Why Do Cats Hiss at Each Other?

When you bring a new cat or kitten into your home, you might expect your resident feline to be thrilled with her new roommate. Instead, she will probably greet him with a hiss and a growl, because she views the newcomer as an invader coming into her territory.

This behavior is mimicry of a scary natural predator that most animals are afraid of — the snake, according to PetPlace. While hissing usually signals to the other cat to “stay away or else,” it can also be the precursor to an attack if accompanied by a growl or shriek, according to VetInfo.

Before things escalate to this level, separate the cats until they don’t respond to each other with any aggressive signs, including hissing. Provide plenty of safe havens in the form of cat condos and shelves as retreats for each furball.

Should I let my cats hiss at each other?

As long as they appear to be relaxed, allow them both out. Again, some hissing when they see each other is normal so don’t be alarmed. Some light swatting is also common.

What does it mean when two cats hiss at each other?

Don’t be alarmed; it’s normal for cats to hiss at something new or something they don’t understand. Hissing is a distance-increasing behavior. Simply put, it’s a warning saying, “ Please back off, and do not come any closer.” … Two cats touching noses for the first time, a very high form of affection in cat speak!

Aggression is one of the most common problems seen in behavioural practice. Aggression can be defined as a threat, challenge or attack that is directed towards one or more individuals. Aggression may be normal or abnormal depending on the context in which it occurs.

This article provides some basic advice about five common types of aggression directed at other cats and how to deal with them: Fearful cats will typically hiss, spit, growl, pilo-erect (fur stands up), flatten their ears against the head and show a low or crouched body position.

Behaviour modification involves desensitisation and counter-conditioning by slowly introducing the cat to the fearful situation in a gradual, controlled sequence. The initial distance should be great enough not to cause any fearful response from the cat.This gradual approach may vary from days to months depending on the severity of the problem. Punishment, or forced restraint will aggravate the situation and must never be used as it is likely to increase the anxiety and impede learning.

This type of aggression usually starts in entire males at 2-4 years of age when they reach social maturity. Cats in the same household should initially be separated so that no visual contact is possible and reintroducing them slowly as described for redirected aggression. Cats often stalk, chase, pounce and lay in wait as a from of play, but this can also involve aggression in the form of biting and scratching.

Young cats, especially those that are orphaned, hand raised or weaned early, are more likely to show this type of aggression and in many cases it may be normal behaviour. However, the toys need to be changed at regular intervals, even daily, for the cat to maintain interest. In the second, and subsequent episodes, the initial stimulus no longer has to be present to elicit the aggression, just the target of the first attack.

While the cats are separated, a regular routine should be established so that certain events such as feeding or playing occur at a set time each day.

The key to introducing cats to each other is to TAKE IT SLOWLY. Take little steps and evaluate how your cats react. There is no magic formula that will tell you when a cat is ready to be fully integrated into the household; you must be able to observe them and judge their progress on an individual basis. Some say their cats got along beautifully from day one (not that they should have even met that quickly), and others say it took six months or more before they finally lived peacefully under the same roof.

Dairy products: cheese, plain yogurt, vanilla ice cream, cream cheese, or milk (Cats are lactose intolerant, but a small amount can be a delicious snack that can also serve as a stool softener for seniors.) The original Feliway formula mimics the feline facial pheromone, making cats feel as if they have already marked a certain surface as their own using the scent glands in their jowls.

The new Feliway Multi formula uses the pheromone found in the mammary glands of nursing moms, which reassures kittens and helps them form a bond with their mother. The goal of this product is to strengthen the relationship or build a bond with cats in the home and make them recognize each other as a more cohesive group. Be sure that you have eliminated the cats perception that they can scale the gates by thumbtacking a pillowcase, sheet, towel, or similar obstruction to the doorframe.

Allow the new cat to explore the home and get his or her bearings while able to retreat to their safe room if they get spooked or overwhelmed. If they start to hiss, spit, or lunge at the visual barrier, move back to where you were previously successful for a few sessions. Once you have successfully interrupted the squabble and shifted focus onto something appropriate, lure the new cat back to the safe room and end the session.

Once they become accustomed to the ThunderShirt, cats can freely move about while wearing it, but it does appear to inhibit their urge to lunge, jump, and even run. The concept of the shirt is similar to swaddling an infant creating comfort and a calming effect by tightly wrapping them. The ThunderShirt can serve two purposes: (1) having a calming and humbling effect on the aggressor while inhibiting some of their aggressive displays and (2) building confidence in the opposing party by allowing the two cats to spend time together without the threat of attack.

