My Cat Bites and Hisses for No Reason. Advice Please

This is another classic “cat behavior problem” that comes up time and time again. Often, perhaps always, cat behavior problems can be traced back to human behavior.

Be sure to read the comments too because they are by experienced cat caretakers – thanks.

The Problem

A person, Miss B, adopts a young cat of about 2 months of age from a shelter/rescue center. Let’s call the cat Abbie. The shelter people tell Miss B that Abbie likes to play a lot with plenty of rough and tumble. Fantastic, typical kitten behavior really.

At 7 months old Abbie starts to hiss and bite. Miss A complains that:

“people (guests) will be standing around and all of a sudden Abbie starts to hiss and bite in an apparently unprovoked way”.

Abbie is biting and hissing for no apparent reason.

Miss B has tried to stop this “unwarranted behavior” by saying “No” loudly and squirting water at her cat. Nothing works and in fact Abbie hisses and bites more than ever. What can Miss B do?

Cat hisses and bites for no reason

Cat hisses and bites for no reason

The Solution

Note: As usual this is my opinion. I am not always right.

There is obviously a reason why Abbie hisses and bites. Assuming the damage has not already been done, Miss B should immediately stop punishing her cat for expressing natural behavior in play-hunting and start to play with Abbie instead so that Abbie can express her natural, inner wild cat instincts in a controlled and acceptable way to her human companion.

In trying to stop natural cat behavior by punishment – saying “No” loudly or squiring water at Abbie – Miss B has simply made things worse and stimulated defensive/aggressive behavior in Abbie. It is almost as if Miss B has become a hostile threat to Abbie. Abbie wants to play with Miss B and Miss B then squirts water at Abbie. Abbie hisses etc. All pretty normal and not something that should be a surprise to the informed cat owner.

Even people who advocate cat training through negative reinforcement (punishment) will admit that cats often don’t make a connection between their behavior that a person doesn’t like and the punishment. Without that connection it is pointless and worse. Personally I reject the idea of cat punishment. There are far better ways and the first question should be, “what am I doing that might be causing this?”


What should happen next is that Miss B should put away the water bottle, stop any form of punishment and start regular and gentle play games with Abbie. Because Abbie has found the environment hostile the initial steps should be gentle to avoid defensive behavior from Abbie. After a while Abbie will learn that the environment is not hostile and she will stop hissing and biting.


Miss B refers to guests. She appears to have a busy home with lots of visitors. This may well be frightening to a young cat no matter how well socialised she is. This will make things worse and encourage more defensive cat behavior. Miss B should do something about that too. A bit of peace, quiet and routine in Abbie’s life will help her settle down and feel more relaxed and less defensive. Feliway may help to speed up the process but I don’t know how effective this product is.

The Underlying Problem

The underlying problem is a human one. Even a well intentioned and decent person can get things wrong if they have little experience of cat caretaking. They can make matters worse. This situation could easily lead to Miss B relinquishing Abbie back to the shelter, all because of a lack of understanding of cat behavior. I have to say, too, that, not infrequently, people don’t apply common sense to problem solving. The solution to this problem is really based on common sense.

The problem described is an real case scenario.

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My Cat Bites and Hisses for No Reason. Advice Please — 8 Comments

  1. Whoever had ‘a lot of rough and tumble’ with Abbie as a tiny kitten has caused this by stupidly playing bare handed with her, probably rolling her over, tickling her tummy, encouraging her to grab and kick. Now she’s growing up with sharp claws and teeth which hurt people she is expected to forget all that play, but it’s too late and as aggression breeds aggression Miss B is making it worse. Abbie is now on the defensive, she attacks before she is attacked!
    You are right Michael, all shouting and punishment needs to stop, squirting water is unkind and pointless and can be dangerous too.
    Abbie needs peace and quiet in her own home, guests ‘standing around’ will look threatening to the cat, therefore she hisses and attacks, before someone attacks her (as she thinks they will)
    Miss B needs some cat toys and if Abbie comes to attack, simply throw the toy to make a game of it, she will chase the toy which redirects her aggression to something she can’t hurt. Miss B should keep her away from guests until she has grown up a bit more and calmed down. With time and patience Miss B could prove to Abbie she’s safe in her own home but having been punishing the poor cat it will take quite a while. Has she the committment and patience? I hope so because if she returns Abbie to the shelter as aggressive, it’s almost certainly her death sentence if in the USA.

    • You make an excellent point that I missed. If Abbie was played with as you describe that would encourage biting the human hand etc. That habit may have been trained into her. Interesting thought that. It means play with a kitten should be carried out by a person in a certain way.

      • It’s a mistake often made, it’s fun and funny to some people tipping over a tiny kitten and tickling etc until they grab the hand or foot doing it, but not so funny when it starts hurting and the person yells and shakes the cat off. It’s always best to play with a cat toy, to encourage a kitten to chase and to bite and kick that instead of a human hand or foot. You hear of some cats running out and attacking peoples legs and feet and that’s why, because feet have ‘attacked’ them when they were kittens.
        Cats never forget!
        Miss B needs to get down on the floor and see the world from her cat’s view.I remember you wrote a brilliant blog Michael about how we look like giants to cats, it said it all!

