My Cat is Hissing at Me All of a Sudden
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Few reactions a cat makes receive the attention of hissing. It is a sound not quite unique to cats, but it is one we don't want to hear with any regularity. If we get scared, worried or defensive when we hear a cat hissing, it is not surprising. This is the point of the cat making this particular sound. We might understand if a cat hisses at the neighbor dog or one of their cat companions when they get too rowdy, but you may ask why is my cat hissing at me all of a sudden?
AnimalWised helps you understand why this might happen by looking at why cats hiss in the first place and what could cause them to do it if they didn't before. Whether this is a new cat or one we have had for a long time, cats don't hiss for no reason.
Feline communication and body language
Too often, we humans forget that animals communicate differently. We speak to them and expect them to be able to understand our vocalizations as if we spoke the same language. While vocalization is an important part of a cat's communication, it is only one part of it. Just as important, if not more so, is their body language. For example, when a cat is happy, their body will be relaxed, eyes half closed and may purr contentedly.
When a cat is hissing, we can hear the distinct noise which is often preceded by a growl. The noise comes from within and changes pitch according to how wide is their snarl. In terms of body language, their back is usually arched, with hair standing on end (bristled). Their head is down, eyes wide and ears flat to their head. It is an intimidating stance.
This body position which accompanies hissing is seen commonly with cats in the wild. Although they are keen predators, they are also prey for other carnivorous animals. For this reason, they need to defend themselves. Although they will try to flee, if they are cornered, hissing can be used to deter their attacker. However, domestic cats do not live in the same environment and are not commonly attacked by predators.
As we do when trying to understand any type of feline communication, we need to to look at the context of the situation. A hissing cat we have just met will have different reasons for doing so compared to a cat in our family hissing. We need to look around in the environment, try to understand what has led to the moment the cat is hissing and then make our assessment. Usually it will be one of the reasons we list below.
A stray cat is hissing at me
One of the important factors we need to consider is the relationship we have to a cat that is hissing. When we see a cat on the street, it is very tempting to go and pet them. Unfortunately, not all cats will be well suited to interaction with humans. Feral or stray cats either never had a home, have become lost or were abandoned.
When we meet a stray cat, their hissing can often be interpreted as a sign to back off. Many people think this means the cat is aggressive, but this is not the case. In fact, it is quite the opposite. The cat is being defensive. Cats are naturally territorial animals, whether they live with humans or not.
Stray cats don't have food provided for them and often face real dangers in their environment. If we come across one, it is often the case they think we are either going to hurt them or take away some of their scant provisions. For this reason, the cat is hissing out of fear and insecurity. We shouldn't approach a stray cat and try to pet them, especially if they are hissing and raising their back.
If you need to move a stray cat for valid reasons, it is best to call a shelter. However, if this is not possible, you can look at our article on how to catch a stray cat safely to know what to expect.
My new cat is hissing at me
When we adopt a new cat into the home, we might expect they should not be afraid. We will provide them with everything they need and we are there to love them, not hurt them. However, we need to look from the cat's perspective.
If the cat has been through the shelter system, it is possible they have faced abandonment or even abuse. This can lead to trauma and an understandable mistrust of humans. In these cases, it will take a while to earn the trust of a cat. Even if they have had a safe existence up to the point of joining your family, cats are creatures of habit and routine. Moving to a completely different environment is a shock to them.
If a new cat hisses at you, it is important you respect their boundaries. To not try to enforce interaction. Instead, provide them with all their basic care needs and let them learn how to be around you. Let them make the first move and don't give them reason to fear you. Even trying to pick a cat up can make them hiss if they think you are trying to hurt them.
They are warning you
A cat will hiss before they try to bite or scratch you. This is considered a warning sign. They have likely already provided plenty of warning signs via their body language, but we may not always pick up on them. If the cat hisses at us, it is usually because we have ignored them.
Why a cat is warning you is because they are feeling defensive. Although cats can be aggressive, there are reasons behind this. This is often due to poor socialization. If they have not been given the right tools to interact with others, whether human or animal, it is understandable they will lash out.
If they are being defensive, it is because something has happened which makes them feel insecure. This can often happen when playing with a cat. Even though we may think they are enjoying it, if we are too rough with a cat, they can become frightened and hiss to get us to stop.
They are being territorial
It is not just stray and feral cats which are territorial. If we see cats scratching their claws on the sofa, it is not just because they are sharpening their nails. They are releasing pheromones via glands in their paws. This is the same when we see a cat rubbing their head against objects or even walking between our legs.
Marking their territory is something they need to do regularly, replenishing their scent to warn off possible interlopers. If your cat is hissing at you all of a sudden, it is possible it is not aimed directly at you.
When we bring a new family member into the home, it will likely upset the cat. Whether this is a new pet or even a new human, the cat can feel threatened. Some cats may be OK with other cats, but not dogs. Some may be the other way around.
They worry they won't get the food and care they have received up to that point and may even miss out on our affection. If there is a new family member, the cat may be hissing because they are worried their territory is under threat.
They are in pain
Cats have high thresholds for pain. Although sensitive animals, they may not show many visible signs of pain. It is only when the pain is acute that they may try to let us know they are in pain. When a cat hisses all of a sudden, we need to consider whether physical pain is a factor.
We may cuddle or pet our cat and they seem fine. However, if we pick them up or touch them in a particular place, we might see them hiss at us. We may have touched an area where they are in pain and have reacted accordingly. From that point on, the cat may hiss at us in case they think we will do it again.
In these cases, we will need to take them to a veterinarian immediately. Look for other signs of injury or disease, such as checking their stools and eating habits.
Petting in the wrong place
Even if our cat has not incurred an injury, it is possible they will hiss if you touch them in a certain place. They won't necessarily be in pain, but may simply not want you to touch them in a particular area. All cats are individuals, but generally there are certain places you should pet a cat, at least at first.
Do not pet a cat on their belly unless you are sure they enjoy it. Most cats do not like their belly being touched as their underside is very vulnerable. However, some cats may simply not want you touching them on a particular place and will let you know with a hiss and even a scratch.
Cats don't hiss at you for no reason. It will mean something has changed, whether in their environment or how we act to them. If you don't have much experience, you will need to learn all you can about what a cat is trying to say to you so you can provide the care they need. Our video below on the different noises cats make will help you to do so:
If you want to read similar articles to My Cat is Hissing at Me All of a Sudden, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.