cat hissing at me

What to Do If Your Roommate’s Cat Hisses at You

cat hissing at me

That’s not a nice situation to be in at all. You should not have to put up with it, especially if you are paying half the rent and other shared expenses. Clearly, you have a problem relationship with the cat hissing at you, but what is causing it.

Who is driving this situation? Is it your roommate, the cat or you? So many questions: There always are, where humans and animals meet. Let’s dig down and find out what’s going on in this part of your life.

The basics of what to do if your roommate’s cat hisses at you are:

  • Make sure the cat is not in pain
  • Give it time to get used to you, only approach if it wants it
  • Cats are very independent; often more interested in people who are ignoring them
  • Offer treats, and play using cat toys so the cat wants to come to you
  • Don’t go into areas it considers it’s turf

Let’s start with the deal that humans have with cats … or is it the other way around? If you think human are complicated, wait until you get to understand cats better, and learn what they think humans are.


Creating a relationship between the cat and you which works

relationship with cat

With pets there can two types of relationships.

  • Mutualistic relationships are where both species benefit. Bees harvest pollen which becomes the primary protein for their hive. They also spread the rest around so the plants can propagate.
  • Commensal relationships occur where only one species benefits, while the other neither gains nor loses. Pilot fish dine on their hosts’ leftovers; birds follow grazing animals and feast on the insects they disturb.

Relationships between humans and cats are all somewhere on a spectrum between those two extremes. However, it’s important to remember the cat we share our lives with is there because it suits it. When that chain breaks, it may wander off in search of another place to park.

Dogs, on the other hand may remain faithful to their owners no matter how badly they treat them. Their loyalty works differently. A cat is not dog, and vice versa. However, as we will discover cats can also form powerful bonds with their owners.

  • If you try to home a stray cat, your relationship may remain primarily commensal, that is you are a convenient feeding station, and that’s it from the cat’s perspective. However, you may feel good about rescuing the animal, although it may have been getting on fine on its own.
  • If you adopt a young kitten you have a better chance of creating a mutually loving companion. In fact, Science Alert believes cats can bond with their humans as strongly as dogs do.  They say “the majority of cats are securely attached to their owner and use them as a source of security in a novel environment.”

Which type of relationship do YOU share with your roommate’s hissing cat? And for that matter what kind of relationship does your roommate share with THEIR cat. This information can help us understand why your roommate’s cat is hissing at you.

Cats are sentient creatures who are able to perceive and feel things. They’re also  adept at tunnelling under our defences.


Learn how cats bond with humans

cat owner

The researchers in the Science Alert report studied how kittens and cats respond to their ‘human caregivers’ in a strange environment.

  • They found two-thirds of the kittens were securely attached, while the rest were less bonded.
  • The researchers observed a similar pattern among adult cats. Interestingly enough, human infants have a similar distribution for this characteristic.
  • Their report concludes cats “have the ability and the necessary traits to form deep social bonds with humans. It’s just that they may express themselves in their own special way.”
  • An earlier study found that cats can be downright sociable and affectionate, so long as you ‘aren’t a jerk’ to them. And they often prefer to interact with humans over food or toys

Lead researcher animal scientist Kristen Vitale of Oregon State University concludes “In my opinion, it’s very important to go out and try to interact with your cat and see what happens. I think there’s this idea that dogs are this way, and cats are that way. But there’s a lot of variability in both populations.”


Let the cat feel like it’s in control

cat in control

Learning how to do this will create a much better relationship with your roomate’s cat, so it stops hissing at you.

Kristen Vitale carried out a further study on what makes a cat decide a human ‘is a jerk.’ This time, her subjects were 46 cats: 23 from shelters, and 23 from their own homes.

  • The researchers placed them individually in a room with a person. That person ignored each cat for two minutes, with the cat generally ignoring them.
  • Then they repeated the process, but with the homed cats and their owners. This time they allowed the owner to call their cat by name and pet it freely.
  • The cats spent more time with their owners while they showered them with attention. The researchers believe this suggests the cats were still in control.

