Why do cats hiss at dogs? Answer: because they feel threatened.

Why do cats hiss at dogs? I have answered the question in the title. I will expand on it. The domestic cat hiss is very similar to that of the same sound produced by a snake. It is claimed that the feline hiss is a case of animal mimicry. Cats have learned to copy the snake as a means to defend themselves. Predators respect venomous snakes. They might pause when they hear a snake hissing if they are in the process of attacking it. This might give the snake long enough to escape. The hiss a defensive measure.

Sphynx cat hissing
Sphynx cat hissing. Photo in public domain.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It appears to come from an instinctive fear of snakes. It is an inborn reaction. The theory that the cat is copying the snake is borne out by the fact that cats often spit when hissing. Splitting is another way that snakes react when threatened. There is a possible third way in which the cat mimics the snake. When they are threatened their tail twitches and thrashes in a particularly noticeable way. It is preparation to either fight back at the predator or to flee.

We know that dogs are a threat to cats because dogs are predators and instinctively, they prey upon cats. It doesn’t always happen because many dogs are socialised to cats and therefore they like them. This suppresses or eliminates the inborn instincts.

Of course, cats hiss at other cats for the same reason. Cats sometimes hiss at their own human caregiver even if their caregiver is doing an excellent job. Something might happen such as a cat owner trying to take a favourite toy from a kitten. The kitten perceives the act as if the owner is stealing their prey. It’s a threat. They hiss as a defensive measure to tell the person to stop it.

Cat hissing at another cat
Cat hissing at another cat. Picture in the public domain.

A cat will instinctively hiss at a dog whether they are socialised to cats or not. This explains a little story on the Internet of a man with his cat at a veterinary clinic. This cat was on his lap which was brave or perhaps foolhardy because it’s best to keep cats in a carrier at a veterinary clinic. Anyway, a laid-back German Shephard dog decided to check out his cat. Instantly his cat’s claws came out. The ears went back in that well-known defensive position and his cat hissed at the dog. The dog was completely unfazed. In other words, as a defensive measure the hiss in this instance did little to protect the cat. It seems that the dog had been reprogrammed through domestication to ignore the hiss as if coming from a snake.

Some more on the cat hiss below:

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