Let’s Talk Cat Growling — Why Does Your Cat Growl and How Should You React?

Why do cats growl? Is your cat growling because he’s angry, in pain or feeling territorial — or is he just being dramatic? Plus, what is the right way for a human to react to cat growling?

An angry cat growling, hissing or hiding.
An angry cat growling, hissing or hiding. Photography ©points | Thinkstock.

As kitty parents know, cats make all kinds of sounds. My little calico lady, Merritt, is fond of trilling, but my large orange tabby dude, Gabby, is fond of the huff (an annoyed, airy snort — does anyone else’s cat do this?!) and the growl. We adopted Gabby as an abandoned older kitty with an unknown past, so it makes sense that he’s got a few behavioral issues and is more prone to expressing his discontent vocally. But I’ve heard a fair amount of cat growling come from Merritt, too (we recently experienced a case of feline non-recognition aggression that caused her to growl away!).

So, what exactly is cat growling and how should you react when your cat growls? Let’s take a look:

What does cat growling sound like?

To me, cat growling sound like a low brrrrrroooooooooooowwww. Gabby sometimes makes what I call a pre-growl or warning growl, which sounds like a creaking door — a slow and low precursor to the full-on growl. “Growling is a deep, rumbling noise that comes from passage of air through vocal folds,” explains Dr. Sasha Gibbons of Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut. “[It] can sound very similar to a dog growl.”

If Gabby is especially not pleased, he will follow his growl with a big hiss. For those who still don’t know what cat growling sounds like (lucky you!), check out the video of this poor little ticked-off guy above.

What causes cat growling?

why does my cat growl
Cat growling can be caused by a number of things, like toy aggression. Photography ©Page Light Studios | Thinkstock.

Although Gabby is more reserved than my outgoing lap cat Merritt, he is truly a big, lovable baby around an exclusive, privileged few and, since he had a rough start at life, it’s even more of a triumph when Gabby chooses to curl up next to us, groom us, or lavish us with headbutts and purrs. He does not growl all the time, but he does growl more than other cats because he is more nervous than most cats. Gabby growls mostly when strangers enter our house and especially when strangers try to approach him without properly introducing themselves. I get it — I’d growl too if some weirdo entered my home and immediately thought they were entitled to the same physical contact (in Gabby’s case, head pets, in mine, hugs) I reserve for family and friends.

“Growling is a warning noise,” Dr. Gibbons affirms. “It implies unhappiness from annoyance, anger, aggression or fear. It is a signal to back off. Growling can occur from a variety of triggers. Some cats can be food or toy aggressive and growl to show possession. If a cat is annoyed from physical contact, he or she may growl.”

What about when cats growl at each other? When Merritt was growling at Gabby after he returned from the vet, it was because she simply didn’t recognize her kitty sibling! He smelled like the vet (Shots! A sterile environment! Riding in the car! Other cats!) instead of his usual odor (usually a mix of cat food and rolling around in his dad’s hockey gear). “Cats can also growl in the presence of other cats or dogs in order to establish dominance or signify they are not interested in interacting with the other animal,” Dr. Gibbons explains.

Is cat growling a reaction to pain?

Careful — a growl might mean your cat is in pain. Photography ©points | Thinkstock.

Yes — cat growling is sometimes a reaction to pain. “Pain due to physical ailments, including: urinary tract infections, dental disease, trauma, arthritis and some metabolic diseases, such as hyperthyroidism, can cause cat growling. So, a thorough exam should be performed to rule out any underlying medical conditions,” says Dr. Jenny Kistler, owner and medical director at Brandermill Animal Hospital in Midlothian, Virginia. “If a cat’s growling is a consistent problem, the cause behind it should be determined, if possible, so that appropriate medical or behavioral protocols can be instituted to make you cat happier or more comfortable.”

