Layne has fostered kittens and worked in animal shelters for over 8 years.
Why Does My Cat Hiss at Me?
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.
Rule Out a Medical Condition
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.
Reasons Why Cats Hiss
Your cat is simply asking for space when it is hissing. This can happen in the following situations:
- New visitors: New people may startle your cat and cause him or her to hiss.
- New objects: Unfamiliar objects in the house that move strangely may trigger your cat to hiss or be fearful.
- Loud noises: Loud noises are extremely disrupting and scary to cats. They are unanticipated and will startle your cat.
- Sudden movements: Unexpected movements, like someone running around the corner of a wall or rushing into a room, may cause your cat to react.
- Pain: As mentioned, it's important to rule out pain. Handling a cat that is in pain will trigger this behavior.
- Doing something they don't like: Cats are picky creatures, so if you are set on brushing their teeth or brushing their hair and get a hiss, you are probably in the wrong (they are telling you "no").
- Other animals: Other animals, especially with a cat that is undersocialized, may provoke a hiss—this includes dogs, new cats, etc.
- Undersocialization: Kittens fall into this category. Kittens are still learning the ropes, and if you happened to acquire a kitten that was undersocialized or orphaned, it may take them some time to realize that a hiss is not necessary in all situations (take it from me!).
Cat Hissing at Another Cat
Hissing Can Indicate Chronic Stress
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.
Dealing With Other Animals
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.
Check the Perimeter of Your House
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.
Can Feliway Help?
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:
- Spray the product 10 minutes (minimum) prior to allowing your cat into the space. Alcohol is a carrier for this product and will irritate your cat if you do not let it dissipate in the environment. You can spray carriers, areas that are marked, and bedding to prevent things like spraying and over-grooming.
- Reapply every 4-5 hours.
- You can use it daily.
I Used Feliway With My Kitten
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).
Help Your Cat Feel Safe and Secure
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:
Give a Kitty Kiss: The Slow Blink
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:
- Soften the face
- Lock eyes with your cat for a brief second. Imagine you are saying "I. Love. You." and blink slowly. You can even slowly dip your head a little bit.
- If you want to make contact, gently offer your hand and extend a single finger. Allow your cat to approach you (mark you) and not vice versa.
The Kitty Essentials
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!
How to Tell Your Cat You Love Them
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2019 Layne Holmes
Layne Holmes (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