Cat hissing is one of many sounds cats make when they:
- are annoyed or angry
- feel threatened (and that often means just plain scared)
- are on the brink of physical aggression.
The message is simple, leave me alone! And if I must defend myself, I will.
A hissing cat is hoping to startle its enemy long enough so it has a chance to escape … or really frighten a potential attacker, so it backs off completely.
If given a choice, cats would rather not engage in any type of harmful conflict or fight.
Cats issue a series of vocal warnings
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… which other animals (and people) instinctively understand. For each threatening cat sound you hear, the cat is one step closer to actual physical aggression.
Vocal warnings usually begin with the impressive rolling growl, which is common in many animals. If growling doesn’t do the trick, the next step up is the snake-like hiss.
Researchers believe that cats use an instinctive and effective method of self-defence called mimicry, which has evolved over time and across species.
Cat hissing, sounds very much like the hiss of a snake, which is a sound or warning that causes alarm and fear in the animal kingdom and people.
How a cat makes the hissing sound
Cats leave their mouths partially open and tense their facial muscles. With their lips pulled back and razor sharp teeth on display, a rush of air is forced through the cat’s grooved tongue, which creates the hissing sound.
Cat hissing is often followed by spitting, an powerful spray of moisture thrust out of a cat’s mouth on a blast of forced air.
(Notably, spitting is an unpopular behavior in our own culture.)
To add impact to angry cat sounds, an aggressive cat may also flatten its ears against its head
One theory is this ear posture makes the hissing cat also look like a snake.
Another is the ears are flattened to protect them from injury, should felines actually have no choice but to fight.
Mother Nature kicks in again with another threatening display known as piloerection
This physical posture is meant to make cats appear bigger and more capable of defending themselves.
Should these defensive measures fail to scare off an attacker, physical aggression is likely to occur.
During a cat fight, cat sounds might include a snarl (a short, harsh growl with snapping or gnashing of teeth) and a shriek or scream (a reaction to pain).
Hissing can occur for many reasons
If your pet cat is handled when not well or in pain it might express its discomfort with an angry hiss (just as we might yelp under similar circumstances).
If you own more than one cat, a cat returning home with strange smells, may trigger a hissing episode from a confused house mate.
Although not proven, one cat may sense when another cat is not well and will try to avoid being exposed to a contagious illness.
Whether we understand the reasons or not, the message remains the same … keep your distance.