“Even in the attentive phase, the cat had a lot of control, and that’s really what we think they like – the ability to leave.” Mikel Delgado a postdoctoral fellow who studies cat behavior explains. “It’s not that they’re aloof. It’s just that they want choice.”

  • The second phase of the experiment involved 23 cats from shelters. Their time at the shelter ranged from 3 to 455 days.
  • These cats spent more time interacting with the person who ignored them. This suggested they needed attention or a sheltered life made them act that way. 

Bristol University biologist John Bradshaw cautions this study ignores the fact that cats are territorial. “Cats behave quite differently depending on whether they know the place they’re in,” he says.

Nonetheless, to my mind, there is a clear message in this, as writer and past owner of several grumpy cats. Dogs may have owners, but cats have human companions for as long as cats wish. I’ll end this section with a quote by an American writer I simply could not resist.

“Perhaps one reason we are fascinated by cats is because such a small animal can contain so much independence, dignity, and freedom of spirit. Unlike the dog, the cat’s personality is never bet on a human’s. It demands acceptance on its own terms”

(Lloyd Alexander)

Understanding what your Roommate’s Cat is communicating when it Hisses at You

Cats use various techniques to convey information to fellow cats and humans they choose to interact with. These ways include vocal, visual, tactile, and olfactory signals.

That’s quite a mouthful so let’s take time out to understand how cats communicate in more detail. Knowing how they do so will help us understand why cats may hiss at a roommate.


The calls that cats send out

Cats have an extensive, nonverbal vocabulary. They can purr, meow, chirr, chirp and chatter, call, growl, snarl, hiss and spit, howl, yowl, moan and wail.

  • Purring generally means cats are feeling jolly, although it can also mean they are ill, tense, or in pain. The cat is reaching out, which is a positive sign.
  • Meowing is more demanding. Once you know a cat well, you will be able to tell whether it is asking for attention or wants something in particular.
  • Chirping is like a meow rolled off the tongue. Cats use it to welcome other cats and humans. Learn to mimic it when reassuring and greeting cats.
  • Growling, snarling, and hissing is signs of aggression. Cats do this when they are startled, angry or in pain. They may also be defending their turf.
  • If a hiss and growl warning does not work, then a cat may attack. Spitting is a shorter but louder and more empathic shot ‘across the bows.’
  • An angry cat may also yowl, moan, and wail loudly. Angry wails combine with growls, and yowls are similar to howls, but longer, so beware.

Cat body language to watch out for

cat body language
  • A cat lying on its back is probably signaling ‘hey everything is cool, and I trust you.’ However, be careful because this exposes their claws for a counterattack.
  • A calm cat, on the other hand, tends to stand in a relaxed pose with a motionless tail. It is happy with the way things are, so leave it alone.
  • However, an aggressive cat stiffens its hind legs, fluffs up its tail hairs, pushes its nose forward, and pulls its ears slightly back.

These things done by an aggressive cat are important signals to tell the aggressor to back off. Cats know their teeth and nails can cause serious injury. This is a set piece to convince the other cat (or human) to retreat. If this does not work, it may try to chase the threat away.

  • A defensive cat, on the other hand, makes itself look smaller, lowers itself to the ground, and leans its body away from the threat.
  • Flattened ears indicate fear and an unwillingness to attack. Opening the mouth without showing teeth invites a game and not a fight

Cats prefer to use these things instead of fighting because they don’t want to get injured.

If you ignore your roommate’s cat hissing at you, it may attack when there is no way to escape. These inbuilt responses enable these animals to survive in the wild. They cannot change … we have to adapt.


Touchy-Feely Messages from Cats

  • Cats like nothing more than having their tummies tickled. Cats that know each other well may lick each other. If a cat licks you, it may be saying I like you too.
  • They also instinctively tread soft objects with their front paws as if stimulating their mother’s milk. If they purr at the same time, then they are delighted.
  • Cats naturally greet each other by rubbing noses. If they rub their heads on humans, they may be showing affection, but there’s more to it than that.
  • If a cat ‘bunts’ or rubs its head against you, it may be trying to attract your attention. This is probably the case if it turns its head down or to one side.
  • However, head-bumping and cheek-rubbing are also an expression of social dominance. Therefore, the cat may be saying ‘watch it, I am in charge’.