  2. Once again, playtime will solve this problem. Quite simply Abby was never taught limits when playing as a kitten, perhaps due to not having littermates or something along those lines but also her caretaker probably didn’t say ‘ouch’ that hurts when she was supposed to and just yanked her arm away instead so Abby never learned when to stop. Now that she is bigger it is worse, more painful and seemingly more aggressive. But she just plays too rough and wants to play. Her caretaker must continue to play with her and when Abby gets too rough or dangerous her caretaker must back off and say ouch or just express that she is scared and sort of run away from the situation, but NOT with any kind of annoyance or anger otherwise she will seem to be playing harder in some sense. No, she has to teach Abby that she gets scared and is hurt by too much physical aggression. Its all going to take time and effort to keep up the regular playtime schedule. As for guests – its another question but since they have always been around it might not be that she doesn’t like them.
    I think she has been getting less playtime since this started and punishment – 2 things which exacerbate the problem. She needs lots of attention and the right kind of play. This is a common problem. One important thing, never get angry. It works the opposite way. It makes things worse and more confusing. Abby was probably an only kitten or only surviving kitten. The first 12 weeks are important for kittens to learn limits and so on. Also, at 7 months, Abby is a teenager and perhaps is going through that period cats go through where, just like humans, they push buttons and see how you will react. It’s childish. My cat in Canada used to knock things off the shelves and be really jumpy and violent around me and my stuff just to get me to react. It’s part of the growing up to be naughty 🙂

    • Another great point. Kittens need to learn limits when playing. When I stayed at A1 Savannahs, I watched F2 and F1 Savannahs playing and there was lots of noise. I was concerned about the noise and asked if the large F1 was hurting the smaller F2 cat. Martin Stucki, the owner with his wife Kathrin said that they learn their limits in play. This happens naturally.

      This is the video where kittens play and learn acceptable limits:

      If a person allows a kitten to overplay and bite in play without recognising that there are limits then this too would encourage behavior that is not suitable in a home.

  3. Hi Michael,

    Three things come to mind. Ruth and Marc hit on the first two issues well already and I agree with their assessments. I’ll do a spin on what they’ve already said and see if I can add a little to it.

    Three statements eclipsed everything else in the story and I’ve quoted them below:

    1. “The shelter people tell Miss B that Abbie likes to play a lot with plenty of rough and tumble.”

    2. “people (guests) will be standing around and all of a sudden Abbie starts to hiss and bite in an apparently unprovoked way”.

    3. “She appears to have a busy home with lots of visitors.”

    1. Sure, it’s normal for a kitten to play a lot with plenty of rough and tumble. But for a shelter to actually mention that means that they played with her that way and taught her that it was okay to “maul” during play.

    2. For one thing, the shelter taught her to bite (and scratch and perhaps to hiss (during play)). She may be signaling that she wants to play. If that’s the case then the cat isn’t acting defensive.

    But there is another possibility: she may simply be upset by so many people in her territory as you’ve pointed out, Michael. If that’s the case then it’s quite understandable that a cat would act defensive.

    I am sure that in either case, a squirt from a squirt gun is the wrong action to take in this situation.

    Whether a squirt gun is used in private or not, the cat should somehow learn not to be rough with claws and bites – not with any human.

    I don’t like using squirt guns except when all else fails and the behavior absolutely can’t continue. One thing that comes to mind is scratching on the sofa after many failed attempts to teach a cat to use the scratching post that has been purposefully placed right next to the sofa.

    But I’m opposed to chasing them around the house and soaking them with it. Just a squirt or two at a time sends them running and they don’t view it as punishment. All they know is they get wet when they scratch the sofa or where ever they were when they got wet.

    I’d rather not punish or “train” at all. I would never hurt my cats physically or emotionally.

    3. I wonder if the guests were kind of loud and if there were too many of them. That may have to be changed as well – fewer visits by fewer guests who aren’t quite as loud.

    I agree with everyone that the cat needs more play time. I think that will help in general and may also help with what’s specifically going on. I also think that the cat should gently and gradually – with time and patience – learn not to bite or scratch as hard.

    Oh, I just remembered that she hisses at the guests too…that may be her way of initiating play. I have a cat that sometimes does that during play and it’s just her way of getting into it more – to make play more intensely fun.

    It might be scary to people who don’t understand the hissing as playful but I don’t think the cat should be trained not to hiss. I think the host should just explain it like “She does that when she wants to play”. Sure, it might not sit well with everyone but that’s their own problem 😉

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

    • Wow, Liz, that is some comment. Actually, it is not a comment but an article. Thanks for taking the time to write it and pass on your experience. I hope this page helps a lot of people because this sort of problem is quite common, I believe. I have asked visitors to have a look at these great comments because they are so instructive.

  4. Hi Michael,

    You’re welcome.

    Hairless Cat Guy (my husband) and I had a bit of a discussion about this because we were both concerned and wanted to be helpful to your visitors. So some of it was his own ideas. He cares about cats as much as I do.

    He and I often discuss your posts because they contain such important issues. Hats off to you Mr. POC.

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

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