Cat Hissing and Growling

Cat hissing and growling can be a key clue to how your cat is feeling. While many animals communicate with body language, cats are vocal creatures, also using noises to communicate with other animals and humans.

Cat Hissing

Cats often hiss to communicate fear or aggression. In the wild, it's very energy-intensive to fight. Since predators such as cats need that energy for finding prey, using energy to fight is a bad idea. Thus, cats have behaviors, such as hissing, designed to deter threats without actually attacking.

When cats hiss, they also take on a threatening body posture, which includes:

  • Crouching
  • Puffing out hair to look larger
  • Arching their backs
  • Slanting eyes
  • Laying ears back
  • Baring teeth
  • Lashing the tail in a slow, deliberate fashion

Paired with the harsh hissing sound, this posture makes the cat look like a formidable opponent.

Since this behavior is generally designed to scare away a threat, it is largely associated with fear. Though it appears aggressive and offensive, it's usually a defensive move to convince opponents that the cat is a bigger threat than he is. Thus, you may often see this behavior when your cat is afraid.

If your cat is displaying this behavior in fear, determine what is frightening him: strange people, another cat in the house, loud noises or being handled. Once you have identified what scares your cat, you can start to condition him not to fear those things.

If the hissing seems to be caused by anger toward a person or another cat, it's still important to determine the cause and start to condition him to be more comfortable with whatever he doesn't like. Most likely, this behavior began with fear and has since grown into aggression.

If your cat suddenly starts hissing at things that didn't previously bother him, consult a veterinarian, as many illnesses cause behavior changes.

Cat Growling

Cats may growl if they are feeling frightened or trying to deter a threat. While hissing is more common, it may be accompanied by a growl, which just adds to the threatening appearance of the cat.

Cats may also growl when eating, in this case using the behavior to deter an opponent chasing after the same prey - or just hovering over the same food bowl.

Growling is often added if the body language and hissing don't seem to be effective. It can be a more demonstrative sign that the cat is definitely not to be disturbed or hassled. Deep growling paired with high-pitched screams can actually signal a fight.

The more calm the cat appears to be, the more seriously you should take the threat. A calm, growling cat is less likely to flee than a puffy, hissing cat, which is often just trying to escape.

Cats generally use hissing and growling for the same reasons: feeling fearful or threatened. To deter these behaviors, it's important to desensitize your cat to his fears. Doing this can help your cat live a calmer, happier life.