The moral is that we humans are far too anxious to just see how they do, but taking a little more time in the very beginning will help us achieve much more harmony in the long term.

Behind the Hiss

When scared or threatened, your cat will pull back her lips, bare her teeth in a menacing fashion and let out a puff of air that sounds like a hiss. This behavior is mimicry of a scary natural predator that most animals are afraid of — the snake, according to PetPlace. Snakes are feared by most animals, so imitating this frightening sound is a great way to scare off predators or other animals that your cat fears, without having to get into a physical tussle. Although a hiss sometimes indicates that your kitty is about to attack the newcomer, it’s usually just a warning for him to “back off” before she runs off.

Territorial Aggression

When a cat hisses at a new cat or kitten, she is expressing a form of territorial aggression. Your kitty views your home as part of her territory, one that she must defend from any strangers coming into it. Not only does hissing convey aggression, a warning to “stay away,” but it also establishes social order between cats. Your cat might hiss at the new kitty to let him know that she is the dominant cat in the house. This is especially true when a new kitten is introduced; your existing cat will want to establish herself as the older cat to be respected by the new little one.

Slow Introductions

When a resident cat hisses at a new arrival, it’s normal behavior and usually nothing to worry about. Take the introductions slowly. Confine your new kitty for a few days, allowing the cats to smell each other under the door and on towels you rub on them. They should begin to stop hissing at each other‘s scents. Open the door to the confinement room and place a see-through baby gate at the door. Give them lots of tasty treats only while they are near each other and showing no signs of hissing or growling. You don’t want to reward aggressive behavior by treating a cat that hisses. Once no hissing, spitting, growling or other signs of aggression occur, you can let your new kitty interact with your resident one.

Considerations

When introducing cats, never punish one for hissing. This is a natural behavior — both cats will associate the punishment with the presence of the other cat, delaying or preventing positive interactions between the two. While hissing usually signals to the other cat to “stay away or else,” it can also be the precursor to an attack if accompanied by a growl or shriek, according to VetInfo. Before things escalate to this level, separate the cats until they don’t respond to each other with any aggressive signs, including hissing. They might not become best friends, but at least they’ll be indifferent to each other, without any hissing.

1. Fear aggression

Fear aggression may be exhibited in a combination of offensive and defensive responses. The fearful cat may initially attempt to avoid the fear stimulus if that is an option. Fearful cats will typically hiss, spit, growl, pilo-erect (fur stands up), flatten their ears against the head and show a low or crouched body position. Pupil dilation is common. He/she may try to flee or attack, depending on the circumstances. Aggression is usually the last resort but it is often violent and over time may become learnt. Spraying may also occur.

Underlying causes

Cat personalities can be divided into two main genetic types: timid, fearful cats or confident, friendly cats, and this may account for some fearful behaviours. Inadequate or lack of socialisation prior to 12 weeks of age may also contribute to the cat’s responses. Cats can learn to be fearful of certain situations, especially if they have had an unpleasant experience with no opportunity to escape.

Treatment

Depending of the severity of the problem the cat may need no treatment or may need behaviour modification, such as desensitisation and counter-conditioning, in combination with medication in severe or long-standing cases. Behaviour modification involves desensitisation and counter-conditioning by slowly introducing the cat to the fearful situation in a gradual, controlled sequence. Firstly, the cat is offered a tasty treat such as vegemite, chicken, or dehydrated liver. Then, while the cat is eating, the fearful stimulus (other cat) is gradually introduced at a distance. The initial distance should be great enough not to cause any fearful response from the cat.This gradual approach may vary from days to months depending on the severity of the problem. The cat should not be forced into the fearful situation as that will exacerbate the fear. Putting several bells on the cat’s collar at varying intervals so that the victim has a warning signal of the other cat’s presence has proved to be helpful.Medication may also be needed (your vet will advise). The synthetic pheromone, Feliway®, can also be beneficial. Punishment, or forced restraint will aggravate the situation and must never be used as it is likely to increase the anxiety and impede learning.

2. Inter-male aggression

In male-male aggression the cat flattens his ears, howls, hisses, pilo-erects and uses both the teeth and claws in fights. The signs may be either active (threatening) or passive (blocking access).

Underlying causes

This type of aggression usually starts in entire males at 2-4 years of age when they reach ‘social’ maturity. In some cases it may be normal male-male aggression associated with mating. It increases during the breeding season and with overcrowding. In neutered cats it tends to appear later and it may be associated with social role (status).

