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Why does my cat hiss when I pet her?

While humans frequently do things without thinking and can do them for no specific reason, a cat never does anything without a motive.

And, most times, humans cannot figure out why cats do what they do. Just believe me, a cat has its reasons, even if you cannot figure them out.

I have been involved in cat rescue and care for over thirty years. I am like any other cat owner. I have no degree related to cat health, cat care, cat behaviors, or the changing moods of this fantastic animal.

However, I have plenty of personal experience of caring for and studying cats.

Why Does My Cat Hiss When I Pet Her? 

First off, male or female cats hiss. Cats never hiss at you unless they have a darn good reason.

According to cat researchers and other cat owners, a cat may hiss for many reasons as a warning sign that you need to keep your distance. Some reasons why cats may hiss are as follows.

  • Pain, Illness, Injury

When a cat feels pain, is hurt, or does not feel up to par and wants to be left alone, they may hiss at you, their best friend, and anyone else who may bother them.

It is a sure bet that if you are in pain, ill, or you injured yourself, the last thing you want is to have someone cuddle you. This being said, pain or discomfort is the number one reason why your cat may hiss at you.

Hissing is a typical warning response and survival tactic that cats use towards other animals, people, and situations. Know the warning signs of a hissing cat.

  • Wide eyes
  • Ears laid back
  • Claws out
  • Mouth open, showing teeth
  • Flapping of tail
  • Fluffed up fur

If you know that your cat never hisses, you need to pay attention to your cat because this is not a typical response by your cat. It is up to you to identify the problem, address it, and help eliminate it.

  • Cornered or Threatened

If your cat is cornered or is threatened by another animal or person, it may hiss. Hissing is a natural defense mechanism to warn those getting too close or means to cause harm.

Threats can cause a cat to become aggressive. However, cats are not usually aggressive animals without good reason.

  • Parental Instinct Causes Your Cat to Hiss

If a mama cat has babies around her and senses dangers, she may hiss as a warning to stay clear. A mama cat can become violently aggressive when protecting her babies.

  • Annoyance with Someone or Something

If a cat is annoyed with another pet, outside animal, or person that means no harm, it may hiss as a warning to stop, lay off and leave them alone. Hissing, in this case, is a warning that enough is enough.

  • Fear 

Cats are creatures of habit. However, they sometimes embrace change if it is on their terms.

Changes such as moving a litter pan, moving furniture, changing homes, or a new pet in the household can all cause your cat to hiss at people, other animals, and even stationary objects. Your cat is expressing fear and not hostility.

  • Stress

Stress is a significant factor that causes cats to hiss. The following is only one of my many personal stories and is an excellent example of stress in cats.

About six years ago, in 2016, we rescued and adopted two sisters, Sophia and Isabella, whose owner would have them euthanized because the owner was simply tired of having them.

How very sad! The sisters are sweet and enjoyable to have in our home, and neither of them causes any problems. However, their previous owner had both cats declawed on the front and back paws. This in itself can cause your cat a lifetime of stress.

A vet once told me that this procedure is like having your fingers and toes amputated. I am firmly against this practice and would never do this to any cat.

If you want to adopt a cat or already have a cat and think about declawing this lovely animal, please do not do it. There are options such as nail caps or keeping nails trimmed.

My strong opinion is, never declaw! Declawing means that a cat has difficulty jumping and holding on, climbing, and defending itself if needed. All this cat has is its hiss left. Don’t take that away too.

I have six cats. Two of my youngest cats, Lil’ Luke, is four years old and Willow, a female, is six years old. These two cats are close pals and often play and romp together. Lil’ Luke usually does not hiss.

However, if he is playing with Willow and she has had about enough of Lil’ Luke’s antics, she shows him her teeth and hisses quite loudly to warn him to lay off and leave her alone. She has had enough play, and it is time to stop! Neither cat means any harm to the other.

However, the Twisted Sisters, Sophia, and Isabella present a loud hiss if Lil’ Luke or Willow chases or picks on them. Their hiss is an audible warning for the playmates to stop and the sisters instantly flee the area.

