Skip to main content

Why do cats hiss? There are actually several reasons for this behavior

Reasons why your kitty makes the infamous cat noise

An orange cat hissing
Rasmus Järborg / Unsplash

When we think of cat noises, “meows” and “purrs” typically come to mind first. However, despite their reputation as anti-social animals, cats make other sounds. Notably, a cat might hiss — sort of like a snake. A cat’s hiss might stop you in your tracks, just as one from a snake might if you encountered the reptile in the wild. Why do cats hiss? Generally, that stop-in-your-tracks reaction from you is precisely what a feline wants — your attention and perhaps you (or another person or animal) to cease whatever they were doing.

A cat hissing can be a bit scary for a person or another animal, and the sound is sometimes a precursor to a physical action like scratching or pouncing. A cat’s hiss is often a cat’s way of protecting themselves. However, you’ll likely want to avoid making a cat hiss. Knowing the reason a cat hisses is an essential first step.

a closeup of a gray cat hissing
Erik-Jan Leusink / Unsplash

Why do cats hiss?

Cats hiss for several reasons, and your kitty might give you the snake treatment for a combination of factors. Notably, a cat’s hiss can be unsettling, but the vocalization is a normal reaction, often to a situation a feline sees as abnormal. Evaluate whether your kitty has or may be experiencing one of these common hiss-inducing happenings.

  1. Something scary. “Scaredy cat” isn’t just a way to describe someone afraid of something you find trivial. Like people, cats can get scared. Perhaps you approached your cat too quickly, or Kitty doesn’t appreciate the bangs of pots and pans as you rummage through a cabinet. If they’re afraid, cats might also hiss at larger animals, including dogs. Sometimes, a cat will run after hissing. Other times, these hisses are a warning to stop before a cat progresses to a physical measure of protection.
  2. Your cat is annoyed. Sometimes, the cat isn’t scared but somewhat annoyed by a behavior, such as touching underneath the belly. Again, these hisses are warnings to stop.
  3. Rough play. Some cats enjoy rough play. However, there can come a point when the game is no longer fun. A cat may hiss to tell a person or another animal, “game over” (or at least to scale back the intensity).
  4. Resource guarding. If a cat feels like a person or another animal is intruding on their personal space, they might hiss or growl. Dogs react similarly, and we people do, too (such as by yelling). Be sure a cat’s food dishes, litter, and any prized toys or resting spots aren’t easily accessed by other pets, and you limit your time with them to cleaning and feeding.
  5. Pain. Other times, the source of a cat’s hiss isn’t you (or any other humans or pets in the home). Instead, your cat might be in pain.
A gray cat outside
Uta Scholl / Unsplash

What to do if a cat is hissing

To some extent, your next steps when a cat hisses will depend on whether the trigger is a human or a pet. However, you’ll want to determine what caused the hissing ASAP, regardless of whether the vocalization was aimed at you or another pet. Further, if a cat begins hissing consistently out of nowhere, your best bet is to call the vet to rule out any medical issues.

How to stop a cat from hissing at other humans

If your cat is hissing at you or someone in the home, stop whatever triggered your feline friend. If possible, avoid engaging in that behavior in the future. For instance, if your cat dislikes belly rubs, show love in other ways.

Did a child cause the hiss? There’s a good bit about introducing a kitty to a new baby. However, once that little one starts walking, the following steps involve training a kid. Children need to be taught about the proper treatment of animals, so use the warning shot as a teachable moment for instructing your child how to engage with a kitty properly. For example, show a child to pet using gentle hands or approach a cat slowly.

Avoid intervening unless another person is in danger or the cat is in so much pain they cannot move. Otherwise, let the kitty cool off.

How to stop a cat from hissing at other animals

If your cat hisses at wildlife around your home, there’s not much you can do. You might attempt to re-arrange a cat’s prized window perches to areas where the animals frequent less to help your kitty avoid stressors.

You can intervene more easily if the cat is hissing at another pet.

  1. Re-introduce your pets. Your pets may need to be separated for some time as you progressively re-introduce them via scent swaps and interactions on opposite sides of a gate. You might feel like you’re back at square one, but a short time apart might help in the long term.
  2. Ensure resources are separate. If it was a resource-related hiss, such as over food or a litter box, be sure each animal has their own space. Cats can be territorial over their food and litter.
  3. Intervene. Avoid letting your animals figure the issue out themselves if they are fighting physically. One or both of the animals can get seriously injured.
A peson cuddling a white cat
Yerlin Matu / Unsplash

Closing thoughts on cats hissing

You may prefer when a cat purrs and meows to hisses. However, a cat’s hiss is a vital tool. Often, the hiss is a means of protection — a kitty hisses when they want you or someone else to stop doing something, like touching them a certain way or making sudden movements. Sometimes, a cat might hiss if they are in pain. For this reason, your best bet is to discuss sudden, chronic hissing that is out of character for a cat with a veterinarian.

