Why Do Cats Hiss?

I have one cat that I have never heard hissing in his entire life, and another cat that hisses at the slightest provocation; she hisses if I try to clip her nails, if my other cat gets too close to her, or if she gets startled. Have you ever wondered why cats hiss? Hissing is actually a defensive, rather than aggressive, behavior a cat uses when feeling threatened or frightened. It is not a coincidence that a cat’s hiss resembles the hiss of a snake; the hiss is a warning to stay away, or else! A snake is an almost universally feared creature, so issuing a sound that resembles a snake can make a potential foe take pause.

Hissing and growling are also used by cats to establish dominance over other cats, or to defend their territory. In a multi-cat household, you might also notice a cat hissing at another cat after returning from a visit to the veterinarian because of the unfamiliar smells the cat brought home from the veterinary office

While hissing communicates fear or distress, it doesn’t mean the cat isn’t ready to attack if necessary. Hissing is oftentimes accompanied by growling; if the offending party does not heed the warning, the vocalizations can escalate to alarming shrieks accompanied by spitting and ultimately leading to a full-blown attack.

How to stop the “hissy fit”? If your cat hisses at you, it’s best to stop the offending behavior and back away, allowing your cat time and space to settle down. A cat may also hiss when handled if he is in pain; if your cat hisses for seemingly no reason, or the hissing is a new behavior, a veterinary exam is in order.

About author

Erin Gleeson

Erin Gleeson is the Outreach Specialist at 1-800-PetMeds® and works with the 1-800-PetMeds Cares donations program. She has loved animals as long as she can remember and has worked in several veterinary offices in the past as a veterinary technician. She has one cat, Kitsy, and frequently fosters kittens for a local rescue group. You can also find Erin on Google+.

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