Why does my cat hiss at me? This is the question posed by so many kitty Moms and Dads. Sometimes you get a warning – their ears are pinned back, their back is arched and their hair stands on end before you hear the hissing. At other times, it comes out of the blue and is very startling for kitty owners. Here, we answer the question: why do cats hiss and explain all about this perfectly natural feline behavior.
What is a Cat Hiss?
Cats hiss by forcing a sharp burst of air past their tongue when it is in an arched position. It is a very distinctive sound and if you are close to them, you may even feel this air on your skin.
A hissing cat can sound very like a snake hiss and there is a reason for this. It is common in animal behavior for one species to mimic other animals when it is useful to them. It is thought that cats learned how to mimic the hiss of a snake when they felt under threat. Potential predators were used to hearing the hiss of a snake and understood that it was a warning.
Domestic cats, therefore, hiss as a warning to humans or anything else that they perceive as a threat to them or their kittens. When a cat is hissing, they are feeling a combination of fear, unhappiness, and perhaps confusion. Their adrenaline levels are high and their feline instinct will have kicked in.
Why is My Cat Hissing at Me?
A cat hisses for several different reasons. Here are the main reasons why cats hiss.
Cats Hissing as a Warning
This is the ‘stay away’ from me hiss. It is a warning to stay away from the cat, or her kittens if she is a mother. A cat may hiss at an unfamiliar human (including a vet) hoping that the sound will make them back off. Cats have a great sense of smell and do not like people who have unfamiliar scents. A mother cat is simply defending her kittens and is not looking for confrontation. In fact, the hissing is a away of avoiding a cat fight whilst also showing tension.
A Cat Hissing in Pain
You may have noticed that your cat hisses when they are being examined by a veterinarian. This offers clues about where their pain is coming from. They will hiss when the painful spot is touched. In this case, hissing is a useful diagnostic tool.
Hissing as a Reaction to a Change
Cats do not generally like a change in their environment. Have you noticed a rise in tension when you bring one car back from the vet and they are being sniffed by your other cats? They do not like the unfamiliar smell and may make this clear with a hiss!
A Play Hiss
Being a kitten is all about playing – many owners ask why is my kitten hissing at me when we are playing? Try not to take this too seriously! They are simply trying out their moves for when they get older.
Can Cats Hiss When They are Happy?
The big question is do cats hiss when they are happy? This depends on how you define feline happiness. Cats can start to hiss in the middle of a game that you thought they were enjoying. This does not mean that they are now unhappy. It just means that the game has crossed their boundaries. If they are also baring their teeth and have their ears tucked back, it is time to end the game and give them some space.
Should I Punish my Cat for Hissing?
It is never appropriate to punish a cat for hissing. If you are worried that your cat’s hissing is getting out of control or if you suspect that it is a sign of stress, you may need to investigate the matter further. A cat behavior book, for example, those published by animal behaviorist Pam Johnson Bennett, may give you an insight into what is going on. Also, you could ask your veterinarian or a local cat behavior expert for advice.
Never hiss back at your cat as this will be perceived as aggression and will add to the stress that they are feeling.
What Can you do about Cat Hissing
Cat hissing is natural instinct and not a problem that needs to be tackled. It simply means that your cat is feeling vulnerable. However, it can also mean that they are over-stimulated. This can happen after a long play session.
The top tips for calming down this situation are to back off and give your cat some space. Avoid eye contact and let them slope off to one of their chosen hiding places. Cat trees are great places for over-stimulated cats to hang out whilst they calm down. They love the high vantage point where they can observe what is going on without having to be a part of it. Once the tension has subsided, you can try interacting with your cat again. They may decide that they want a meal and come and seek you out again!
Sometimes, however, you will have to approach and just ignore the cat hissing. This could be because your cat is in imminent danger or because you have to take them for medical attention. Always keep your face away from them as they can lash out after they have hissed and this can cause a nasty scratch. A cat can be restrained by wrapping them gently but firmly in a thick towel and placing them in a cat carrier.
Take Away Message on Why Cats Hiss
Cat hissing is usually accompanied by body language and is a clear sign that your cat is not happy about something. It can happen when they meet something unfamiliar or when they become over-stimulated by a game. It shows that it is time to give them some space.
If you still have concerns about your cat, consult your veterinarian or an animal behavior expert about the issue.