When a cat hisses, stop what you’re doing (or instruct another person or animal to stop), and try to avoid these triggers in the future. Unless someone or the cat is in severe pain or danger, avoid intervening to give Kitty time to cool off. Chances are, you two can make up later.

Editors' Recommendations

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on and In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
Cat panting: 5 reasons behind this behavior and what you should do about it
Cats pant for all sorts of reasons some of which require medical attention
Close up of a cat sticking out her tongue

Just about any cute dog account on social includes plenty of panting pics. But cat influencers? Not so much. That might cause you to panic a little any time your lovable feline sticks out their tongue or breathes heavily, even when you don't have to worry. Cats can pant, too, and many of the reasons pose no danger. So when should you intervene? We'll cover the five most common sources of cat panting.

Why is my cat panting?
Some kitties never pant at all, which doesn't indicate anything bad. It's not necessary for a lot of cats to pant. On the other hand, certain animals are more likely to breathe heavily on occasion. As always, a sudden change in behavior should mean a trip to the vet, but you may have also just landed an animal that wishes to act like a canine.
Dogs do it. Humans do it. And yes, cats do it, too. Panting from high temps seems to pervade the animal kingdom. Much of the time, your mouser will be able to cool themselves down by lying in a cold spot until they get back to normal. Sometimes though, cats get heatstroke and need you to intervene (more on that later).
Asthma and respiratory illnesses
In the case of a cat cold, you'll likely notice other symptoms that go along with the panting, like sneezing and coughing. A stuffy kitty could pant to get oxygen to their body. Many illnesses work themselves out, but they might need medicine to help it along. You'll also want to check for asthma, which affects many cats. Your vet will help with the right treatment to manage the condition.
Assuming the foreign object is lodged in their upper digestive tract, you can often find a way to take care of this on your own. Don't ever pull anything out of your cat's throat, though, if they aren't able to remove it with a few coughs. Assuming your animal can breathe well enough, take them to the vet or emergency where a doctor can safely remove the obstruction, sometimes after x-rays to diagnose.
Heart problems
Heart problems often lead to breathing problems. An older cat or one with a previous condition like congestive heart failure might develop some tricky issues. Heartworm can cause some coughing or panting as well, but it's completely treatable when caught early on. Your vet will routinely test your pet for this parasite and you should administer preventative as prescribed.
If you've ever stubbed your toe and then found yourself trying to breathe through the pain, you'll get why your cat might do this, too. Sadly, this reason nearly always necessitates an immediate trip to the vet or pet ER. The only exception is if you discover a minor injury that explains it and can fix it at home; for example, a thorn in their paw that's easy to remove.

Read more
Why do cats spray? This obnoxious behavior, explained
It's important to understand why cats do this
a ffuffy cat in a cardboard box

Cats can be a curious bunch. They attack the holiday tree annually and stare at you until you start questioning what's happening in their heads. The hijinks may leave you thinking, "Cats, can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em."

If you have chosen to shack up with a cat (or keep an indoor-outdoor or solely outdoor kitty), you know you signed up to deal with some potty scooping up. For indoor cats, this means cleaning a litter box. The good news? Cats are pretty reliable about going in the box once trained and not around your home. Why do cats spray, though? You may ask this question if you notice small amounts of urine around your pad. You'll want to get to the root cause (and determine if a cat is spraying in the first place) so you can fix the issue and save your sofa and carpet.

Read more
8 essential tips for disciplining cats
8 Easy and effective tips for training your cat
Two kittens on wooden shelves

Cats may be one of the most popular pets worldwide, but even they have reputations (mostly with non-cat people). Felines are known for indifference, sass, and even attitude. Cartoons, comics, and movies portray them as impossible to reason with, but if you ask a cat owner, they'll assure you cat discipline exists. Here's the catch: you need to know how to discipline your cat -- safely and properly -- for that training to stick. With these seven simple tips and tricks, though, you'll be on your way to perfect feline behavior.

Rule out medical concerns as a cause for misbehavior
Surprising as it sounds, the source of a lot of cat misbehavior has roots in medical conditions. Cats may stop using the litter box, demonstrate new aggression, or start hiding in unexpected places -- all from changes inside their body. So, before you start wondering how to punish your cat, make an appointment with your veterinarian. You may find a medical cause for the behavior. If not, you'll get peace of mind and can move on to further tips on cat discipline.

Read more