Growling is a cat’s first sign of anger or fear. When your pet makes that deep, guttural sound as you are about to scoop her up, it clearly means she does not appreciate your form of affection.
Whether we like it or not, most cats hate the feeling of being held because it gives them no leverage, as if they are being restrained or carried away by a larger predator. Even though we do it lovingly, some cats simply cannot appreciate it, especially if they have not been trained to get used to being held. So, if your cat growls when you pick her up, take it as your signal to back off.
With this in mind, it is important to make sure you understand your cat’s body language so that you can maintain a loving relationship with your pet.
Why your cat is suddenly growling when you pick her up
Cats do not have irrational mood swings; if they growl, there is a reason for it. They might look moody and irritable, but there are several genuine reasons our feline friends might suddenly display signs of aggression. Your cat might be growling at you because she is aroused by a mouse in your garden, or perhaps she is struggling with an illness or physical pain and wants to be left alone.
Whatever the reason is, it is important to understand when to back off to avoid getting hurt. The most common reasons a cat might growl when picked up are summarized below:
1. Your cat is sending you a warning
Growling is your cat’s way of telling you to back off – she is warning you to stop whatever you are doing or she will have to do something about it. If your cat growls while you are trying to pick her up, it is a clear sign that she does not want you to continue approaching or scooping her up.
Let’s face it – not all cats love being held – and there is a reason for that. Although picking our pets up is our way of showing affection for our fur babies, cats simply do not feel the same way. Instead, our loving intention can be misinterpreted as a form of restraint. And when you scoop up your cat against her will, she might also feel disrespected.
As a result, Fluffy will hiss and growl, which translates roughly as “stay away or I will bite!”
2. Your cat is afraid
Growling is not always a form of aggression or annoyance. Most cats also growl when they are afraid. They might feel scared of being approached or held by a total stranger, or something else might be causing their fear and they do not know how else to tell you. Watch carefully for other signs, such as swatting, baring of teeth, stiff tail, and puffed-out fur – these are sure signs that your furry friend is terrified.
3. Your cat is angry or annoyed
A cat that growls or hisses is generally agitated, angry, or upset at something. Along with the growling, you might also notice her pupils dilate, her ears go flat, and her stiffened tail swishing back and forth. In this case, stop engaging with your cat and leave her in peace.
4. Your cat is struggling with pain
Happy and content cats usually purr and meow in a normal tone. Conversely, if they are in pain, they will growl and cry with a long, deep meow. Cats struggling with pain normally do not want to engage or be touched. Sickness and pain make a cat vulnerable, so they might also hide and avoid contact for a few days.
If you suspect your cat is growling out of pain, call your local vet right away for proper medical assistance.
Other reasons cats growl
Of course, there are other instances when your furry friend may try to play the “tough guy” to intimidate other animals or people. She will behave offensively to tell the other cat or person to step back, and it might have to do with any of these:
1. Your cat is trying to show dominance
Cats growl to express dominance to other animals. You will also hear them hiss as they try to defend their territory from a stranger. If you are bringing home a new pet and your resident cat behaves offensively, do not punish her. Instead, make a gradual introduction so that Fluffy does not feel awkward around the new family member.
2 Your cat is possessive over her food and toys
If you have multiple pets at home, chances are you have heard your cat hissing or growling when you offer her treats or new toys. That is because cats can be really possessive, especially if they live with other cats. Growling is their way of scaring off the other pets because they want to guard their food or toys.
This tactic is mostly observed in dominant alpha cats – they will produce that deep, guttural growl to keep their underlings away from their food or toys. Your cat might also hiss or growl at you if you try to take away her food bowl or her favorite toy. Never ignore this warning – give your pet some space until she has finished eating or playing.
Additionally, make sure that the other pets have their own separate food bowls, placed far apart from one another to avoid competition. Cats tend to be protective of their resources, especially in a multi-pet home. Adopted feral or stray cats can also display food aggression as a survival instinct, even though they are now well-fed and have a home. The only way to avoid the growling and food competition is to train your pets. Manage meal times, feed them separately, and make them feel safe, and you should be able to reduce the aggressive behavior.
