Why Is My Cat Growling?

We all love seeing our kitties relaxed and happy. That is when interacting with a cat is the most fun, when it's all purrs and head butts. Alas, just like people, cats can have their "bad moments" too. These bad moments can include times when your cat feels threatened enough to become aggressive, sometimes to the point of hissing and making that deep scary sound of a rumbling low-pitched meow...

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"Why is my cat growling", you might be asking yourself. Let's try and answer that question and see what you need to do if and when growling happens.

What does cat growling sound like?

Growling is a low guttural sound that is a universal sign of aggression. When you hear a dog, a cat or any other predator growl, you instinctively recognize it as a "do not approach" sound. Here's a classic growling sound (please use headphones and don't play the clips in this article on your speakers as it may upset your cats):

That was easy to identify as a growling sound, right?

Some cats don't have much of a "rumbling" effect in their growl. For these cats, look for something that sounds like a very low-pitched meow, coming from deep in their throat, something like this:

Not every low-pitched meow is a sign of aggression. Some cats will meow pitifully as a sign of fear or stress. Experienced cat owners can easily tell the difference by looking for other telltale signs of aggression.

Cats that are more likely to lash out will be immobile with the possible exception of a thrashing tail. The cat may arch its back (though not all cats do that). The pupils will likely be dilated and the ears may be flattened against the head. Growling is often accompanied by other hostile sounds, most commonly hissing.

Why is your cat growling?

Growling means your cat feels severely threatened. If further provoked, this cat is likely to attack.

Cats express this level of aggression when they perceive a specific threat in their surroundings. This could be a person, an animal or - most often - another cat. This is your cat's way of saying "I think this thing/person/cat is very dangerous and will hurt me. I am ready to lash out and protect myself."

What to do if your cat is growling

Take this threat very seriously.

Even if your cat is normally a loving relaxed pet, right now she is almost out of her mind with fear. Chances are she doesn't even recognize you right now. She is driven by very high levels of aggression hormones storming through her body. The primordial "fight or flight" response is about to be triggered any second now. Indoors, there's rarely a place to run to, so it's likely to be the "fight" option.

A cat that's stressed enough to the point of growling can and will attack if further provoked. This cat is ready to attack anyone and anything at that point, fighting tooth and claw. Anyone approaching the cat at this stage risks getting severely injured, so please don't try and handle a growling cat in any way.

Never try to touch or get closer to a growling cat!

The best thing to do when faced with a growling cat is to back off. Do not shout or express fear, as that can escalate the situation. Avoid eye contact and slowly step away. If you can identify what caused your cat to get that scared and remove it safely, do so. For example, if you suspect Kitty saw an animal outside on your porch, shut the doors and windows to prevent further visual contact.

Stay away from your cat for at least several hours. Just let your cat regain his/her composure and realize that it's going to take some time. Some cats need several days to fully recover from a scary experience, so watch out for signs of stress or aggression during the following days. If you see your kitty hissing, growling, or even just walking around with dilated pupils, give him or her some more space and time to wind down.

Watch out for re-directed aggression

You may never find out what the cause of the threat was, but even if you do, keep in mind that your cat may lash out at anyone and anything else when threatened to the point of growling. That means that even if you know that Kitty is mad at the dog or at another cat in your household, do not expect her or him to accept your own attempts at petting. Your cat is unable to tell the difference between you and the other cat at this point. Anyone coming too close will get hurt.

Read more here: Re-directed Aggression In Cats

Your other cats are likely to be affected as well. When one cat shows signs of aggression, other cats are likely to pick up on that and become tense and potentially aggressive as well. You may need to separate the cats for a few hours until they calm down. If you have a cat fight on your hands, follow the tips in this article: How To Safely Break Up A Cat Fight.

Our cats are adorable. They make wonderful pets that are safe and fun to interact with. However, we must respect their boundaries and accept their "bad moments" too. Recognizing growling and other signs of a threatened cat and responding correctly will help you make sure you keep a positive relationship with Kitty for years to come.

Comments? Leave them in the comment section below. If you have specific questions and need help with understanding your cat's behavior, post your question in the cat behavior forums instead.

2 comments on “Why Is My Cat Growling?

Vera Holmes March 22, 2021
My rescued Henry (now 2yo) growled for the first time ever today. He was outside in the backyard, but not on the leash. He spotted a bush turkey passing by and went into a stalking mode. I tried to put him on the leash (usual) and he growled at me and rushed away inside. It's been an eventful day here for both of us (beyond our control).: first loud noise from some worker clearing the downpipe next to my bedroom; then electricians coming in to try to fix my oven which keeps on tripping the fuse, then. a "nosy" neighbour calling out at my CLOSED front door! Upsetting day for both of us. I am cranky too. And Henry kept getting tangled up with the leash and dragging items with it. I have left him alone since. I had two cats before him and none ever "growled" at me but they would come and freely through a "trap door"...
tarasgirl06 August 7, 2016
I'm surprised that it isn't instinctual for anyone to know that these are feline ways of expressing fear, and to leave the cats alone when they do this!  

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