Why do cats hiss? Let’s find out!
Many people think that hissing in cats is a sign of hostility, however, it is actually a normal way for cats to express fear. One of the most common causes of hissing is hostility between two unneutered males, or even animosity between a male cat that has not been neutered and a female cat that has not been spayed that are looking for a mate.
Cats are also known to hiss at humans. If you see your cat hissing at you or another person that is attempting to handle them, then it is most likely that they feel threatened by them. They may also hiss during a visit to the vet, or when the doctor or technicians are restraining them.
Even though hissing is a completely normal response, it is generally a good idea to determine the cause so that you can give your cat space and make changes to your cat’s environment if they feel scared or even stressed by something. It’s always a good idea to further investigate the excessive hissing with your vet to make sure that it is not the cat’s way of telling you that they are in some kind of pain or that something else entirely is wrong.
What does a cat’s hiss sound like?
Hissing is a pretty common behavior for cats that sounds similar to the hiss of a snake or the sound that air leaking from a car tire makes. When consulted, feline behaviorists believe that cats learned to hiss by mimicking snakes as a survival tactic in the wild.
How does hissing work?
When a cat hisses, they abruptly release a burst of air through its mouth, which in turn causes the hissing noise that we hear. Additionally, if you are close enough to its face, you can feel the air that is coming out of its mouth when they hiss.
Depending on the situation at hand a cat’s hiss may change accordingly. The sound can range from a completely silent and open mouthed hiss that can be seen as a sign of unhappiness, to an aggressive hiss with full on spitting. The common behaviors that are paired with hissing are:
- Flattened ears
- Open mouth with curled tongue
- Arched back
- And its hairs standing on end, also known as piloerection.
The difference between a cat hissing and growling
Often people can mistake a cat’s hiss with a growl, and since both are natural behaviors and help your cat to communicate with others. Here’s how to differentiate them a bit more easily: a hiss happens when the mouth of the cat is wide open and its teeth are showing, sounds more like a forceful breath out that stops abruptly, on the other hand a growl usually starts out as a sort of humming sound and then slowly becomes low and long, with the sound coming from the throat rather than mouth.
Why do cats hiss?
As we said, hissing is usually used as an expression of discomfort, stress, or even fear at times. Here are some of the most common reasons why your cat hisses:
- It feels threatened or fearful of a group of people
- A confrontation with other animals
- It’s protecting its kittens
- It is found in an unfamiliar situation or is meeting an unfamiliar animal
- It’s stressed
- Is in physical pain or is anticipating pain
- Displeased or annoyed
Generally speaking, a cat hissing is more defensive than it is offensive, regardless of whether it is directed at humans or other animals. What a cat means when they hiss is that they need some space from whatever the hiss is directed at.
Why do kittens hiss?
When rough play occurs kittens may hiss, and if another cat or kitten is playing a bit too rough, then your kitten may hiss as a way of telling the other cat to stop doing what it’s doing. This ‘play hiss’ is usually shorter than the defensive one exhibited by older cats. Your kitten may even respond to a sudden loud noise by jumping and hissing at it, with all its hairs standing on end.
On the other hand, mother cats hiss for an entirely different reason. Mother cats are extremely protective of their kittens, and they will hiss at anyone that comes a smidge too close to them, regardless of whether it’s a person, a cat, or any other animal, really. Even if that is the sweetest and most social cat, it will still hiss during an interaction with its kittens.
Are some breeds prone to hiss more than others?
Even though some cats can be the sweetest and most social creatures ever, some breeds do have a somewhat spicier temperament than others, making them much more likely to hiss.
Some of those breeds are:
- Scottish Fold
- Pixie Bob
- Egyptian Mau
- American Wirehair
Why cats hiss at each other?
By now you know that hissing is almost universally understood as the cat feeling provoked, insecure, mistreated, uncomfortable, threatened, or even pressured in some way. One of the most common misconceptions about this though is that a cat hisses when it is teasing or taunting the other cat, dog or even person.
While the real reason they hiss is to signal that the cat wants to avoid any physical confrontation. And in cat to cat behavior, the cat that hisses regularly is almost always the victim or the one that’s being antagonized and chased.
Here are some common situations where cats hiss at each other:
- A female that has a litter of kittens may growl, hiss, chase, swat or even try to bite another cat that approaches them, even if that cat is a friendly one
- Cats are territorial and will generally hiss at other cats with the sole purpose of asserting dominance, especially if a new cat is introduced to them and their surroundings
- Two unneutered male cats or in some cases, an intact female and an unneutered male will hiss at each other when they are on the search for mates.
- Cats, after taking a trip to the vet, may be picked on and hissed at by other cats in the household. Cats communicate through all senses generally.
- Cats will hiss when they anticipate pain
- Cats will hiss to redirect aggression
What to do if your cat hisses at a new kitten?