The first time we took Gabby to a cats-only vet, they found that he needed six (!!!) teeth pulled (his unknown past seems to have had less-than-nutritious things on the menu, unfortunately). For a minute, we thought we had found the answer to why he was a bit of a curmudgeon! Maybe all those growls were just a reaction to the pain he was in! Maybe the surgery would take away his pain! Although Gabby definitely felt better after his decaying teeth were out, this did not stop him from growling.

How should humans respond to cat growling?

why does my cat growl
This little guy is upset — but don’t rush to comfort him! Photography ©Ornitolog82 | Thinkstock.

We’ve already established that cat growling is a warning noise, which means — you guessed it — leave your cat alone. Do not try to comfort him or, worse, “do not try to scold or reprimand the cat, especially with physical contact or hand gestures,” advises Dr. Gibbons. “This may be misinterpreted as aggression and the situation could escalate from a warning to physical contact.”

Is cat growling ever just your cat being “all talk”?

A gray kitten growling or hissing with his ears back.
Is your cat growling because he’s overdramatic? Photography ©scorpp | Thinkstock.

I know Gabby has behavioral issues. As much as I instruct guests in my home to please approach him appropriately or leave him alone, there will be people who ignore me and he will growl because he is confused, frustrated and scared. But there are also times when he growls just out of sheer annoyance.

Four years into being his mom, I’m pretty attuned to what growls mean he’s really angry or when he’s being all talk (read: overdramatic). He’s a very vocal cat in the first place, so I understand the difference between a half-hearted growl that means he’s displeased but I can still (cautiously) walk past him or pick him up. And I know when he needs to be left alone to cool off.

“Cats can growl for a variety of reasons and from a long list of triggers,” explains Dr. Gibbons. “It can be difficult to determine which cat growls are simply vocalizing, and which cats would react physically following vocalization, so it is always best to work with a professional (veterinarian or animal behavioralist) if you have concerns with your cat growling.”

Tell us: Does your cat growl a lot or not so much? To you, what does cat growling sound like?

This piece was originally published in 2017.

About the author

Cait Rohan Kelly is a digital writer, editor and marketer with over a decade of experience working with everything from sports stars to different types of cheese. She is currently the Digital Content Marketing Manager for Catster and Dogster. Cait is a lifelong animal lover and cat lady. She lives in Connecticut with her husband (a self-professed cat dude), her son (his first word will probably be one of her cats’ names) and her two rescue cats — Gabby, an orange tabby and avid sleeper, and Merritt, a sassy calico.

Read more about cat sounds on Catster.com:

134 thoughts on “Let’s Talk Cat Growling — Why Does Your Cat Growl and How Should You React?”

  1. My grey tabby Ninja has displayed the growl only when he hears someone/thing approaching that he doesn't recognize. I call him my guard cat. I've also heard huffs from him at times. And of course, the ever-present meow that ranges from whining (so I term it) and yowling (not quite a caterwaul but getting there). Usually the yowling is either when he wants my attention *really* bad or it's play time.

  2. My cat tabby cat Manchy growls too like broooooooooww, and that happens usually when he hears children making noise, people quarreling, sometimes when you pick him up, sometimes when he looks through the window and sees children playing, running and shouting, sometimes when I lift the bag of food when am about to put it in his bowl, when he hears other cats meowing around, whenever I bark at him for doing anything wrong, he must growl

  3. Trying to figure cat behavior by relating it to human behavior. LOL! Hey, they're CATS! Growing is what they do! Not necessarily a sign of being angry, scared, etc. Sometimes they just like to do it! Why? 'Cause they're cats! Nuff said!

    1. What about the cat's body action? Is he facing towards you, or away? Is the tail curled, or lying flat against the floor?

      Depending on these points, "meow" could mean "let's watch a movie together" or "boy am I thirsty right now."

      So getting the tone and body language right is critical!

