Normally domestic and unowned cats have a tendency to retreat and hide when confronted with something or someone that frightens them. They do this silently as making a sound during this action would be pointless. But if they are cornered and can’t run off, they will be forced to defend themselves and part of that process is vocalising hostility in an attempt to scare of the perceived ‘hostile’.
Their initial sound will be one that transmits the message, “I fear you but don’t push me too far or I will turn on you”. The sound is a rather strange throaty, yowl. It might be described as a caterwaul as this is a description used flexibly. The video below is an example:
(Please note that I can’t ensure that the video will remain in place and work for the lifetime of this website as I do not own the video.)
The cat is frightened but still able to be aggressive. If the sound does not produce the required response in the ‘hostile’ he or she will lash out. This will be combined with the hiss and spit display sounds.
These are close range sounds which deliberately and instinctively mimic the sound of the snake. It seems that the evolution of the domestic cat’s wild ancestor (North African wildcat) included the development of these snake sounds because over eons they learned that they helped in survival as many mammals have an inborn fear of poisonous snakes and the hiss and spit are closely associated with snakes.
The cornered cat temporarily pretends to be a venomous snake in the hope that the aggressor will clear off.
My cat has done this to me when he brought in a mouse. It was his kill and he was insistent on keeping it. I wanted to save the mouse. He refused to cooperate and hissed and growled. There was no spit but the classic hissing sound was there. And it did not matter to him that I was his provider and caretaker as it was entirely instinctive.
Below are two posts when cats made snake sounds under unusual (to the human) circumstances.
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