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Why Does My Cat Hiss At Me?

Hissing is a warning sound, and can be a precursor to aggression. It can be worrying when a cat shows potentially aggressive behaviour towards their owner. However, it is best to remember that aggression is not a character trait, rather it is a reaction to a situation. A cat who is hissing at you is trying to communicate that they are unhappy with their current environment. Assessing why your cat is hissing, what it is reacting to, and how to change the situation, will lead to a more harmonious relationship with your feline companion. 

What is hissing?

Hisssss… this menacing noise is made when a cat suddenly expels air through its mouth. The mouth is held wide open, with teeth on show as a display of intimidation. A hiss is often seen together with threatening body language and postural changes from your cat, such as an arched back, flattened ears, wide eyes and a fluffed-up tail. 

Hissing is a perfectly natural and instinctual response in a cat. It is associated with negative feelings such as fear and aggression. As a form of verbal communication, it can be a warning in an aggressive scenario before physical fighting takes place, or an instinctive response to fear, pain or distress. 

Why is my cat hissing at me?

Cats usually show aggressive or defensive behaviour towards people for the following reasons:

  • Pain or discomfort
  • Inappropriate play
  • Social pressure
  • Fear, stress or anxiety
  • Frustration

Let’s have a look at these causes in more detail.

Pain or discomfort

As with any behavioural problem, pain or illness should be ruled out by a veterinary surgeon in the first instance. Cats can’t tell us in words if they feel unwell, or if something hurts, but they can give us plenty of clues with their behaviour. 

Chronic pain can be difficult to detect in cats, as they often hide the signs, but even small changes to behaviour can be telling. Cats who are ill or in pain may have changes to their appetite, may sleep or hide away more, alter their interactions with their owners and other pets and show adverse behavioural changes such as aggression or excessive vocalisation. A classic example of a cat hissing when in pain would be an older cat with arthritis and therefore joint pain, who has started hissing when picked up, stroked, or groomed. 

Inappropriate play

Cats, especially kittens, play to improve social bonds, and to learn important life skills such as hunting tactics. Pouncing, chasing and biting are all therefore large parts of cat play; so it is little wonder that these sessions can sometimes get a bit carried away. Some cats get very overstimulated by certain games, especially those which carry on and on with no satisfying end ‘kill’ – such as chasing a laser pointer. 

If your cat starts hissing at you whilst engaged in play, it is a sure sign that enough is enough. Try to end playtime before your cat becomes overstimulated. Keep them short and satisfying, allowing your pet to ‘catch’ the toy at the end and retire with their prize and then leave them to calm down. Never play with kittens with your hands or feet; use appropriate toys and redirect inappropriate behaviour such as biting towards a suitable toy. 

Social pressure

Cats are an interesting mix of social and solitary. They are territorial and hunt alone, but indulge in some social behaviours such as play and grooming. This complex structure can be easily misunderstood by humans, especially as much of cat communication is performed by scent, subtle body language and facial expression. 

Cats may hiss when they feel out of their comfort zone in their environment. For example, if you move the furniture around, introduce a new object into the home or make a loud noise, for example. They may also hiss when feeling threatened, perhaps if their territory is being invaded by another pet – or you. Cats will often try to avoid physical confrontation. A hiss is a way to communicate they are unhappy without resorting to fighting. 

Fear, stress or anxiety

Cats show anxiety in many different ways – some subtle, some not. Stressors can include a new pet or family member, building work, a house move, vet or cattery visits or territorial disputes with neighbouring cats. Cats who are stressed may hide away, avoid contact or become super clingy, toilet in inappropriate places, vocalise excessively or show behavioural changes such as aggression. Unfamiliar smells, sights and sounds can unsettle cats, leading to defensive behaviours such as hissing or hiding away.

An occasional hiss is within the realms of normal cat behaviour; but a kitty who hisses a lot at seemingly innocuous things is clearly displaying that they are not particularly happy. If you think your cat is showing signs of stress, try to remove any potential triggers and make sure they have a safe place which contains all of their key resources – food, water, litter tray, bed, toys and scratching post. Seek advice from a veterinary behaviourist if you are unable to resolve the issue quickly. 


Feline communication is very different to humans’, and so it is no wonder that we sometimes misunderstand our cats’ signals. It is easy to miss subtle visual cues such as changing ear position and pupil size, and postural alerts such as a crouched and tense pose may pass us by. A cat may hiss if their early warning signs are ignored, and they feel they have to escalate their discomfort. An example of this is ‘petting aggression’, where a cat will go from enjoying a stroke to a sudden negative reaction such as hissing or biting, seemingly with no warning. Usually, there is actually a range of warning signals that your cat’s tolerance level is being reached, such as a twitching tail or flattened ears. We just have to listen. 

Cats who hiss: final thoughts

Having a cat hiss at you is unpleasant, and even intimidating. However, hissing is a normal part of cat communication, and should be respected and understood. Cats who are hissing often may be trying to indicate that something is wrong. An illness or painful condition, a stressor in their environment or territory, or that you are ignoring their attempts to communicate a warning signal. Always remain calm if your cat shows any aggressive behaviour; leave them in a safe space to calm down and try to reflect on what might have triggered this reaction. If you need further advice, seek out a qualified veterinary behaviourist for professional assistance.

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