Cats usually hiss at new kittens to establish some kind of boundaries, especially if the older cat’s boundary is being pushed by the kitten. A quick hiss will alert the young kitten to stop what it is doing.
Kittens need a lot of socialization as they are growing up. Those kittens that do not have an opportunity to play and interact with their littermates may show more dominant behavior because they haven’t had the chance to learn limitations and develop any self control.
Why is your cat hissing at the new pet?
Hissing in this case may be a sign of the cat reacting to the big change of another pet entering the household. So, to make this easier, make it so that they are gradually introduced to each other under supervision. In this process you need to be patient, and give your cat some space in the house that will be strictly its own so that they feel safe.
Even after your cat gets nicely acquainted with the new pet, they may still growl and hiss more than usual until they fully trust that they are completely safe around the new pet.
The possible reasons why your cat is hissing at your dog
There are many situations and reasons why your cat might hiss at your dog. Generally speaking, cats don’t particularly like confrontation with other animals, so they resort to hissing as a way to tell the possible aggressor to keep their distance from them. This can also be territorial behavior between cats and dogs, particularly when a new cat or dog is introduced to the family.
Why your cat may be hissing at you
The usual reason why your cat might hiss at you is that they are annoyed by you or something you are doing in the moment, such as petting them, or picking them up when they don’t want you to do that.
This is also pretty common if you have small children in the household that don’t know the boundaries of the cat and won’t leave it alone. Additionally, they may hiss at you because they feel threatened or anticipate pain.
Here are some other things that you may be doing that are causing your cat to hiss at you:
- Forcing it into a carrier for travel
- Vacuuming around the house or using any other loud household appliance
- Trying to trim the cat’s nails or groom it
- Retaining the smell of another dog or cat on you
A cat’s hiss is a natural reaction to a situation, and it is not something a cat thinks about before doing it. This doesn’t mean that your cat dislikes you or that it is aggressive. Think of it as just a warning that your cat may have to resort to aggression if the threat, as they perceive, it doesn’t stop. The last thing that you want to do is provoke a hissing cat as it can lead to a particularly painful scratch or bite.
One of the less common reasons why cats hiss is physical pain, however, your cat might hiss if you are touching them on an area that hurts them. If you want to determine whether a hiss is because of pain or just fear, you need to be observant and have your cat thoroughly examined by your vet.
What to do if your cat is randomly hissing at nothing?
They may be hissing at something that you may not think is important. Cats may get upset by new and unfamiliar things, this includes people, objects, or simple changes to the environment that they are used to. This discomfort or fear can make them hiss at what may appear to be nothing, but in actuality is a real trigger for them.
You can alleviate some of their fear by slowly introducing and desensitizing them to the new object or home, and with a bit of patience and love, your cat will start to feel comfortable in their surroundings.
What to do if your cat is hissing?
To put it simply, the best thing to do is to back away from it to avoid getting bit or scratched by it.
Here are a few steps to follow:
- You should give them some space and let them hide from you so that they can feel secure, make sure not to stare at your cat or try to hold them or even comfort them.
- Make sure that your cat has a variety of safe exits from other animals or pets and places to hide from them. Including cat condos, cat trees, perches, or other high spaces, as they allow them safe spots where they can calm down.
- A cat may take hours to calm down, so give it time.
- When it finally calms down, bait them out with food or even catnip and some positive reinforcement. Some rewards such as toys, treats, or canned food can even sometimes alleviate anxiety and stress associated with cat hissing.
Get your cat checked out for any health issues
If you are having any doubts about what your cat’s hissing actually means, or you see behavior that isn’t usual, then it’s for the best that you schedule an appointment with your vet to get your cat examined as soon as possible. A cat that hisses excessively and rather frequently should be examined by a vet to rule out any discomfort or pain. Some other signs that your cat’s hissing may be caused by a medical problem are:
- Low energy
- Hiding or any other changes in behavior
- Hissing when you pet them in specific areas, this may indicate possible pain
- Poor appetite
How to help your cat feel less stressed
So, all medical issues have been ruled out by your vet, but your cat keeps hissing? Don’t worry as there are plenty of ways that you can make your cat feel at ease and safe in their home environment.
- Give them some time to get used to any new situation, by understanding your cat’s triggers you will help prevent any unnecessary injuries
- Provide daily enrichment that uses both their physical and mental energy, such as catnip, hiding boxes, interactive toys, cat trees, window bird feeders, and even supervised outdoor activity, is a great way to help decrease their stress and anxiety
- Try using pheromone therapy, with diffusers or sprays to alleviate anxiety and stress
- Try out behavioral supplements
- Consult with your vet for a recommendation for an animal behaviorist that specializes in helping people understand their pet’s behavior, as they can help analyze your specific situation and provide ways to try to help with your cat’s stress.