      Finally there’s a quick guide on the bare essentials of cat communication to give you a starting point into the fascinating world of feline communication, both verbal and nonverbal

      This guide, written by a PhD animal communications expert, will help you learn a few things your cat tries to tell you every day – that you're almost certainly ignoring right now.

      Check it out here: ( https://tinyurl.com/catlanguuage2022 ) ( copy link and put it in your browser )

  4. My girls growl in the show rings. They aren’t aggressive with the judges, just not impressed with all the other cats. One of them showed brilliantly as a kitten, COVID ruined her- she couldn’t go out and socialize for two years. I keep hoping she’ll get over it.

  5. My cat always growls when she is on my lap, curled up and relaxed, sometimes sleeping and then hears someone drive into my driveway.
    It took me awhile to figure out the reason for the growl, it seemed to come for no reason. But then one day she was in a deep sleep and did not hear them until their car door slammed, then the growl and I put two and two together. Thing is I think she would hear them just before the car turned into my driveway and started to react then. Now when the growl comes I know I'm getting company.

  6. One of my cats has started moaning/growling usually.
    A while back, we lost both her older brothers (not related) and they had to be put to sleep. And losing them, has definitely triggered major depression in my cat, to which she would just stay in my room and hardly leave.
    After a while, not to replace the two brothers, but we decided to get a kitten. At times, she can handle him alright, other times usually not. But it did allow her to not just stay in my room all the time, and she did try and play.
    But suddenly she has started staying in my room again, and not leaving very often. There hasn't been much of a change, my mum has started working in the afternoons now, which was when my cat had time with her, so maybe that's why?
    I do also try and play with her, but it's hard as I work till the evening.
    I was wondering if getting that destress aroma thing you plug in, might help not stress her out anymore?

    1. Yes, Feliway (pheromones) may help. What could also help a lot is one or several of the Bach flower essences. You can do a search about using Bach flower essences for cats. They have no taste and can be put in food, a few drops directly into the cat's mouth, or rubbed on their fur (the forehead is a good place for that). We're using a handful of them for three of our four cats: for jealousy (our only female), for past trauma (for our cat rather like the one described in the article), for grief (we lost two other cats in the last six months, both of whom were close to our oldest male cat).

  7. We have an 8 month female that growls at me almost non-stop, but only at night and if my wife is not around.
    She’s been with us for 6 months, and she hates and fears me a lot for no reason. She likes my wife, though.
    I feed her 99% of the times (my wife is too busy), and I also try to pet her, but with no success.
    The most strange thing is that she is a calm and shy cat during day time, but turns into an agressive monster (with me) at night and when we are alone, like I said.
    I really think she’s mentally ill. I had two cats before and I have never seen such a bad behavior.
    It’s, like, I’m sitting on my sofa and she’s hissing and growling insanely under the dinner table.
    Totally insane cat.

    1. Do you play with her with a wand toy? The way to a cat's heart is through play, in my experience, even more than treats or food. Or engaging in a lively game of crumpled paper ball hockey or behind a door hockey. My cats like to shoot something thin like a hair elastic to me from behind a door and I send it back. Play time creates a happy bond that often results in nighttime cuddles.

  8. Our 15 year old calico, Neko, often growls at our 14 year old black cat, Priya, for absolutely no reason at all.
    Priya will simply walk past, and Neko will start growling… It’s a daily occurrence.
    We’ll ask the vet about it, since it has become more frequent in the last year, but I think Neko not liking other cats, and being a rescue kitten with an unknown background, has to do with it. She loves people, and has never shown any aggression to a human.
    Poor Priya though, she looks so confused when Neko growls at her!

