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

Abby Rosenberg

Abby Rosenberg is a PetMeds employee and long-time cat lover. She was a volunteer for several years at a local no-kill cats only rescue shelter. This has prepared her for her most challenging role to date: secretary, photographer, social coordinator and treat dispenser for Daisy, and Daisy’s sidekick Harley. Daisy is a dilute calico Devon Rex cat, and Harley is a “cow-cat” who was adopted from the shelter where Abby volunteered. You can also find Abby on Google+

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