3. Your cat has age-related issues
Senior cats are prone to developing cognitive dysfunction, which can lead to some odd behavior. One minute, your furry pal might be calmly gazing at the window or sleeping peacefully on the couch, and the next, she might growl and hiss at thin air for no clear reason.
Aging problems in cats can include loss of vision, loss of hearing, organ failure, and muscle pains, all of which can make your elderly feline a bit irritable or fearful. She might hear or see things that make her think she is being threatened by other animals, causing her to grow or lash out even though the source of fear does not exist.
Keep in mind that any illness or body dysfunction can turn the sweetest cat into a cranky one. If your senior cat is struggling with age-related illnesses, you will probably notice behavioral changes like hissing or growling in a specific spot for no reason. She might look aggressive, but in her own mind she probably feels frightened and vulnerable. Hence, your kitty will need more of your love, patience, and understanding at these stressful moments of her life.
Why is my cat growling when I pet her?
If your cat growls when touched or petted, she is trying to tell you to back off. There are several reasons cats display aggression when you try to reach out – it could be out of fear, defense, or physical pain. Whatever the reason, it is important to give your pet some space and not to force her to engage with you, or you will end up being bitten or scratched.
What Is feline non-recognition aggression syndrome?
Non-recognition aggression is a common feline behavior characterized by a cat’s inexplicable aggression towards a companion cat after the two have been separated for a period of time. For example, if you have taken one pet to the vet for a check-up or surgery, there is a chance that, upon returning home, the other cat will become suspicious of her best friend because of the new scents she brings home.
The aggression generally leads to fights and vicious attacks, which might also be redirected towards their human caretakers. If you do not intervene to stop it, the aggression can escalate and can permanently break up the friendship between your household cats.
This type of aggression seems to be unique among cats; it very rarely happens in dogs. While it is not completely understood by animal behaviorists, there are two possible reasons that even the gentlest of cats might suddenly react in this way towards another household pet.
First, if your cat has undergone surgery, it is likely that her behavior will change as a result of the anesthesia or sedation. These changes can be stressful and alarming to the other cat.
The second possible reason is that the returning cat has picked up different scents from other humans, pets, and even chemicals at the veterinary clinic. The other resident cat will not be able to recognize the scent of her furry friend, and will think that the returning cat is an imposter.
To avoid aggression and catfights in this scenario, the best way is to re-introduce your pets gradually after a trip to the vet. As soon as you get home, keep the returning cat in a separate room for a few hours or days. Do not let your cats interact with one another until you are confident that all the medications in the returning cat have worn off. Allow your cats to see each other under your supervision – never let one cat approach the other freely until you are confident that your pets are once again comfortable with each other.
What is redirected cat aggression?
Redirected cat aggression happens when your cat feels overstimulated, upset, or aroused by another animal or person, but cannot respond directly. As a result, she might redirect her frustration or aggression towards you or another pet. She might display signs of fear or dominance such as growling, hissing, swatting, and puffing out her fur.
If you happen to return home with a grumpy and threatening cat, the best thing is to avoid interacting with the cat. Try to separate other pets as well, to prevent violent attacks and cat fights. Let your grumpy kitty calm down a bit and approach you on her own terms.
How to respond to a growling cat
We have already understood that a cat’s growl is a warning sign and that you need to leave the cat alone. Stop whatever you are doing immediately and give your grumpy pal some space to breathe or release her stress. If you do not, she will probably not hesitate to attack and you might end up with bites and other injuries.
Here is a summary of how you should respond if your cat growls at you:
- Never try to comfort, pet, or scold the cat.
- Do not back your cat into a corner – let her escape freely if she feels the need.
- Never provoke a growling cat – she will likely attack if you do not stop.
- Let your cat have some space away from you and other household pets. Wait for her to calm down a bit and only interact with her when she finally approaches you.
Wrapping it up
Cats growl for several reasons, but if you hear your furry friend growl when you pick her up, it is a clear sign that she does not want to be held. The best thing you can do in this case is to respect your cat’s boundaries and give her some space. She might not be a big fan of being scooped up and held, but she is sure to show you her affectionate side in her own, different ways.
Image: istockphoto.com / Osobystist