Have you ever witnessed a cat hissing at you and scaring the hell out of you? Cats hiss due to a variety of reasons, and in this Waldo’s Friends article, we’ll get to the bottom of all the likely causes. But first…
- What is a cat hiss?
- How does it look or sound when a cat hisses?
- Why do cats hiss?
- What should you do if a cat hisses at you?
What is a cat hiss?
A hiss is described by Merriam-Webster as a sharp sibilant sound, usually made to express disapproval. When a cat hisses, it is usually misinterpreted as a sign of aggression. But in reality, it is a normal feline gesture that helps her express her uncomfortable feelings. Feline behaviour experts believe that cats have developed creating this spine-tingling sound by imitating the deadly, distinctive noise that snakes emit.
How does it look or sound when a cat hisses?
When a cat hisses, expect to hear a sound similar to a radiator on overload. Her mouth would usually be positioned into a sneer and her tongue curled into a U-shape. Her ears would either be flattened or positioned backwards, and accompanied by an arched back and/or a poofy tail. (You can watch this compilation video of cats hissing here.)
Why do cats hiss?
As mentioned earlier, cats hiss to express their uncomfortable feelings. This may be due to any of the following reasons:
1 A cat hisses when she feels threatened.
Fear is the primary driving force that makes cats hiss. The hiss acts as a warning sound against people (or even inanimate objects) that threaten her. If they don’t back away, she may resort to attacking them. Some cats hiss when they are handled roughly or when they are restrained, such as when they are being handled, poked, or prodded at the veterinarian.
2 A cat hisses when she comes across an unfamiliar animal.
Dr. Marci Koski of Feline Behavior Solutions says that cats go on the defense by hissing at other animals and warning them to stay away. Hissing is also a common intimidation tactic used by male cats who are in search of mates. But this doesn’t automatically mean that the hissing cat would be the one initiating the attack. In fact, it’s usually the other way around!
3 A cat hisses when she’s hurt.
A cat may hiss at a person who touches her sensitive body part. If you know your cat is injured or has arthritis, take note of when she hisses at you while you’re petting or carrying her. That way, you can refrain from holding that particular area. You can also bring her to the vet to have that specific part checked.
4 A cat hisses to protect her kittens.
Female cats that have just given birth may display protectiveness by hissing at people or animals who get too close to their kittens. Even the most amiable cats may hiss at her humans to stay away.
5 A cat hisses when she’s playing.
A play hiss is a shorter hissing sound commonly made by kittens. The sound is produced when a kitten gets surprised by a playmate, or when her littermates become too rough while playing.
6 A cat hisses when she is surprised.
Similar to kittens, a cat may hiss when she gets shocked by sudden, loud noises or quick, unexpected movements. Anything that causes surprise or stress may lead her to hiss.
7 A cat hisses when she encounters something new or unfamiliar.
Cats are not keen on change, so it’s no surprise that they would hiss at something new or unfamiliar to them. These may include total strangers, novel environments (such as moving into a new home or being left at an animal shelter), or even a paw sibling that just came back from the vet and smells completely different.
8 A cat hisses to express her annoyance.
Don’t be surprised when your cat hisses at you when she’s not in the mood to play, when she doesn’t want to do something in particular (like teeth or hair brushing), or when you deny her of a treat. Hissing may also be done towards a person who teases her mercilessly.
9 A cat hisses because she is undersocialised.
Aside from kittens who are still learning “how to cat,” older felines who are not used to being around other people or animals may be more prone to hissing.
What should you do if a cat hisses at you?
Whenever a cat hisses, it’s best to give her the space and time to cool off. Going closer to her as she hisses would only increase her stress levels, and also up the chances of you getting hurt if she lashes out. If a cat hisses while you’re petting her, stop what you’re doing and simply let her go. Allow her to hide in her safe nook, and give her the chance to approach you in her own time. Don’t reprimand her or stare directly at her so you don’t agitate her.
Cat hissing is a common feline behaviour that you shouldn’t be afraid of. If you are bothered by her hissing, determine the cause and find solutions to decrease it. If the hissing is caused by pain, bring her to a veterinarian immediately.
Thinking of adopting a kitten or cat from a shelter? We’ve got all the things you need to know and the details you need to make it happen. You can also read up on more informative cat-related guides here.