Snorting or Spitting?

Are a cat's vocalizations actually a form of hissing? A feline behaviorist explains the difference between snorting and spitting.

By Pam Johnson-Bennett

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Q: I am curious why my female cat, Mini, makes snorting noises, little outbursts of air, when I try to move her against her will. For example, sometimes I will play-wrestle with her while making the bed. Sometimes she hisses but it's never serious. Is snorting a common thing in cats?

Feline behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett, author of Think Like a Cat, says:
By "snorting" could you possibly mean spitting? A cat who reacts defensively may spit. This is where they curl up their tongue and force a burst of air out. It's a defensive sound usually made when startled. Sometimes the cat will hiss as well. This is common in cats but it's a form of communication you should be aware of so you can work around it to avoid it. If you have to move her against her will, don't startle her and see if you can do it in a gentle way. If she spits when you are playing with her, then you are getting too aggressive in the play and she's getting startled. You mentioned wrestling matches, does that mean you wrestle with her using your hands? If so, please don't do that anymore because that is probably causing her to cross over from play to defense. Cats and humans should not engage in wrestling-type play. The only type of play you should engage her in is interactive play using a fishing pole toy or toss a small toy across the room for her to chase.

If the snorting sound is something she displays while resting or when walking or eating or drinking, and it sounds as if it's coming from her nose, then she may have a growth in her nasal passages and that would have to be checked by the veterinarian. I do believe, based on her description that she is actually displaying spitting behavior but I wanted you to be aware in case.

Best,
Pam Johnson-Bennett, CABC
IAABC-Certified Animal Behavior Consultant

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Reader Comments

CatChannel Editor    Irvine, CA

8/7/2013 10:39:40 AM

Chris -- From the above article, it sounds fairly common. Not very friendly, but common!

Chris    Pittsburgh, PA

8/6/2013 8:36:38 PM

I was taking care of my parents house when they were out of town. They have a female cat who freaks out when I am alone with her. She hisses and growls and tries to basically kill me. Last time I was home taking care of her she would make a pig sounding snorting noise. I am just wondering if this was common, and why she does this?

crystal    pittsburgh, PA

12/27/2010 5:19:26 PM

My cat does the spitting(pffff)sound when I walk away from her. She does this for attention. She will spit at me then run in front of me and flop over showing her belly. This happens at least once a day. Its the cutest thing.

Denise    Hatboro, PA

4/12/2009 10:51:45 PM

After reading your other stories the snoring may be because the kitten i rescued isn't fixed yet (but has an apt) and went into heat. I hope the spay with help settle the household down. Your web is VERY helpful! Thanks

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