Cats and other creatures, including bees excrete a chemical that attracts their own species possibly to mate. They have these scent glands under their paws and on their heads. When a cat treads you, it may be marking you as being cat-friendly.

Humans treat their cats as if they are little people and speak to them, although they may only understand the tone of their voice. Cats probably regard humans as a larger version of their own species put on earth to please them.


What a Cat Is Saying When It Bites You

Ouch, we say, why did you do that when I thought we were getting on so well? Hard biting accompanied by growling or hissing is a sign of aggression. However, a gentle nip while purring and kneading is a sign of affection and an invitation to play.


Oher reasons Why Your Roommate’s Cat Is Hissing at You?

We shared quite a few possibilities while reviewing how cats communicate. In fact, you may already have a few clues regarding why your roommate’s cat is hissing at you. Here are my own thoughts, based on my own experience of owning grumpy cats. If you have more to add after reading through, that would be great!


Possibility 1: The Cat is Hissing Because It is In Pain

hissing scratching cat

Cats cannot speak. They can only make the sounds we spoke about earlier. Humans also react strangely when they are in pain. I tried to pick up a cat with a broken leg once to take it to the vet. It bit me and scratched me so bad I will never try that again.

So how can you be sure your roommate’s cat is hissing at you because it is in pain? As opposed to just being mad with you because you are in its space? You need to look for other signs it is in pain too, and here’s a great list to get you started. Also get your roommate to take their cat to the vet if you have any concerns.

  • A hissing, or a growling cat is proof it is not happy. However, a cat may also purr like it is calling out to you, especially if it is a gentle friendly feline.
  • The animal may also change its daily habits by sleeping more and being less interested in food. It may also pace up and down repetitively and seem unable to be comfortable.
  • It could harm itself by constantly licking, biting and scratching a particular spot too. This could mask a serious problem if you notice hair loss or an open wound.
  • A cat in pain often lies with its feet tucked under, or arches its back. It may frown, have a wrinkled brow, stare into space, have enlarged pupils or flattened ears, or pant while resting.

If your roommate’s cat hisses at you and also has some of these symptoms, then there’s a chance the cat is ill. Share your concerns with your friend. They must take their cat to the vet for a check-up.


Possibility 2: The Cat is Still Getting Used to You

Growling, snarling and hissing are signs of aggression. Cats do this when they are startled, angry or in pain. They may also be defending their turf.

If you just moved into the apartment recently, perhaps your roommate’s cat is still getting used to you.

  • Give the cat the time and space it needs to become accustomed to you. Back off if it stiffens its hind legs, fluffs up its tail hairs, pushes its nose forward, and pulls its ears slightly back. Wait until you see the cat in a more relaxed mood.
  • Remember, the body language signs are standing in a relaxed pose with a motionless tail. It is happy with the way things are, stand still for a while and see what happens. Cats like to remain in control so don’t try to take over its movie.
  • If it wanders away without hissing, then you are making progress. If it stays in the room, try making the chirping noise like a meow rolled off the tongue. Cats use the sound to welcome other cats and humans. Mimic it and see if it responds.
  • Don’t be all over it like a rash if it reacts positively. The cat will come to you and roll over if it wants a cuddle. Make a habit of having tasty treats in your pocket. If you roll one gently towards the cat and it eats it, then you are developing a mutualistic relationship where you both benefit.

Possibility 3: Your Roommate’s Cat May Be Scared of You

A roommate’s cat may hiss because you scared it once and it doesn’t trust you anymore. That’s understandable, given your differences in size. If you stand next to a dinosaur model at a theme park you’ll know what I mean.

