Why Do Cats Growl?

Why Do Cats Growl
Image: istockphoto.com / gtlv

Some cats can be quite vocal and they can have quite a few vocalizations in their vocabulary. One of these is the low rumbling growl. If you have not yet heard what a cat growl sounds like, it sounds like the growl of a dog – low, deep, and rumbling. Some cat owners compare a growl to the sound of a creaking door.

Why do cats growl?

Can usually growl because they are signaling aggression, fear, distress, or pain. Like other cat behaviors, you have to take the context into account to better understand why your cat is growling. Most people associate growling with aggression. To a certain extent, that is true. But a growl can also mean other things.

1. Your cat is sending a warning.

Cats will growl when they send out a warning to people and other animals to back off. Typically, this growl is accompanied by body languages like bristled fur and ear movement. Ignore the warning and you will end up dealing with an angry cat.

Kittens do this type of growl instinctively when they try to prevent people from approaching them. Adult cats, on the other hand, use this growl for a couple of situations. For instance, cats will growl against intruders who attempt to enter their territories. Some cats will also growl at their humans when they want to be left alone.

2. Your cat is afraid.

It does not take much to scare a cat. For example, if you add something into a room like a piece of furniture, your cat can become tensed and apprehensive. While other cats will run and cower, other cats show their fear by growling and making themselves look bigger by raising the fur on their backs. This posturing signals that although your cat is afraid, he will not back down from the source of the fear.

3. Your cat is asserting dominance.

Cats are highly territorial animals. In part, this arises from their need to protect the resources in their territories. This is why cats do not immediately warm up to the idea of having visitors at home, human or otherwise. This is also the reason why you should properly introduce a new cat to the resident cat.

Cats can growl when they sense, right or wrong, that there is someone or something that is encroaching on their territory. This type of growl is your pet’s way of asserting his dominance.

Even two cats that have formed a bond will exhibit this behavior. The relationship between two cats is predicated on the idea that one will take the dominant role and the other one will be submissive. Sometimes, growling is a way for the dominant cat to remind the other feline of his role in the relationship.

4. Your cat is angry.

If your cat is growling while his ears are flat against his head and fur is raised, it means that your cat is angry and should be left alone. In most cases, cats try to avoid getting into altercations. But when a cat growls and shows body language as described above, it means that he is ready to fight.

Your cat is angry.
Image: istockphoto.com / Vyacheslav Dumchev

5. Your cat is in pain.

When cats are injured, dying, or in pain, their instinct is to hide. In any of these states, cats feel most vulnerable to attacks from predators. This is why felines have earned the reputation of being good at hiding their sickness. But at home, cats can use a tell-tale sign: growling. If you attempt to touch a cat that is in pain because of an injury, disease, or disorder, it may greet you with a growl. 

You may also elicit a growl from your pet when you touch a specific area. It can be a sign that he is injured in that part or it can be a symptom of a health issue. Here, your best bet is to go to the vet for a checkup.

6. Your cat is stressed.

Cats hate it when their routines and environments are changed. Although cats are adept at coping with change, they certainly do not welcome it. This is why you should be consistent with them. It does not take much to stress a cat. Even the slightest change can trigger your pet’s anxiety. More so with major life changes like moving to a new home or losing a member of the household.

Pay attention to your cat’s body language and behavior. Removing the factor that causes stress or at the very least, helping him deal with anxiety is crucial. Prolonged stress translates to an elevated level of cortisol in your pet’s body, which in turn can lead to disorders and diseases.

7. Your cat is being protective.

If your cat has just given birth, it is best to leave your pet alone with her kids. Do not encourage kids and houseguests to approach the litter. Cats are highly territorial and protective of their kittens. If they sense that someone may be a threat to their kittens, even if unfounded, they will growl as a warning sign.

But cats can also be protective of things and humans. Your cat might growl if you attempt to take away his favorite toy. And as previously mentioned, cats have a jealous streak. They will warn other cats and humans to stay away from you when they are jealous.

8. Your cat does not like interacting with other animals

It is usually not a good idea to go on a playdate with other pets. Cats do not like meeting unfamiliar animals and it can take some time before they accept another pet in their homes.

This is why you should properly introduce two cats before allowing them to meet face to face.

Your cat does not like interacting with other animals
Image: istockphoto.com / GluePromsiri

What to do with a growling cat

The last thing that you want to do is to punish your cat physically or verbally. Cats are intelligent and have a good memory. If you punish your pet, he will dislike it and your bond with your pet might suffer.

Instead, consider your cat’s personality. Some cats are confident while others are timid. Knowing your cat’s personality will help you better understand the underlying reason behind the growling.

Next, evaluate the situation. What are the possible triggers behind this behavior? Perhaps your houseguest was too overeager in attempting to play with your cat. Or perhaps, your cat is suffering from an illness, and you might have missed other symptoms he has been exhibiting.

It is also a good idea to decipher his body language to get a better understanding of the context. Maybe he is afraid or simply being protective.

Observe his behavior to learn if he needs the attention of a veterinarian. If you must handle a growling and angry cat, make sure that you wear protective clothing to protect yourself from potential bites and scratches.

What a cat’s growl is telling you

Cats are complex creatures that communicate in a multitude of ways. It can be confusing to hear your cat growl at you. But understanding his body language and putting things into context will give you a deeper insight into what your pet is telling you.