Why Doesn't My Cat... Hiss?

Cat meowing
If your cat doesn't hiss much, she may show she's upset by grumbling, howling, being silent or even purring.

Penelope is my 4-year-old cat, and she is the marvel of the neighborhood. Everyone remarks that she is such a mellow feline; she purrs, meows and rubs lovingly on anyone in her vicinity, and she’s never once hissed. My dad is particularly enthralled, as his own cat — a 15-year-old calico named Polly — can’t even seem to go an hour without snarling at someone or something.

They’re both rather extreme examples of cat behavior, but which one is normal? Is it normal for a cat to skip hissing behavior altogether?

Fortunately for me and for other owners of non-hissing cats, this is a perfectly normal variation in cat communication. Hissing is, at its core, a warning behavior — a sound cats make when they feel frightened or vulnerable. The accompanying body language sometimes makes it clear: The flattened ears, open-mouthed grimace and arched back all help drive home the message that a hissing cat is an unhappy, aroused cat who needs whatever is happening at the moment to stop.

Hissing is a beneficial behavior in that it gives someone a clear opportunity to stop whatever it is he or she is doing that is upsetting the cat. In that respect, having a cat who hisses when she is upset is a clear advantage. A cat who doesn’t hiss might simply have a more calm, less fearful temperament to begin with, but she also might just be a cat who doesn’t give a lot of warning before becoming aggressive.

Cats are individuals who choose to express themselves in a wide variety of ways; a cat who doesn’t hiss may grumble, howl, be completely silent or purr when she is upset. It’s important to evaluate your cat’s state of mind by looking at the entire context of where she is and what other behaviors and body language she is exhibiting rather than focusing on one single behavior (or the lack of one).

An important exception to the “don’t worry about it” approach is if you have a cat who normally hisses in certain situations but suddenly stops doing so. In this case, the fact that this behavior is a deviation from her normal temperament might be a cause for concern, and a visit to the veterinarian would be warranted to rule out medical problems, pain or other causes for a change in her normal patterns.

In our case, we are simply happy to enjoy the company of a chill cat who’s a lover, not a fighter. Our ever-goofy Golden Retriever, who long ago learned the risks of trying to play with my father’s cat, agrees.

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