When you witness a cat hissing, with its teeth exposed, it looks like an act of aggression. Cats typically hiss when they are faced with a threat—be it an animal or human they consider to be invading their personal space.
“Hissing is more defensive than offensive,” Stephanie Sheen, DVM at Fuzzy Pet Health. “They’re letting the target of their hiss know what weapons they’re working with.” To that end, hissing is often accompanied by showing their sharp and pointy teeth. If the cat is pushed further, they might resort to more physical behavior such as biting or swatting.
When a cat hisses, according to Dr. Sheen, it is quickly exhaling a burst of air through its mouth. This creates a sound similar to a snake’s hiss. Needless to say, the sound of a snake hissing is enough to scare most of us.
Hissing is usually the last-ditch effort a cat makes before getting physical. Even cats with loving parents tend to hiss from time to time, especially when they no longer want to be pet.
For example, just because the cat is showing her belly, doesn’t mean it’s an invitation to pet. (That’s actually one of the things pet parents do that cats secretly hate.) “This does not mean they have negative feelings toward their pet parents, but is rather a situational expression of unease,” suggests Dr. Sheen.
If hissing is occurring between cats, separate them immediately, if you are able to do so safely, to avoid injury to the animals in the event of a physical fight. In the case of inter-cat aggression, Dr. Sheen says, “the cat who is doing most of the hissing is likely to be the victim rather than the aggressor.
Cats often react to dogs and puppies by hissing when they feel trapped or unable to escape. According to Dr. Sheen, if your household also has canines, it’s key to discourage the dog’s chasing behavior through training and also provide multiple vertical spaces.