Of course, Lil’ Luke and Willow are in hot pursuit of the sisters, which brings on more hissing. However, the sisters warn the youngsters to settle down through their hissing, much like a parent warning their rambunctious children to stop their actions.

Neither can use their claws to swipe because they have no nails.

However, the sisters take a paw and will haul off and hit Lil’ Luke or Willow on the head or back as they pass by them. This is like someone hitting you with a pillow.

We always intervene, and the youngsters go sit in a corner or on the enclosed porch for a time-out. Do the youngsters mean any harm to the sisters?

No, they just know, paws down, they can get under the sister’s fur. The bottom line is, the youngsters pick on the sisters because they know they can. They are naughty and mean no harm, and I believe the sisters know this.

What Other Issues Can Cause Your Cat to Hiss?

A few other things can cause your cat to hiss.

  • Sudden loud noises
  • A vacuum cleaner
  • Sirens
  • Fireworks
  • Doorbells
  • Strangers coming into the home
  • Quick and unexpected movements

How To Get My Cat To Stop Hissing When I Pet Her? 

My question to you is,

Why would you want to stop your cat from hissing if this is a natural defense mechanism and their way of communicating?

In my opinion, this is the same as me telling you to stop talking, stop giving your opinion, stop communicating; you have no right to do these things. Really? Hissing is your cat’s way of communicating to you that something is not right.

It is your responsibility to determine what is causing the hissing and try to remove the problem through a matter of deduction.

In our case, we would never remove Lil’ Luke or Willow from their home because they make the sisters hiss. Would remove your children from their home when they act up. We try to divert their attention.

If you suspect that your feline is hissing in response to one of the above emotions, you need to pinpoint precisely what behaviors, actions, or moments are triggering their hissing.

Make a concerted effort to find out why your cat hisses. Study the exact moments that make your cat hiss and then hone in on their behaviors before the hiss.

Look for the signs that your hissing cat is annoyed, such as mentioned prior, with ears laid back, wide eyes, twitching skin or tail, crouching position, and survey the area trying to pinpoint the reason for upset.

Interact with your cat, speak gently, and pick them up to remove them from the area if they allow you to do so. You are de-stressing your cat at that moment.

You can tell if these approaches only make the situation worse. Back away, try to remove the stress, much like us removing Lil’ Luke or Willow from where the sisters ran.

Never make the situation worse by laughing at your cat, coaxing them, yelling at them, or petting them when they clearly are not in the mood.

Allow your cat time to settle down. When defusing the situation, offer your cat some treats and gentle pats on the head. Offer them their favorite toys and try to get them to play, and give them extra love and attention.

If your cat seems stressed out like our sisters sometimes are, we offer all four kitties, Lil’ Luke, Willow, Sophia, and Isabella, a holistic calming treat. They gobble half of one of these along with a favorite treat. Pretty soon, it is nap time, and all is well once again.

When to Speak to Your Vet

If you suspect your cat is in pain or is ill, by all means, get an appointment as soon as possible. Let the vet check your kitty and treat it accordingly.

It is not a good thing when you do not feel well or are in pain. The same holds true for cats. Cats will hide if they do not feel well, and when you do find them, they are apt to hiss when you try to bother them. Something is not right, and you need to seek your vet’s help.

When you pet your cat, and there is no reaction from them, then all of a sudden, you pat a hip or back area, and it causes your cat to hiss; it is probably in pain or discomfort.

When a cat has arthritis, like my Mia, she lets me know when it is not OK to pet her. Her eyes became like daggers. Mia likely swats at me and hisses.

She may run away for a few minutes and soon returns, wanting my attention. Mia takes an arthritis pain reliever which does seem to help. However, she lets me know when she is in more pain through hissing and twitching her tail.

Cat parents need to be forever vigilant of their cat, its moods, and its behaviors so that when something is not right, you know that specific actions are not typical for your pet.

To sum everything up, your cat hisses because they are,

  • Afraid
  • Threatened
  • Fearful
  • Painful
  • Ill
  • Stressed

Become familiar with the warning signs and eliminate the problem to ensure a comfortable home where your cat can live their life happily and feel secure.