Why Does My Cat Hiss?
Cats are small and would rather not physically confront an opponent (human, cat, or other species) if they can help it. Cats hiss to communicate their discomfort with a situation and tell the one on the receiving end that they need more space. The hiss serves as a defense mechanism to express fear and danger. Cats send a warning that they will act in an aggressive manner if needed.
Cats hiss as a distance increasing behavior to prevent their opponent from approaching. The level of perceived threat will determine how close or far the cat needs to be from the stimulus before hissing.
They can become overwhelmed by slight changes in their environment: a new house, family member, pet, visitors, scents, objects, the list could go on. A cat’s senses are sharp, so any slight disruption may have an amplified effect on their stress level.
What to do
If your cat has suddenly started hissing, it is recommended that you set up an appointment to rule out any health-related issues. Cats can be very stoic when they are ill, so if they are showing outward signs, it is important that they are not ignored.
Verbally or physically punishing a cat for hissing will do more harm than good. Since the cat uses the hiss as a warning indicating they will act aggressively if needed, we do not want to punish them for communicating their discomfort.
If the cat is punished for communicating, they will learn to just attack without warning. When a cat resorts to this, it becomes harder to read when the cat will act aggressively and makes for dangerous situations.
Punishment will increase their stress, which may cause them to act aggressively more frequently.
It is crucial to determine what is causing your cat to hiss. Is there a lot of activity in your home? Did you just move? A new pet?
There are tons of different aspects of the environment that could contribute to the cat’s discomfort. The main goal is to figure out the root of the problem and then create a plan to make them feel safe. Some situations might involve removing a scary stimulus.
However, sometimes you can’t remove the stimulus. For instance, maybe they have become overwhelmed by your toddler that is now walking. In these cases, you will need to create a more comfortable environment for the cat. They will need a place to go that is off-limits to the child. This will allow the cat to remove themselves from stressful situations and decompress.
If your cat hisses at an individual or thing, try giving them something that smells like the offending person or object so that they can acclimate to their scent. If there is a new puppy in the house, then take a towel that smells like the puppy and put it in a place where the cat can interact with it as they please.
Once you have determined what is causing the cat to become stressed, there are a few ways to help to restore their comfort.
Allow your cat to remove themselves from the situation. Provide an area where they feel safe, this may be in a certain room or a hiding spot away from what is scaring them. This will give your cat the ability to calm down. If you are unable to allow your cat more space, try giving them some time alone.
If there is a major change in environment or your cat is persistently hissing, then it is time to contact a trainer or behaviorist to create a behavior modification plan. These plans should be specifically tailored to your cat’s needs and your lifestyle.
If you have questions about what could be causing the cat to hiss or how to implement a plan to restore the cat’s comfort, drop us a line!