No cat parent wants their kitty to hiss at them. However, it’s a particular natural mode of communication for our feline friends; a way for them to express when they’re uncomfortable, stressed, or afraid.
Many of us are unsure what to do, or how to react, when our cats hiss at us – do you give them some of the best cat treats, or simply leave them alone? But fortunately, certified cat behavior psychologist Saba Sayyed, who goes by the name A Cat Psychologist, has offered some advice in a recent Instagram post.
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“Hissing is not an aggressive behavior,” Sayyed explains. “Instead, cats hiss when they don’t want any trouble or physical altercations. It’s a warning to back off to avoid a fight.”
So, what can you do? According to Sayyed, you should give your cat some space if they hiss at you – don’t encourage them to do anything they don’t want to do. Try to encourage them with positive associations instead.
Immediately after your cat hisses, don’t react. Simply leave them alone. Try not to get stressed or breathe heavily, and don’t make any unpredictable movements or noise. If you get angry or try to punish your cat for hissing, you’ll simply be reinforcing that they’re right to feel uncomfortable or threatened.
And if your cat goes off to hide, leave them be for a while. Cats can sometimes take a while to cool down, and hiding makes them feel safe. In the wild, cats hunt alone, and like to hide in small, warm places so that both their prey and potential predators won’t find them.
When your cat appears to be calmer, slowly approach them from the side without looking them in the eyes, and try to coax them out with food or catnip.
It’s also a good idea to familiarize yourself with cat body language – particularly the sort of body language that may accompany or precede hissing. This way, you may be able to remove yourself or remove your cat from the situation before they feel the need to hiss.
A scared or nervous cat may crouch down with their tail tucked in or have their ears flat back against their head with wide, dilated pupils, too. They might also stand with their back arched and their hair raised.
Meanwhile, an angry cat can appear similar, with an arched back and stiff body. However, they may also bare their teeth at you or wag or thump their tail.
And if your kitty is actually showing signs of aggression, here’s how to calm an aggressive cat.
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Adam is a freelance journalist covering lifestyle, health, culture, and pets, and he has five years' experience in journalism. He's also spent the last few years studying towards undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in journalism. While a cat person at heart, he's often visiting his parents' Golden Retriever, and when he's not writing about everything pets he's probably drinking coffee, visiting a cat cafe, or listening to live music.