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Pet Talk: The Mystery of the Hissing Cat

Q. Periodically when our cat Cupcake is just sitting all by herself, or sometimes washing herself, she will let out a long hiss, not directed to anyone. Sometimes this happens after she uses the litter box. It isn’t aggression as there is no one around. It just comes out of the blue and is never in connection with anyone or any cat interacting with her. Then she usually jumps up and runs into another room. It seems like something is bothering her, like she might have some pain. I have tried a Google search on “hissing for no reason” but all the results seem to deal with aggression, and this is definitely not aggression.

A. This is an interesting topic as most people assume a hissing cat is being aggressive. Cat behaviorists now believe hissing is not an aggressive behavior but a defensive gesture or an expression of feelings.

It is almost always exhibited by a cat who feels victimized or threatened in some way. It can be a way to avoid physical confrontation. In this scenario it is the cat who hisses regularly that is almost always the victim or the one being antagonized.

Being an expression of feelings the kitty could be trying to say, “I’m scared,” “I’m upset,” “I feel threatened,” or “I’m uncomfortable.” Some cats hiss when they experience pain, for instance from arthritis or dental disease. Hyperthyroidism can cause irritability and muscle pain, which can lead to hissing. Nervous system disorders can also cause hissing. Pain is a strong stimulus for anxiety in cats.

There are some felines who hiss to express that they dislike something even though no threat is present. These cats will hiss but not direct it at any particular individual. They hiss to express disgust or disappointment. An example would be if your kitty wants to go into a room and you gently maneuver her away.

Another possibility is your cat’s eyesight. If it is failing she may be seeing things differently. There may be shadows she is unsure of that scare her.

If having Cupcake examined for a medical explanation shows nothing, pay close attention to when it is happening to see if you can establish any sort of trigger. It could be a noise, a scent or an inanimate object.

I hope you can find the reason for Cupcake’s hissing with some of my suggestions.

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