Do you ever find yourself asking, why do cats hiss? Like the low growl of a dog or the buzz of a rattlesnake’s tail, the hissing sound of a cat is unmistakable. Most people generally see a cat hissing as a sign of anger or aggression. But could it be something else?
Read on to find out.
Hissing is a normal cat behavior and is not always a sign of aggression. When a cat hisses, they are trying to warn someone or something that they feel threatened or upset. There are steps that cat owners can take to minimize their cat's distress and the hissing associated with it.
Hissing is a normal cat behavior and is not always a sign of aggression.
When a cat hisses, they are trying to warn someone or something that they feel threatened or upset.
There are steps that cat owners can take to minimize their cat's distress and the hissing associated with it.
What Is a Cat Hiss?
A cat hiss is a sudden, explosive exhalation of air across a cat’s arched tongue and through the mouth. When cats hiss, they also display other, related body language, such as baring their teeth, pulling back their lips from the mouth, and flattening their ears back against the head.
Many cats also arch their backs and their hair may stand out from the skin, a phenomenon known as piloerection. The arched back and puffed-up coat are meant to make the cat appear larger than they really are in order to dissuade predators from approaching. When cats are really upset, they might growl and spit by hissing so forcefully that saliva ejects from the mouth.
Common Reasons Why Cats Hiss
When a cat hisses, it is a sign that they are feeling threatened, fearful, or extremely upset. Hissing is a warning that says, “Stay back! Don’t approach me!” A hissing cat feels that they are in danger. A cat may hiss at another cat, at a dog or other animal, or at people.
Mother cats may hiss if another cat or human tries to approach her litter of kittens. It is her instinct to protect her babies from potential harm, whether real or imagined.
Here’s an example of what a cat hissing sounds like:
If you are worried about why your cat is hissing, there are several factors to consider to understand where the behavior is coming from and what to do to remedy it.
When a Cat Is Hissing at People
It’s common for cats to hiss at the veterinarian, especially when they are placed on the cold exam table or when veterinary staff comes in to poke and prod the cat. If past visits were a frightening experience, the cat remembers the sights, sounds, and smells of the veterinary clinic. They may hiss as soon as you arrive, even if they haven’t yet been touched.
Cats might also hiss if you bring them to another unfamiliar place like a boarding facility or groomer. It’s normal for cats that usually stay at home to feel afraid of sights, sounds, and smells that they are not accustomed to, and hissing is a natural response to that fear.
Cats frequently hiss when new guests or workers enter the home, or if they are around unfamiliar children who are being loud and boisterous.
A cat might hiss at you if you try to give them a bath, brush them, trim their nails, or give them medication. These are all situations that cats typically find stressful or frightening (though they don’t have to be), so they naturally hiss in response.
If a cat is being held or petted by someone they are not feeling comfortable with, for whatever reason, a hiss is not an uncommon response. If your cat hisses when you approach or try to touch them, it could be a sign that they are in pain. It is not unusual for cats with arthritis or an injury to hiss for seemingly no reason. In fact, they are communicating to you to stay away because they are hurting.
When Cats are Hissing at Each Other
Cats living in multi-cat households may get into squabbles that result in lots of loud hissing. Sometimes, two or more cats may gang up on another cat, stalking or ambushing them in the litter box or at the food bowls. Similarly, if a cat feels threatened by or nervous around the family dog, they might hiss as a warning to stay away.
When the cats are properly introduced and allowed to acclimate to each other’s smell and presence, the hissing usually subsides as the cats get used to each other, seeing the other cat is not a threat.
What To Do if Your Cat Is Hissing and How To Get Them To Stop
Hissing or even growling is not necessarily a sign that a cat is angry, nor is hissing a sign that you have an aggressive cat on your hands. Hissing is an expression of fear and a warning to stay away.
A hissing cat is scared and uncomfortable. If the warning of a hiss is not heeded, and the cat continues to feel vulnerable or threatened, a hissing cat may progress to aggressive behavior like scratching or biting.
Here are some time tips for how to handle a hissing cat.
1. If your cat is hissing, first and foremost, give them space.
Hissing is a clear communication: stay back! Allow your cat to retreat to a safe place and calm down before attempting to approach them again. This might take minutes or hours, depending on how scared your cat is.
Cats should always have a safe, quiet place to retreat to when they are feeling nervous or scared. This can be a tall cat tree or a quiet room in the back of the house.
2. Try to figure out what is making them afraid.
If possible, remove the perceived threat or move the cat to their safe space. For example, if a friend’s visiting dog is bothering your cat, put the dog on a leash or in a crate. If your cat is scared because workers are over, put them in a safe room away from noise until the workers are gone. Play calming music in the safe room to drown out any scary sounds.
3. If you’ve recently adopted a new cat and notice a lot of hissing, give each cat a safe place to retreat to and give it time.
It can take several weeks for new cats to settle in and adjust to each other. Don’t force interactions and intervene if things get too heated. Pheromone diffusers and sprays can also help in this situation. Most cats learn to at least get along, even if they don’t love each other.
If there have been squabbles between multiple adult cats in your home, try to find the source of the issue. If one cat is pestering another, try adding more litter boxes and food and water dishes. Make sure the cat that is being bothered has a safe place to retreat to and try to intervene if one cat is ganging up on another.
Also Read: Do Cats Get Lonely Without Other Cats?
Sometimes, It’s Hard To Identify Why Your Cat Is Hissing.
Hissing can be an outward sign that your cat is stressed about something or even in pain. If you can’t figure out what is triggering your cat, a visit to the veterinarian is in order to make sure your cat is healthy.
If your vet finds no physical cause for your cat’s hissing, he or she might refer you to a veterinary behaviorist. These professionals are experts in understanding cat behavior. If you’d like to consult with a behaviorist, your regular veterinarian can give you a referral.
Frequently Asked Questions
What should I do if a cat hisses at me?
When cats hiss, they are giving you a warning that they are feeling threatened, fearful, or otherwise distressed. Back away and give your cat some space if they hiss at you. Providing safe hiding spots, plugging in a pheromone diffuser such as Feliway, and keeping the environment quiet and calm can help diffuse many of these situations.
Should I allow my cat to hiss?
Hissing is normal and healthy cat behavior. It serves the purpose of warning others to stay away because the cat is feeling distressed. Do not punish a cat for hissing. If you are worried that your cat is hissing excessively and you cannot find the cause, take them to a veterinarian to rule out underlying health issues.
Do cats ever hiss playfully?
No - hissing is a clear warning to back off and give some space. If a cat hisses at you while you are playing, bear in mind that your play may turn into something less pleasant if you don't heed the warning!