Cats are fascinating animals, and their communication skills are surprisingly complex. While we, as humans, rely mainly on verbal communicates, the cats go way beyond that. Not only do they communicate with sounds, but also with the smells and movements. Understanding what particular signs mean can help you strengthen the bond with your pet and avoid unpleasant situations.

In this article, we’ll focus on hissing, which is often misunderstood by cat lovers, incorrectly interpreted as an expression of aggression. What does it mean when your cat or kitten is hissing and how to behave in such a situation?

Guide to cat talk – meows vs. hiss

Cat talk isn’t just about meows. If you observe your pet carefully in different situations, you’ll notice it uses a whole variety of sounds to communicate with the world around it. Even meows differ from each other. For instance, when your cat brings a mouse, it’ll do a “bragging” meow, signalizing you that you should appreciate the trophy. The meows that express excitement sound differently, and so do the chirping-like sounds your cat makes when observing the birds from behind the window. 

Meowing sounds pleasant most of the time, but there are some sounds that can give you the chills. One of them is hissing. Hearing it, we intuitively feel that approaching the pet isn’t the most clever thing to do at the moment. 

Some compare cat hiss to the sound the snake makes when feeling under threat. And actually, these two reactions have a lot in common. Not only do the cat and a snake make the same sound – they both use it as a weapon against potential danger.

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Why do cats hiss?

Regardless of how vocal your cat is, you’ve probably heard it hissing at least once. In everyday situations, cats tend to hiss quite rarely – especially if they are your only pet. However, a lot depends on the animal’s personality. 

Does that mean that pets who are hiss quite often are simply… grumpy cats? It would be unfair to say so. Hissing is a defense mechanism that cats use when they’re scared. Using it, they’re trying to look scarier than they’re really are to avoid an actual confrontation. The cat may hiss in the hope the human or another animal will get discouraged and step away.

Thus, contrary to common conviction, hissing doesn’t indicate an aggressive attitude but rather the opposite. With this sound, the cat is trying to scare off those who make it feel threatened. It can be humans, other cats, or animals of a different species, like dogs. By hissing, the cat communicates that you should stay away. 

Sometimes, it’s actually not followed by an attack – at least if the animal manages to discourage the other from approaching. If its strategy doesn’t work, the cat may start adding sounds that resemble growling. They usually preceded the attack. If you hear the cat doing that and see its body getting tenser, treat it as a red flag. If you don’t keep your distance, it may end up with some scratches – or even bloodshed!

How do the cats look like when they hiss?

The hissing sound can give you chills, but there’s more to it. Take a look at the expression the cat adopts when hissing. It doesn’t have a friendly appeal, to say the least. Open mouth, teeth exposed, ears down, slightly squinted eyes – all these signs shout that the cat feels threatened. Particularly the first two elements of the body language are supposed to scare the opponents off.

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Hissing is also followed by raised hair, cramped muscles, and tail held down. That means that the animal is scared but getting ready to attack anytime.

What are other signs of feeling threatened?

Cats can react in different ways when their sense of security is compromised. A lot depends on the environment in which they were raised, their experiences, and their personality. Some animals tend to attack right away, not giving the opponent much time to react. The others adopt a defensive attitude, treating the attack as their last resort. 

Aside from hissing, the cat may gnarl when feeling unsafe. When facing the potential threat, its body bends in an arch, and its hair lifts – also on the tail. All these elements contribute to the warning posture. They are supposed to make the cat look bigger, which should discourage an enemy.

Can the hissing be a sign of behavioral problems?

If you notice your pet hissing every time it comes into contact with another cat, it may be a sign of behavioral issues. In this case, consider visiting both a veterinarian and a behaviorist to get as much information as you can.

Some cats have difficulties when it comes to interactions – particularly in the case they were raised alone. Most problems originate in their territorial nature, typical for the feline animals. When sharing the space, the cats have to set up the territorial boundaries – and the conflicts are a natural consequence of this process. Many factors may spark them – from the clash of personalities to jealousy. Sometimes, the animal doesn’t have enough time to get used to the new companion and reacts with fear and aggression. That happens particularly often in small flats or houses, where the cats cannot get to know each other slowly while maintaining distance. 

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That’s why introducing a new cat should be well-planned. There is no point to hurry up with this process – it will do more harm than good. The cats should have their own corners with a separate litter box and bowls for food and water. Avoid making the new furry friends share the space and accessories – at least at the beginning. This way, they’ll have an opportunity to exchange smells and get familiar with each other in a controlled manner. 

Stress and hissing – what’s the connection?

The cat’s defensive attitude may root in chronic stress. When the animal is under its influence, you may observe other symptoms simultaneously. The most common ones include hiding, marking the territory, and washing the hair too often. Some cats have self-harming tendencies when facing intense stress, too. 

The chronic stress can have a severe influence on the pet’s health. That’s why you should not underestimate the problem and work on it with specialists from the veterinary clinic. Identifying the source of stress and removing it may solve the hissing issue and others related.

As you can see, reasons why cats hiss may vary. Hissing from time to time is nothing unusual, but if it repeats too often, make sure to consult your pet’s behavior with a specialist.