What have I done to offend you, kitty?
July 6, 2009 11:25 AM   Subscribe

Why is my roommates' cat hissing at me, and what should I do to convince her to stop?

My housemates have two cats--sisters, about a year old. I moved in when the cats were still kittens, so they've known me most of their lives. One of them is as calm, friendly and loving a cat as you could want, if a bit shy and retiring. The other, however, seems to be taking an increasing dislike to me and has developed a habit of hissing at me for no obvious reason, often accompanied by a swipe from her claws.

Occasionally she does this for more or less understandable reasons--because I'm trying to remove her from some location where she's trying to get into trouble, or because she's decided she's Done Playing. She never hisses at my roommates, but they are her "parents" and so presumably she's more tolerant of their interference.

More often, however, she hisses just because I try to pet her, or for no reason at all. She has a baffling habit of sitting next to my alarm clock and hissing or attacking every time I reach for the snooze button--my roommates think that she might be especially aggressive while in my room because she can smell my pet snakes. At other times she'll hiss, claw, and then roll over onto her back as though wanting to play.

She's been hissing more and more often lately. Why is she doing this? How should I react? Should I speak sharply so she knows it annoys me, or should I ignore it, or what? I would really like to be friends with her, and at the very least I want to co-exist peacefully.
posted by fermion to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
What are the ears and tail doing when she hisses as you? Ears back? Tail above the body or below? Curved? Which way (up/down?)?

Generally a hissing cat is one I back away from very slowly, and I grew up with them. They're mighty pissed if they are hissing. I've never heard of back rolls associated with it though.
posted by jwells at 11:37 AM on July 6, 2009

Ignore it completely, do not give it any time or any attention, especially avoid talking to it. Don't even look at it. The alarm clock forces interaction so maybe I'd move it or again just hit the snooze button and not look at or acknowledge the cat and see what eventually happens.
posted by juiceCake at 11:38 AM on July 6, 2009

I've had cats who would hiss at me just for looking at them crosswise. Sounds like Kitteh Hates You, so I'd just make it my policy to ignore kitteh.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 11:40 AM on July 6, 2009

If your housemates are amenable to this, you can get just about any cat to stop hating you if you give it sufficient cat treats (or catnip) and otherwise leave it alone unless it comes to you.
posted by jeather at 11:41 AM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: jwells, usually ears-back--I'm not sure about the tail, I'll check next time.

I should mention that she isn't always unfriendly; often she'll rub against my leg and purr and allow me to pet her. But it's hard for me to tell the difference between her friendly moods and her unfriendly ones, and of course she's apt to switch back and forth rapidly.
posted by fermion at 11:44 AM on July 6, 2009

My wife had a cat that hated me, until I took over feeding duties for a while.

Now it tolerates me. YMMV
posted by bitdamaged at 11:49 AM on July 6, 2009

My sister had a loving cat that completely turned on her when she got pregnant.

That's how it started, hissing and then clawing. About 7 months into the pregnancy, the cat attacked her womb, literally jump on her pregnant stomach and started scratching her.

Are you pregnant?
posted by foooooogasm at 11:49 AM on July 6, 2009

I always try a felinomorphic approach: hiss and growl back.
posted by rhizome at 11:53 AM on July 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

I'd say let her dictate the terms....if she's rubbing on you, give her attention until she wants you to stop. Otherwise, leave her alone. I've had to be around cats who are almost exactly like this, and by abandoning my will and just letting them run the show (within reason, of course) they warm up eventually.
posted by nevercalm at 11:54 AM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: At other times she'll hiss, claw, and then roll over onto her back as though wanting to play.

It's possible that this particular cat just hisses in a lot more situations than most cats do. Other than the hissing, this particular description sounds like play fighting, which is totally normal. I agree with what others have said though that this doesn't sound like most cats, usually hissing means "go away", and is only one step away from growling. Also, cats are territorial and in my experience hissing can be a way for cats to defend their turf.

How should I react? Should I speak sharply so she knows it annoys me, or should I ignore it, or what?

If you think the cat is not really "friends" with you yet, you could try spending more time with her and see if she gets more comfortable with you. Failing that, I would suggest just ignoring the cat or leaving the area (if possible) when she hisses. That way, you won't be reinforcing the behavior if she's just doing it for attention.
posted by burnmp3s at 12:07 PM on July 6, 2009

You shouldnt let the cat come into your room.
posted by BobbyDigital at 12:12 PM on July 6, 2009

Making friends=treats. You could feed it little bits of tuna, whenever she's not somewhere/doing something she shouldn't be, until she thinks you're the best ever. With your roommates' permission, of course. My cats hiss all the time, at each other or the dog, but it's generally a startle hiss, someone took a flying leap onto the sofa and someone else freaked out--maybe she's extra jumpy in your room? I don't know if the tuna will help that, but it should help the general situation.
posted by lemonade at 12:28 PM on July 6, 2009

Response by poster: Pretty sure I'm not pregnant (nor possessed by demons.)

rhizome, does that actually work, or is it just more personally satisfying?

