If you’ve ever heard a cat hiss, you probably instinctively knew to step back. Cat hissing is a survival response typically prompted by a perceived threat. Your cat might hiss when she feels startled, afraid, vulnerable or in pain. Hissing is a sign that aggression will ensue if the perceived threat doesn’t back off, and further provoking a hissing cat will likely get physical, leading to scratching and biting.
Where does hissing come from?
Many behavior experts believe cats developed the hissing sound to mimic that of a snake. Mimicry is a common survival behavior in the animal world. Some animals will mimic a predator as a deterrent and there’s no mistaking the distinct warning of a hiss.
Why do cats hiss?
A cat will react with a hiss to communicate fear, aggression, displeasure, or pain. With kittens, this might be as innocent as responding with a short hiss to a sudden loud noise or rough kitten play. Older cats have a number of reasons they might hiss, including:
What to do when your cat hisses
As an immediate response, the safest thing to do is back away from a hissing cat to avoid getting scratched or bitten. Make sure your cat has escape routes and plenty of places to hide so she can retreat and calm down. If your cat hisses after you’ve been petting her for a while, she may have a low tolerance for physical contact, causing her to feel overstimulated and in need of a break. Teach young children to leave a hissing cat alone and familiarize yourself with cat body language so you can tell when your cat needs some space.
Alleviating your cat’s fears and hissing
Over the long term, it’s important to make sure your cat feels safe and comfortable. Give her time to acclimate to a new situation, whether she was recently adopted or has to adapt to the addition of a new pet. (Read more about how to introduce your cat to another cat and introducing your cat to a dog.) Tell your guests and visitors to ignore your cat and allow her to approach them on her own time. If your cat’s hissing appears to be in response to pain when you pet her in certain areas, it’s a good idea to visit the vet. Understanding your cat’s triggers, like being bothered by the dog or having a low tolerance for young children, will help prevent injuries.