Layne has fostered kittens and worked in animal shelters for over 8 years.
A cat's hiss is thought to be a form of protective mimicry. That is, it is thought to closely resemble the warning sound of a snake—a warning sound that is meant to dissuade predators. With cats, the posturing and hissing sound is meant to do the same.
When a cat hisses, its ears will flatten and turn back, its mouth will open to reveal its fangs, and its body posture will change to indicate a potential strike (bite or scratch). You may even see the swishing of a tail. It's possible that you think your cat is hissing at nothing in particular, but with a little investigative work, you can find out why they are doing it.
If your cat is acting erratic and hissing (and is not simply amped-up and playing), you may want to schedule a visit with your vet. Arthritis, dental issues (extremely painful), thyroid disorders, neurological conditions, and other abnormalities may be triggering this reaction. You will want to rule this out with the help of a veterinarian.
Your cat is simply asking for space when it is hissing. This can happen in the following situations:
You will want to work to reduce this behavior . which means finding out what is causing your cat stress. If it is an inanimate and harmless object, like a sculpture or toy, consider using behavior modification techniques and exposure to reduce their reactivity.
If your cat is food-motivated, you are in luck! Lure your cat over to the object with treats. Give them time and take several days or weeks to draw them closer. Eventually, you will help them to realize that the object is harmless. You can do this in other controlled situations.
It is natural for animals to be wary of each other upon new introductions. Always introduce new animals slowly and make sure they are supervised at all times to avoid injury, fighting, and even death. Cats take an especially long time when adjusting to change. If your cat hisses when introduced to a new animal initially, that is ok. Give them some time, privacy, and a room of their own to retreat to and feel safe during the process. Never force an introduction.
If your cat has a tendency of running through the house with hairs raised and hissing, there may be wildlife or another stray cat on your premises. Nighttime cams are good at revealing the visitors. Put all dog food, cat food, and extra water bowls away at night to avoid welcoming unwanted guests.
Feliway is something that I used while working in shelter medicine. We often had fearful cats come into our spay and neuter clinic. The environment was stressful to say the least. This product works by imitating the feline facial pheromone (which cats use to communicate and transfer onto objects in the house) and appeasing pheromones (communicated by mom cat).
Feliway CAN work with some cats. You can use the solitary cat product or the multi-cat household product. They come as a spray and for use as a plug-in diffuser. How to use this product:
I used the Feliway household spray when I first acquired my stray kitten. She was undersocialized and hissed at everything and anything that moved. Eventually, her hissing became more of a playful "startle" or "excitement" reaction at inanimate objects and eventually faded. I also used it on my bed (when I would leave my kitten would pee on my bed). The behavior has since stopped.
I've also used this spray on my body when handling aggressive cats. It worked well 50% of the time. It doesn't work on all cats. I've used the dog product too, Adaptil, and that was even more successful (on scared dogs).
Your cat will let you know if they feel safe and secure in their environment—this will typically be demonstrated by how frequently they patrol the area, whether or not they sleep out in the open, whether not they eat out in the open, and how well they groom or care for themselves. A cat that is playful, curious, eating, drinking, grooming, and sleeping/relaxing out in the open is likely a happy cat. You can also show them you love them in the following way:
The slow blink means "I love you." Closing their eyes is not something a cat would do if they felt threatened. Prolonged eye contact is intimidating (staring). Here's how to deliver the slow blink:
All cats should live free of fear. They should have adequate food, water, a litter box, safe places to retreat to, and a warm place to sleep. In addition, cats require play time just as much as dogs require a walk. If you are offering your cat all of these necessities as well as regular health checks, you are doing well!
© 2019 Laynie H
Laynie H (author) from Bend, Oregon on March 05, 2019:
Hi Christine—it often helps to know more about the household dynamics. For instance, are there other cats in the house? Dogs? Stray cats outside? I definitely try to keep my cat's nails trimmed monthly (you can find a cheap place but be sure they do low-stress handling). Also, having plenty of scratching posts help. You may want to leave the cat's scented things around (a blanket they sleep on). You can also try "Feliaway" to help with any upset or anxiety—they have multi-cat household plugins available to ease tension. Goodluck!
Christine Gilley on March 04, 2019:
Have him for prox 6 weeks and seems to be getting worse. Just started ripping carpets. Hissing. He s bad at night but so loving aim the day. 2 years old
A hissing cat sounds like a radiator on overload. He may seem almost comical to you, with that usually serene feline face contorted into an open-mouthed sneer as his ears flatten, back arches and tail fluffs out in a poufy plume. The hissing sound and posture is far from funny to your cat, though, because a cat that hisses is in defensive mode. His sizzling vocalizations warn you to stay clear, to step away from him, or those huffing, snake-like sounds will lead to something more serious. What turns a cat's purring, contented self into a reptile imitator, bristling with emotion? Here's our handle on hissing:
Before we go deep into the reasons why cats hiss, letвЂ™s first find out how they do it. The sound is created when these fur babies force air through their tongues. For the hiss to be effective, they arch their tongues upwards and to the center of the mouth. If you are close enough when they hiss, you will feel a burst of air escaping from their mouths.
Typically, your cat will pull back her lips at the same time and flatten her ears against her head. With her mouth gaping and teeth showing, she appears menacing and terrifying.
Additionally, her body will be arched, giving the illusion of being taller and ready to attack. Her hairs will also bristle as a reflexive response to whatever emotion she is undergoing.
“Slowly remove yourself from the situation and give your cat a way to escape so that he can cool off. It can take some cats time to recover from a scary situation, so make sure you let your cat come to you for the next interaction.”
If you feel like your cat is hissing or lashing out at you, it might be best to take a thorough examination of all the points listed above. It’s our job as dedicated cat moms and dads. We’re here to help our cats to feel calm and ease when in our presence. An animal behaviorist also might be a great solution. They can attempt to get to the underlying issue should a medical condition not be the cause for your cat’s hissing.
If you have more than one cat and you take your cat to the vet or to a friend’s when that cat returns your other cats can hiss and arc up at the cat as he no longer smells familiar. He will have the scent from other animals at the vet or the place you visited. The cat may be rejected from the rest until it gains the family scent back again.
The play hiss is easily noticed as it is a shorter hiss than the more defensive hiss. This is more common within kittens. Kittens may jump up and hiss at loud noises or nothing much in particular. They can also play hiss at other kittens in the pack if they are eating food or coming too close when she wants time alone.
First you need to take note of the hiss and see that it is a warning hiss. The cat may be startled or in pain. Back away and give the cat some time before trying to approach her again. Give the cat some space and don’t try to catch his quickly. You can try and coax with some food or even something irresistible like sardines.
Try putting small amounts down in a line to coax the cat closer to you or away from somewhere you don’t want her to be. Sometimes when you approach a cat they can hiss simply due to being overstimulated. When this occurs just leave the cat be. When you approach the cat next pay attention to the cat’s body language if the tail is twitching and he follows your movements then it means he wants you to back off.
Cats can attack if you approach when they are hissing so be sure to teach children not to approach a hissing cat to avoid scratches and bites. Cats don’t have the patience level for children as dogs do but they still enjoy the family company. Make a place that is high where the cat can access. This way when she has had enough of being petted and dragged around she is able to get away and be alone but remains in the same room as the family.