Why do cats hiss at each other?

Written by : nafisbd; in :

As cat owners, we have all probably heard it and seen it. That hiss that is obviously not a friendly welcome as she is introduced to another cat, most often accompanied with an arching of the back and a raising of the hackles. 

This could be as you introduce a new cat to the home, perhaps as a companion for your pet, or just a chance meeting in the garden. Whatever the circumstances, this is when your cat will bare her teeth and with her lips pulled back let out a hiss that sounds remarkably like a snake.

It is thought that this similarity to the sound of a snake is not accidental. Most animals instinctively back away from hissing snakes, it is a noise that seems to trigger a primeval fear amongst them. Cats seem to mimic this as a way of warning potential rivals that stray into their territories. In most instances, this is just a warning shot, a way of a cat telling potential rivals to back off!

A territorial warning

When cats hiss at other cats it is usually because she is protecting her territory, you may think that you were doing your cat a favor by introducing a new buddy to keep her amused (and in the long-term you probably are) but your cat is unlikely to see it like that, at least not initially. 

Your cats’ home is her territory, and her instinct is to protect it, rather than being seen as a potential friend, that new cat that you have introduced is more likely to be seen as a potential threat. It is a two-pronged threat when the cat hisses at the newcomer, the first is a distinct warning to stay away and the second is as a means of establishing social order.

Social order is important when there is more than one cat. There will always be a subordinate hierarchy. When you introduce a new cat to the home, or when she meets a cat for the first time, this hierarchy is yet to be established. 

This is a perfectly natural behavior for the cat, it is a purely instinctive reaction to a perceived threat. 

Take it slowly

Often the situation resolves itself very quickly with no more than a bit of posturing, followed by the aloofness that cats seem to carry off so well. But if you are introducing a new cat or kitten to the household there are some methods you can use to ensure the introduction phase goes as smoothly as possible. 

One method to try is to introduce the kitten to the house but keep her confined within a certain room, this could be for up to a few days. Your existing feline friend will know she has company, she will pick up the scent and hear the meowing, and no doubt will be curious (well she is a cat after all). But this time will allow her to get used to the scent of her new buddy and get used to the fact that there is another cat in residence. 

You can also rub blankets on both cats and let them explore the scent of their new housemate more fully. This helps them to get used to each other before they meet. 

After a few days it is time to let the cats meet. To be ultra-cautious you could try letting them see each other through a barrier like a baby-gate in the first instance. If the cats aren’t hissing or showing signs of aggression towards each other, then reward them both with treats. If there is aggression from either cat, then don’t reward either of them. Rewarding the cat that isn’t showing aggression in these instances, will likely trigger a jealous reaction from the aggressive cat and make the situation worse. 

Similarly, it is important not to punish aggressive behavior, remember this is a natural instinctive reaction. If you punish at this point, both cats will associate the punishment with the presence of the other cat and this will only make the situation worse.

If the aggression is looking like it is going to escalate to more than posturing, separate the cats until the behavior eases, and they don’t respond to each other. Given enough time and patience most cats will get along with each other. Patience is the key if it doesn’t happen immediately. 

Other reasons cats hiss

The presence of other cats is not the only reason that cats hiss. In this section we touch briefly on some other common reasons that a cat will hiss.

  1. They are in pain. This is particularly common when you touch a part of the cat’s body that is sore or injured. On occasion if they are really uncomfortable, they may hiss at you as you approach them. If this is happening and you are unsure of the reason, a trip to the vet is probably best. 
  2. Stress, cats can get stressed easily. If your cat is hissing frequently and is acting out of character, she could be stressed. This could be down to a change of environment like moving home. Or as already discussed, the introduction of a new cat to the home. 
  3. You’re annoying them. Let’s face it, much as we love them, cats are not shy in telling you when they are annoyed. It could be that you want ot pet them, and they just aren’t in the mood for it, or young kids have been playing with her, with a bit much enthusiasm. 
  4. Unfamiliarity. I once watched my cat hissing like crazy at a snowman that the kids had built the night before. This is a prime example of how unfamiliar objects in their territory can cause cats to hiss. It doesn’t need to be a snowman, it could be a new piece of furniture or a bag of shopping left on the kitchen floor that caught her by surprise.

Whatever the reason your cat hisses, it is perfectly normal behavior and in most instances is absolutely nothing to worry about. 




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