When you bend down to pet a feline and you get a big hiss for your efforts, it can be alarming and even frightening. Everyone knows you don’t mess with a hissing kitty, but it’s a good idea to know what caused the behavior.
If a cat is aggressive, he takes on an offensive role; if he feels threatened, he becomes defensive. Hissing is one attribute of a cat in a defensive mode. A hiss is a signal a defensive cat uses when he is trying to protect himself. The hiss is your signal to back off and not to touch.
Many reasons could cause your cat to feel threatened. He could be reacting to another cat’s aggressive and offensive position, he could be defending himself against an active child who played too rough with him or who approached him too aggressively, or he could be sick. Observe the circumstances surrounding the hissing behavior to determine what caused the cat to hiss.
If nothing appears to be causing your cat to hiss, a veterinarian should examine the cat to determine whether he is in pain. Many medical conditions could cause a cat to hiss, including toxoplasmosis, rabies, dental disease, abscesses, arthritis and sensory decline. An older cat who once enjoyed it when you petted him might now find it painful, especially if you continue to pet him in the same area. This might cause him to hiss.
Cats are territorial and can show aggressive hissing to another cat, a dog or to a person. A cat might allow certain people or animals into his territory and not others. If the cat views you as an intruder, he might hiss at you. Territorial issues often occur when a kitten reaches sexual maturity, when you introduce a new cat into the home, when a new person moves in, when you relocate or when an outdoor cat comes into your yard.
When a cat gets to the point of hissing, he is often giving you an obvious signal if you missed his subtler one. For example, if you are petting a cat and he meows and arches his back, he is asking for more of the same. But if he meows and moves or shrinks from your touch, he wants you to stop. If you don’t recognize the subtle cue and continue petting him, you probably will hear a hiss. Cats figure you will understand that.
Laura Agadoni has been writing professionally since 1983. Her feature stories on area businesses, human interest and health and fitness appear in her local newspaper. She has also written and edited for a grassroots outreach effort and has been published in "Clean Eating" magazine and in "Dimensions" magazine, a CUNA Mutual publication. Agadoni has a Bachelor of Arts in communications from California State University-Fullerton.