It’s never a happy sound if your cat hisses at you, or anything else for that matter. We all know a cat’s hissing to be a very angry noise indeed, but have you ever found yourself wondering why they’re making that sound? Maybe if you knew what was upsetting them, you could help to calm them down and bring back that feline equilibrium that we all know too well, you know, the kind where they lay across your keyboard without a care in the world for you or your imminently due report. So we’re going to explore the possible reasons for a cat’s hiss, and how we may help them.
How Do Cats Hiss?
Cats hiss by exhaling with a sudden burst of air through their mouth past an arched tongue, the resulting sounds can be very much likened to a snake hiss. This is predominantly accompanied by a certain type of body language, which includes their ears being flattened to the sides of their head, narrowing their eyes, bearing all of their teeth, arching their back, and making their fur stand on end as if they have been put inside a static chamber.
Why Does a Cat Hiss?
Cats actually hiss for a wide variety of reasons, but if you have never heard it, or only ever heard it once or twice, then congratulations, you must be doing something right. The simple answer to the question of why cats hiss as said by Pam Johnson Bennett, a renowned animal behaviorist that specializes in cats, is that they hiss as a warning. They hiss as a way of avoiding physical confrontation, because believe it or not, though cats are very powerful hunter creatures, they have a strong flight drive, and would rather not fight unless they absolutely have to.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are angry, however. In fact, a cat hissing is usually just a sign of great distress, this can include anxiety, stress, or fear.
Cat hissing is a defensive mechanism, it’s a vocalization meant to send out a warning. Every kitty is highly receptive to the world around it and can react to something as simple as a change in their environment that they were not expecting.
- New furniture or objects being placed into their familiar space.
- Toys that can be intrusive or overwhelming.
- Sudden loud noises.
- A change in environment such as moving house
When these changes happen they are unhappy and unfamiliar with, their response may be to hiss at the thing in question, in the hopes that it may vanish out of existence. Now, of course, it won’t vanish, so the only remaining option for them is to accept the change and adapt to it. If the loud noise is caused by a child screaming from excitement or a drill being used, they will ordinarily hill and then run away from the sound. In reference to furniture, they will simply learn to expect its presence. However, moving home is a little bit trickier. They will settle eventually, however, you need to be aware of the fact that they may feel inclined to escape, so don’t let them outside for a few weeks and watch their behavior until they have settled, and be wary not to accidentally leave any doors or windows open.
It’s not motherhood itself that the cat finds distressing, rather the stress of having to look after her kittens. A mother’s instant to protect her kittens is an extremely powerful one, hence why a cat will often find hiding places to keep their babies safe until they are a little big bigger.
A mother cat will be feeling a lot of tension if they can sense the presence of humans near her children, or any other creature for that matter. So you need to be respectful and mindful of this fact. Don’t go picking up a kitten unless she has expressed that she is comfortable with you doing so. That would include her bringing one of her babies to you, or you slowly approaching her and waiting to see if she starts hissing at you to leave her little cat space alone, in which case you should back away and try again later.
If a cat senses any hint of a threat, it will become hyper-alert and wait for any sign of the threat that it is perceiving. This behavior is very typical of a cat, and probably the best-known reason for hissing. A kitty can become stressed very easily to the point of hissing if they feel under threat, and will use their hiss to discourage whatever they are threatened by, this is often something like if another cat steps into their territory, or seeing themselves in the mirror for that matter!
Hissing is also a very common reaction to an unfamiliar face, if a person is making constant eye contact, or is being overzealous and will not leave the cat alone it will cause fear and anxiety for the cat, in response to which they will being hissing to discourage the new person from approaching them further.
What Are The Warning Signs?
A cat hissing will have exhibited signs before doing so, and they are quite clear once you know what you are looking for:
- Quickly turning their head towards the threat
- Dilating pupils
- Twitching or flipping their tail
- Flattening their ears
- Slowly beginning to puff up and arch their back
If you see any of these warning signs, our best advice would be to back away and let them calm down. If you approach a cat that is showing this type of aggression and tension it will likely end in you being bitten or scratch.
How Can I Help a Cat Hissing?
Generally speaking there is not much you can do in the way of helping when a cat is hissing as it is already in that heightened state of stress and anxiety. However, if you are able to identify the cause of their distress you can adjust your behavior accordingly to help them feel more at ease, and it is best to keep out of their space until they have fully calmed down. And ensure that they are given a safe space to escape to, should they feel overwhelmed.
What if They Are Repeatedly Hissing?
If a cat is hissing repeatedly, there is a chance that they are in physical pain. If they are being handled or stroked often and seem to be hissing with the majority of the interactions where they ordinarily would not, they may be experiencing pain caused by arthritis or any other number of health problems or injuries.
When to Go to The Vet?
If you notice your cat hissing in response to certain interactions, it is important that you not what exactly seems to trigger the hiss for clues as to what could be happening, it would then be advisable to approach your veterinarian for help.
Should I Be Worried By Hissing?
When answering the question of “why do cats hiss”, there is actually a variety of answers, but the majority of them are standard behavior for any kitty. It is only when you perceive other problems, such as them appearing to be in pain, that you should perhaps seek a second opinion with your veterinarian. A hissing cat isn’t always fun, but sometimes it is necessary.
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