It's possible that this particular cat just hisses in a lot more situations than most cats do. Other than the hissing, this particular description sounds like play fighting, which is totally normal.

She does sometimes hiss while play-fighting with her sister, with whom she otherwise seems to get along fine. And she'll occasionally go from purring to hissing and then straight back to purring.
posted by fermion at 12:30 PM on July 6, 2009

My sister had a Siamese that used to like to climb up on top of the (unusually tall) refrigerator and crouch down so you couldn't really see it. Then, as dad would reach into the fridge for a beer, the cat would reach down and scratch him on his bald spot.

The same cat would also sit by my large collie-shepherd mix's drinking bowl and try to catch his tongue as he noisily lapped up his water. One day we were all sitting in the living room when the familiar sound of lapping was followed by a high-pitched screech, and then the dog walked slowly into the room with the astonished-looking cat hanging from either side of its jaws, went over to my sister and dropped the completely unharmed cat at her feet, turned deliberately around and walked back to resume drinking. Miss that cat, miss that dog.

I'd say the cat really isn't that mad at you, but sees you as a rival/playmate by turns. Feeding her as bitdamaged suggests seems like a good idea.
posted by jamjam at 12:36 PM on July 6, 2009 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Should I speak sharply so she knows it annoys me

Cats don't care if they annoy you, and they don't perceive a sharp tone as punitive. This is an approach for a dog, not a cat.

I'd reward it with treats and affection when it's being cuddly, and ignore it otherwise. Stop touching it immediately when it hisses or claws at you. Swatting back, yelling, etc are totally ineffective because the cat interprets it as "must increase aggression to get human to go away."

As for why it's doing this, it could be bored. Are you and your roommates away from home more than normal? Has there been some other change in the environment? Are the snakes new? Even moving around furniture can disturb a cat's routine.
posted by desjardins at 12:40 PM on July 6, 2009

Do not try to pet or play with this cat. You are not communicating well with eachother. I have met cats that suddenly go from happy purring and petting to biting. I've learned that it is better for me (and possibly the cat) to stop it. It's hard to not pet a friendly seeming cat, but I don't like to be attacked, it can get its love from somebody else.

I agree, if she is swatting you while you hit snooze, don't allow her in your room. BTW, rolling over on its back can also be a sign that a cat is ready to fight. All four paws ready.
posted by Gor-ella at 12:43 PM on July 6, 2009

Could be perfume, soap or detergent you are using.
posted by fire&wings at 3:11 PM on July 6, 2009

Feed the cat. From now on you do most of the feeding. It will take a while but the cat will come to like you.
posted by Admira at 4:26 PM on July 6, 2009

Best answer: Purring doesn't necessarily mean a happy cat. They'll purr to reassure themselves in a scary situation too. Our current cat is the most expressive I've ever seen though. Every time I pick her up she purrs, and I can't be near her without her tail touching me. That's what tipped me off to tails in general.

They use them like another appendage, but for emotions. "Hey, what's up?" (45 deg up), "Yo" (straight back), "Leave me alone" (45 deg down), "I'm scared" (between the legs), and when seated nearby she'll just leave it touching my arm or leg, as though to say "I'm here, but chilling".

I'd say you're doing something it doesn't like (as in, some don't like to be picked up, have sensitive ears, etc.). You can try to figure that out and stop doing it, or condition her to tolerate it. Feeding it is a good ideal, but so is playing with it (so it is tired and gives you a break). I've spent too much time playing with them but here's my list:

* The stupid plug they put in the spout of milk containers (the paper not plastic ones) is a never ending source of fun for them. Wash it off and flick it in a direction and they'll go to it. Then you can flick it again. I almost have ours trained to fetch and return it. Almost.
* Wire, the stiff kind, with some fabric tied to the play end. Pretend it's a flying insect. They love it.
* String, of course, but they try to eat it sometimes so be careful. Pulling a half eaten string out isn't fun.
* Bags, boxes, etc.
* They like climbing in, on, and especially under things, so string is nice but string being dragged under a blanket till it disappears will drive them nuts.
* "Battleground" - chuck blankets and pillows on the ground and drag the wire or string through there. They love it since it's a novel environment. Like video games for humans, but for cats.
* Watching water swirl down a drain, or ceiling fans with a string tied to a blade. I could swear they're on drugs sometimes.
* Explore. They can only reach stuff a foot or so off of platforms. A big treat is holding them and letting them sniff light switches, fans, hard to reach bookshelves, ceiling fans, and whatever else is around. Gets old after a few times though.
* Textures and colors. Aluminum foil is a great enemy. Tape has to be licked. Crinkly things must be bitten. Anything with oil in it will be licked. Notice they don't have sugar receptors. They won't show much interest in sweet things. Be careful with foods though.
posted by jwells at 7:29 AM on July 7, 2009

« Older How should I point my two nearly-identical domains...   |   Can has squamous text? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.