Feline emotions are mysterious and often misunderstood by pet parents. Compared to dogs, cats are better at hiding their fears, and they make it harder for owners to determine the source of the behavior. However, you can study your pet’s body language for clues about their distress. Understanding what upsets your cat will help you calm them down and reduce future occurrences by avoiding the stressor.
When your cat growls or hisses at guests, your first reaction shouldn’t be to yell or chase the animal out of the room. While this may seem like a temporary solution to make your guest feel comfortable, it doesn’t do your cat any good and just scares them, potentially making things worse. It also does not address the cause of the aggression. Before labeling your cat as aggressive, you can examine why your cat may be acting unpleasantly towards strangers.
The 7 Potential Reasons Why a Cat Hisses and Growls at Strangers
1. Territorial Aggression
Like most animals, cats establish territories that may include the entire house or only sections of it. Although entire males can be more particular about their boundaries than females, both sexes can display aggression towards strangers or unfamiliar visitors. When a cat feels uncomfortable or threatened by a new presence in the home, they may respond by hissing, growling, or rarely attacking the stranger.
2. Maternal Aggression
Females are protective mothers that will lash out at anyone who approaches their kittens. If your feline is usually calm and friendly towards all humans, they can still show aggression if raising their offspring. It can take 4 to 6 weeks for kittens to be weaned from their mother’s milk, and mothers may display aggression towards strangers until their kittens become more independent.
3. Fear Induced Aggression
When a cat is fearful of someone in your home, they may display a combination of defensive and offensive aggression. When cats show a defensive stance, they will flatten their ears, tuck their tail in, have their hackles up, or crouch with wide open eyes and large pupils. However, if the visitor does not go away and continues to irritate the animal, they may turn to offensive tactics such as hissing, growling, or staring at the person while moving closer.
4. Pain Induced Aggression
Sudden aggression towards a visitor or family member is shocking to owners, especially when the cat is ordinarily sweet and good-natured towards all humans. A common cause of sudden aggression in cats is an illness, and pain can turn a lovable cat into a fearful and paranoid animal. Several medical problems, including trauma, arthritis, urinary tract disease, infections, and dental issues, can lead to aggression.
5. Redirected Aggression
Although it may seem like your pet is targeting a guest that they do not trust, the aggression could be related to another situation or animal that’s upsetting the cat. If a stranger approaches when your cat is staring out of the window at a bird or other animal in the yard, they can redirect their anger towards that person. The cat may see the person as someone who is interrupting their hunting prospects. A loud noise like a sonic boom or firework explosion may also upset the cat, and a stranger approaching when they’re scared may be met with hissing or striking. Cats may also be frustrated if they are teased by toys but not allowed to have them, so always make sure they have the chance to “catch” their toy and feel accomplished.
6. Petting Induced Aggression
You may have noticed your cat’s attitude abruptly shifts when they’re being petted. Some cats will purr and roll around and then strike or growl at the person petting them. Petting-induced aggression is not entirely understood by veterinary behaviorists. However, some veterinarians speculate that cats become irritated by repetitive motions. If someone rubs the same area repeatedly, the cat may have had enough and decide to warn the petter with a hiss or strike from their paw. Although many cats enjoy petting, some merely tolerate it.
7. Idiopathic Aggression
Aggression in felines is a complex subject that behaviorists and doctors have worked tirelessly to understand. Although the causes of deviant behavior are clearer, some aggressive acts are difficult to classify. When a veterinarian and a feline behaviorist have ruled out medical and behavioral problems, particularly redirected aggression, they may diagnose your pet with idiopathic aggression. That means that the cause of the aggression cannot be explained by the patient’s history or medical status.
Tips for Preventing Escalating Aggression in Cats
We’ve touched on some of the methods of reducing feline aggression, but here are a few additional suggestions for handling an angry cat.
A grumpy cat is amusing to some people, but aggression is not a behavior you want to see in your pet. Cats are small creatures, but their sharp claws and fangs can cause considerable injuries to unsuspecting humans. Determining the reason for the behavior is a priority, but you cannot expect your pet to change overnight. There may also be a medical reason for your cat hissing or growling that should be ruled out by a veterinarian.
Cats take longer to relax after a frightening occurrence than dogs, and it may take days or weeks for your cat to accept a new face in the house. However, following some of our tips, ensuring your cat is not painful or ill by taking them to the vet, and providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation and enrichment may help in keeping the animal relaxed and preventing injuries to your guests.
Featured Image Credit: Slava Dumchev, Shutterstock