Treatment

Pre-pubertal and post-pubertal castration reduces or stops the frequency of fights in about 90% of cases between entire males. Treatment may also involve changing the social environment. Cats in the same household should initially be separated so that no visual contact is possible and reintroducing them slowly as described for redirected aggression. It is important not to try to introduce them too fast, or too soon. In some cases permanent separation is necessary. Medication may also be needed (your vet will advise). The synthetic pheromones, Feliway® can also be beneficial.

3. Play Aggression

Cats often stalk, chase, pounce and lay in wait as a from of ‘play’, but this can also involve aggression in the form of biting and scratching. It is sometimes difficult to recognise play aggression as some cats play more roughly than others and do not retract their claws when they swat.

Underlying causes

Targets are usually moving objects or people and may be another cat, especially an older one, in the household. Young cats, especially those that are orphaned, hand raised or weaned early, are more likely to show this type of aggression and in many cases it may be normal behaviour.

Treatment

The aim of treatment is to redirect the play behaviour onto more suitable objects rather than trying to stop the behaviour completely. One way of achieving this is to provide the cat with appropriate toys, for example cat dancers®, cat wire toys, or cat tracks® (only use toys that are safe for cats – avoid string toys which can become an intestinal obstruction if swallowed) on which to pounce and direct these behaviours. However, the toys need to be changed at regular intervals, even daily, for the cat to maintain interest. The cat may first need to be taught how to play, and then encouraged to play with toys.Direct punishment, such as smacking, must not be used as this may encourage the behaviour and may lead to other problems, such as fear aggression or redirected aggression. A regular routine that involves interactive play time involving toys 2-3 times daily for 5-10 minutes is important to provide a natural outlet for the behaviour.Placing several bells on the cat’s collar at varying intervals has been advocated so that the victim has a warning signal of the cat’s presence. Acquiring a second kitten, preferably one that is not very young, may also help to teach the cat more appropriate behaviour.

4. Redirected Aggression

Redirected aggression occurs when the original target of the aggression is not accessible and the cat now directs its aggression towards an unrelated target, a person or another cat, that enters the area soon after.

Underlying causes

The eliciting factors of the aggression are different in the initial and subsequent episodes. The first episode is often missed by the owner and is triggered by a stimulus that the cat is unable to respond to. The cat is now highly aroused and directs its attention onto the next thing she/he sees. For example, a cat sees another cat through a window, but is unable to reach it. Another cat in the household then enters the room and the cat redirects the aggression to the second cat. In the second, and subsequent episodes, the initial stimulus no longer has to be present to elicit the aggression, just the target of the first attack.Commonly, the behaviour of the target also changes and this then results in a prolonged conflict, with the second cat now acting warily, running away, and showing avoidance behaviour whenever the first cat enters the room or approaches.

Treatment

The cat should be left alone until it is calm and no attempt should be made to try to calm or reassure it. If another cat is involved, then the cats should initially be separated regardless of whether it is the victim or the instigator of the aggression. Treatment then involves slowly reintroducing the cats to each other, (the same way a new cat is introduced into the household). They should be placed in separate rooms so that they can hear and smell each other, but no visual contact occurs. The cats should be rotated around all the rooms in the house until they have left their scent in every room. While the cats are separated, a regular routine should be established so that certain events such as feeding or playing occur at a set time each day. Ideally the cats are fed 5-6 small meals each day. The aim is for them to have a positive association with each other on re-introduction. This essentially means that ‘good’ things such as play or feeding will only happen in the presence of the other cat.The cats are then slowly reintroduced. Initially they are only in the same room during meal times. They are placed in cages at opposite ends of the room and are fed at this time. This should create a positive association with food and the presence of the other cat. If no hissing or spitting occurs and the cats eat the food, the cages are gradually brought closer and closer to each other over a period of days and meals. This may take several weeks. Then one cat at a time is allowed out of its cage to explore and, if no aggression occurs, then both are allowed to interact under supervision. The re-introduction needs to be slow.In some cases medication may also be needed (your vet will advise). Synthetic pheromones – Feliway® diffuser plugged into the room can also be beneficial to decrease anxiety. Your vet will advise.

5. Territorial Aggression

The cat may patrol its territory and mark it by rubbing or spraying to maintain social distance as well as define hierarchy. The cat is aggressive to another cat that approaches or enters his territory and he may attack.

Underlying causes

The behaviour may be more marked in entire toms in the breeding season. Unfamiliar cats are less well tolerated than familiar or neighbouring cats. The aggression decreases with increased distance away from the territory.