argument that “cats are part of nature” is that humans keep their numbers artificially high. They don’t reach the equilibrium with prey animals that they would in truly natural circumstances, so they kill WAY more small animals (birds, lizards, and so on) than they would if their numbers were kept in check by available prey to eat.

  20. First off, I like cats and would not wish them, or any living thing, harm. However, the suggestions that they are either not a problem, or that because it is natural for them to be predators, there should be no attempt to limit their predation, is really bad news for birds and small mammals. Clearly though, in a rural setting, cats may play a vital role in keeping down said small mammal population such as mice and rats both of which can be a health hazard.

    Ref: http://www.cbc.ca/news/technology/killer-cats-take-down-billions-of-birds-report-says-1.1312489


    Cats may kill up to 3.7 billion birds and 20.7 billion mammals in the United States alone each year, a new study has found.

    That means predatory felines are likely the leading human-linked cause of death for birds and mammals, surpassing habitat destruction, collisions with structures such as buildings, and pesticide poisoning, reports an article published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications.

    “The magnitude of wildlife mortality caused by cats that we report here far exceeds all prior estimates,” said the paper co-authored by three U.S. scientists.


    I see that the NRA is a very powerful political lobby in the United States. Is there an NCA too?

  21. John, I agree that cats who spend by time outside should go armed; we live in a neighborhood populated with racoons, dogs and who knows what else. Additionally, our tribe earn their keep; the Mouse Patrol’s accounted for four rodents since the weather cooled off.

    Hope you didn’t suffer any damage from Sunday’s storms.

  22. waiting for a tip on how to deal with situations where your cat is torturing a bird or the neighbors rabbit. when I was a kid my cat used to kill birds and bring them home to show off. She was bringing us dinner. She was not a happy kitty when we yelled at her.

  23. The neighbors don’t keep rabbits and the birds will occasionally divebomb the cats.

    When we kept a rabbit, the cats got along fine with it, I will note.

  24. The other problem with “cats are part of nature” is that cats are part of nature in Eurasia and Africa. Felis catus and its wild ancestors and relatives are most certainly not a part of nature in Australasia, and they are not really part of nature in the Americas either (Bobcats are larger and are not major predators of birds)

    In the U.S., the argument may become moot soon, though. Coyotes are rapidly expanding their range and population density, and they are happy to add cats to the menu. A co-worker reports that pet cats have started vanishing in her neighborhood, and she has found at least one half-eaten cat while out jogging. There are definitely coyotes around our house, so our cats go outside only when on a leash (though they can watch birds from a screened porch).

  25. Our pets are all fully armed, but indoor pets. They also donate blood, and outdoor cats are not allowed to donate. Which is doubly fine, because we have coyotes living in the woods around here, and I’d rather my zoo not become food. I don’t think keeping cats indoors is particularly cruel; all of ours are rescues, and seem perfectly happy to stay in the warm, dry house and wrestle like weasels, when they aren’t nappy all over the furniture.

  26. One way to keep your cats from catching birds and other wildlife is to put a belled collar on them. There are breakaway collars that will keep your cat from hanging him/herself. I used to worry about my little hunter, who wasn’t the brightest bulb, he caught a bird every now and again – but more often than not he was the target of crows, and would come racing into the house to escape them. He also made friends with a group of mallard ducks, and would walk along with them to the delight of my neighbors. Sadly, the Canada geese were not so welcoming – cue more racing into the house. It was his brother that was the fighter, and I wish that I had learned the flashlight trick when I had them! I used a squirt gun or a hose. But that meant a very wet cat wanted to climb into bed…

    At the time I lived in a place that was not next to busy roads and had a huge green space for them to wander in. They never went far from home, preferring to roam their grassy kingdom just outside the door. When I moved to a more urban environment they became indoor cats and were just fine with it. Additionally, I would never declaw a cat. It is painful and cruel; thankfully more and more vets refuse to do the operation.

  27. @Seebs, good idea. One of my cats has a VERY short memory. He has almost no long-term memory whatsoever. If we’re gone for more than 4 days, he has no idea who we are and hides. Unfortunately, this means he might forget the distraction and get the “new” idea to do the bad thing again. The tortie will just treat me with the contempt I deserve (Because, after all, anything that’s not a tortoiseshell cat is, ipso facto, inferior).

    @Alicia, I find your nightly adventures in chinchilla wrangling adorable and charming.

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