Tuesday 8 July 2008

Cat Hiss

Scottish Wildcat hissing
Scottish Wildcat hissing

Photo: the small wild cats are the domestic cat ancestors - photo by Nick Lawes.

We hear a snake hiss, we hear a cat hiss, is there a connection? Well yes there is or that seems to be the case.

domestic cat hissing
Domestic cat hiss
I feed a stray cat who stays into my home and then disappears. He hisses at my girl cat but it's getting less these days. This concerns me but my girl cat is just great about it. He makes a sound that is very similar to the sound made by a snake.

Snakes are to be avoided because they are often poisonous. We as humans know that. We associate hissing with danger therefore. Hissing is a form or protection for the snake and the same applies to the domestic cat.

Animals use mimicry a lot in the wild. There are 3 types of mimicry Batesian mimicry, Muellerian mimicry, and self-mimicry (src: http://rainforests.mongabay.com). Mimicry occurs when one animal imitates another for reasons of defense and self protection. Thus, a more vulnerable animal will pretend to be a less vulnerable or a dangerous animal, as a defense mechanism, against a predator.

Puma cat hissing
A big cat, the Puma hissing - photo by deadeyebart a.k.a Brett

The small wild cat, now a domestic cat, has evolved it is thought to mimic a snake's hiss as a form of protection. So, when I hear my stray cat hiss at my girl it is not an attacking position he is taking but one of defense, as he is frightened. My girl cat does not hiss back, by the way, indicating a more relaxed attitude, probably because she is more secure. I am not sure if the big cats hiss or not, as they don't really need to. They are not vulnerable and don't need to pretend to be another animal. However some quick research indicates that they do (see the Puma above).

See a serval hiss...

Cats also spit when they hiss, further mimicking a snake's spit. The sand cat is particularly adept at this. And finally a cat may move her/his tail in a manner reminiscent of a snakes body.

All create the impression of a snake and a dangerous animal so the predator is forced to clear off. The cat hiss is a great act of deception and very effective.

Middle picture by Vaughan. All pictures published under a creative commons license kindly granted by the photographers credited.

Cat Hiss to Cat purr


  1. i have a cat i beleive to be an egyptian mau and he never has hissed. Instead he spits, but never hisses. Is this normal?

  2. Cats also mimic snakes visually - the tabby markings on body and tail, when curled up and asleep mimic the coils of sleeping snakes. When hissing, the ears are flattened back, eyes and jaws open wide, exposing formidable fangs, head stripes and slitted pupils enhance the snake like appearance.


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