However, as we have been exploring, it could have other reasons for hissing too. If you notice some of the symptoms below then there’s a good chance the cat is fearful of something:

  • A defensive cat makes itself look smaller, lowers itself to the ground, and leans its body away from the threat.
  • Flattened ears indicate fear and an unwillingness to attack. Opening the mouth without showing teeth invites a game and not a fight

Cats are complex creatures, and no two are precisely the same. Just like people, some like to be the life and soul of the party, while others prefer to watch from a distance.

  • A naturally timid cat may prefer to hide away somewhere quiet
  • When they get a fright, they freeze because they are too scared to run
  • A confident cat is not afraid to come out into the open
  • A laid back cat may sniff a strange person with its tail in the air

Several things can trigger a fear reaction from your roommate’s cat and make it hiss.

  • Sudden, unexpected movements or a loud noise
  • A strange environment like being in the garden the first time
  • A stressful event like moving home or visiting the vet
  • A strange new animal or person – that could mean you!

Cats are creatures of habit. They don’t like things to change in ways outside their control. Therefore, you have to use psychology to stop your roommate’s cat hissing at you out of fear.

You are wasting your time – and the cat’s too – by trying to force it to do anything. That would nerdish, and cats may hiss at nerds too. The one thing they can’t stand is being ignored, and that’s what I want you to do.  

Cats are very proud, treating them like they are inferior to you never goes well!

  • Put delicious cat treats in your pocket, and I mean the best ones you can find
  • Ignore the cat while making sure it notices you are doing this deliberately
  • It won’t be long before curiosity gets the better of your roommate’s hissing cat
  • When it appears, as it inevitably will, roll a treat slowly towards it across the floor
  • Cats are suckers for food, and its curiosity will get the better of it again
  • The cat will start purring after it learns you are a buffet and not a threat

You hissing pussy will morph into your friend for life. However, you may like to downscale the treats so you can afford some for yourself.

Possibility 4: You May Have a Turf War on the Go

Some species of cats are incredibly territorial in the wild. A lone leopard may wander on its own for long distances, marking its territory with its scent glands. Domestic cats – and humans – adopt spaces as their own too.

If your roommate’s cat hisses at you when you cross invisible boundaries in the apartment, the two of you could be having a turf war. However, to confirm the aggression study their body language.

  • An aggressive cat stiffens its hind legs, fluffs up its tail hairs, pushes its nose forward, and pulls its ears slightly back.
  • This is an important signal to tell the aggressor to back off. Cats know their teeth and nails can cause serious injury. This is a set-piece
  • However, if this does not convince you to retreat, it may try to chase you away. It would be wise to back away until you decide what to do.

Cat psychologists suggest territorial aggression may indicate insecurity; in other words you are the threat and not the cat. However, the other possibility is you are disturbing the cat’s routine, especially if you only recently moved in

Cats are creatures of habit, how many times have we shared that. They want to be in the same space every sunny afternoon. If you camp out there too, you are messing with its routine.

It may believe you are trying to change something that works for it. No wonder your roommate’s cat is mad as a snake and hisses at you!


Possibility 5: The Cat Wants to Play

Cats are naturally aggressive animals because they are hunters. There is a fine dividing line between aggression and play fighting. Watch kittens having fun and you’ll soon see what I mean.

When they cross the boundary to aggression, they unleash their claws. Therefore it’s essential to understand what mode your roommate’s cat is in when it hisses at you. This takes me back more than a few years when I was at college.

  • My roommate decided to take over his friend’s cat, but it really made the decision
  • The cat got into a habit of ambushing me when I walked past and scratching me
  • It also liked to pounce on me at my computer and attack me as if I were its toy
  • I tried marking myself with deterrents and spraying water, but it did not help
  • Eventually, I solved the problem by graduating and moving to my own place

Hence, I never did find out why that cat was attacking me, although it did not hiss. As I continued with my mission to understand cats better I found these answers after extensive research.


Learn How to Deal with Aggressive Cats

aggressive cat

Cats don’t brush their teeth, and they don’t trim their nails. When they bite and scratch, they can cause contamination,\ and a small wound that takes a long time to heal.

  • An aggressive cat is behaving generally according to its own instincts
  • According to its worldview, it is entitled to defend is turf with its life
  • Therefore, if you try to counter aggression with aggression, it will get worse
  • Instead keep a diary of when it hisses at you in a particular part of the apartment. When you understand the triggers you can start resolving the conflict

What you want to do is take the aggression out the situation by avoiding the touchpoints where the cat starts getting stressed. Reward it for neutral-to-good behavior with tasty treats.

Cats are pleasure-seekers, and comfort and food junkies. We examined cat-human relationships early on in this article. You are after a mutualistic relationship where you both benefit from the deal. There’s no reason why you should not strike a compromise as cats seem to do among themselves.


Placing a Cat on the Play Fighting / Aggressive Spectrum

Mock attacks are a natural part of cat behavior. I guess they are learning to fight as kittens, and polishing their skills as adults.  It’s probably also true they think we are large, somewhat useful felines. Living with cats calls for compromises. Being a cat’s sparring partner may be one of them.

Here’s are the signs to watch for to know which mode the cat is in

  • Play-fighting cats take turns to attack with peaceful pauses in between
  • Meows are frequent: hissing, spitting, and growling mean a serious fight
  • Their ears usually point up or forward when mock-fighting including with you
  • If their ears are turned back or pressed against their head then they are fighting
  • When cats are fighting for real, they make their hair stand up so they look bigger
  • Retracted claws suggest they are playing a game. If they scratch you they are not
  • Much the same logic applies to biting. If it nips you and backs off, then it is playing
  • Finally, cats lean forward when they are playing, but away when they attack

If your roommate’s cat is hissing while displaying other signs of aggression, then it probably resents you being in its territory (as it sees it).


What to Do, If Your Roommate’s Cat’s Hissing Means Aggression

This is not a situation we ought to ignore, because it is not pleasant for the people affected, and presumably, the cat too.

A cat behaviorist or other such professionals are good people to contact.

The other possibilities are to get rid of the cat or evict it from the apartment. You may need to contact an animal shelter, animal control, or a professional.

This is easier said than done. The hissing is the outward sign of a turf war. It is pointless imagining it will go away if you leave it outside the front door. Cats have strong homing instincts. If you give a problem pussycat to someone the chances are it may find its way back.

Cats also don’t rehome successfully. Remember, they choose to associate with us, not the other way around. There’s little chance of someone adopting the cat at an animal shelter when there are so many cute kittens. That just leaves euthanasia, a polite word for destroying life.

I had to do that once, when my neighbors found my cat sleeping in their baby’s pram. It was not nice.

We have to find a creative way to deal with a roommate’s cat that hisses aggressively when defending its turf. This is why it’s important to get advice with as many professionals and professional organizations as possible.


Should You Abandon the Fight, Give up the Struggle, and Move Out

If you move out of the apartment, your roommate will have to find someone else to share the rent and the expenses. There’s a good chance the cat will resent your replacement even more.

Therefore, moving out because your roommate’s cat resents you actually solves nothing, and  you are the loser because you have to start all over again.

I can’t recommend this solution either. Life is full of struggles, large and small, and you will have your share of them as you move through life. I believe the key is changing the things you can and peacefully living with those things you cannot.

Share Your Life With the Cat Appreciating It Is Also Stressed

As I get older, the more I stay focused on the acceptance of myself and others, and choose compassion over judgment and curiosity over fear

(Tracee Ellis Ross)

Therefore, I am going to close this article in a way I did not expect when I started. I believe it could be best for all of you – your roommate, the cat, and you – to learn to get on with each other.

Life teaches us to grow in the most unexpected ways. If you don’t fuel the flames of a fire it cannot spread. The time may eventually come when the cat stops hissing and jumps onto your lap. True quality in life takes patience to achieve.

If you have more thoughts or suggestions to add to my article that would be great! Please comment below.

Writer: Richard Farrell

richard ferrell writer


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