  9. I have an older cat who was fun and loving and liked having her daily snuggling and combing. She has always lived in a 4 cat household and was the youngest cat. About 4 1/2 months ago we adopted two kittens to replace two of our older kitties that we have recently lost within the past year. We knew their would be sometime to adjust to the new kittens but she still growls at them even when they are not even close to her and she is even growling at us when we go to pet her or pick her up. The kittens won’t even be around and she is growling and hissing at us. If it wasn’t so cold outside I think she’d go outside and stay under the bush all day. She doesn’t even come out at feeding times. I’ve even tried feeding her in a different room away from the kittens. When I work on my computer during the day I’ve try to give her the room with me without the kittens. However, she still gets in her upset moods and I’m not sure what to do to let her know she is still my loveable teddy bear. The only thing good she is still doing is sleeping with me and that’s when I get to hear her purr and she will let me pet her without the growling and hissing. I do miss the daily snuggling in my arm and combing. If I try to do those things she wants down or left untouched. Is their anything I can do to give her positive reinforcement that the kittens are not here to replace her?

    1. Have you gotten a answer about your ???? growing my 6 yr old Bella does the same thing I was wondering if you could help me if you have any ideas I would appreciate it so much Thank you Tina

  10. Our cat only growls when scared. Yesterday he was growling at an outdoor object brought inside a few days earlier and his growling escalated into a hiss and he randomly pounced on and attacked a human family member that was walking by him. I wanted to share this because like some of the other comments here, I used to thing growling was cute or harmless. He’s never showed any aggression before in 3 years. Now I know better..We will take his growls more cautiously.

  11. My male, Siamese Sealpoint growls when he’s gets the zoomies. He does this when he’s happy, has had treats or his dinner. He growls with his mouth open a bit (it sounds like roaring), with his tail up in an upside-down U, running at breakneck speed. He’s done this since he was a kitten. It’s hilarious.
    When there’s a knock at the door or a visitor’s footsteps he growls quietly. He’s a friendly greeter though, not a guard cat.

  12. About 8 months ago we got a 4 month old kitten from a lady. She said the kitten was shy and she couldn’t get him to get use to her. She got him from the original owner, who was said to have lots of animals. After brining him home, it took him months for him to start to befriend my oldest son, then my other son and husband. He has nothing to do with me and I’ve given him lots of space. I’m the one he hisses and growls at, even when I’m feet away from him. The last few days, he’s started to do this to my son’s. He won’t let us touch him, pick him up or enjoy his company. Any thoughts on how to stop this behavior? We are at our wits end and may have to give him up. To me, it looks like he don’t like women.

  13. My cat loves to be in our presence, we go outside, he’s right there near us, if my husband sits down in recliner, he’s on it, waiting by his knees until he puts the foot part up. He loves looking out the bedroom window toward the street, sits there for hours sometimes. I have to open the blind and window or he will chew on the blind until I do. We feed him wet cat food twice a day but loves treats, he knows that word (also “eat”) so if not time for his treats, we have to spell it. If I’m sitting in a chair doing something and it’s treat time, he stands on his back legs, punches me on my side to get my attention then talks to me. Sometimes he will nip my arm lightly to get my attention. When he’s on the recliner, someone comes to the front door, he growls like a dog. At exactly around 4:30 he comes in where we are and starts loud meowing, in other words, “Feed Me” and he doesn’t give up, goes over to the box where his food is stored and rubs his head on it. It’s scary, sometimes I think he’s human. He is so smart!! We adopted him from seeing him and 2 siblings on TV story where a man had put them in a baggie and put them into a freezer to die. There were 4, one died. Luckily a neighbor came over, opened the side refrigerator for a beer, heard them. She went home, called 911. He was attested. Hopefully the other 2 got good homes also. My husband loves him so much, talks to him like a child, he sits on his back legs and listens like a child. He’s a little wild so doesn’t like kids to pat him and never likes anyone coming up from front of his face to pat him, loves the petting on back of his head and under his neck.

  14. I adopted a street cat about a year ago that growls frequently. I do not know what his life was like before I took him home. Half of his tail is missing but the injury had healed when I adopted him. He is really timid at times and likes affection on his terms. His aggression has improved significantly since we first brought him home, but he will still growl and hiss if he doesn’t want to be petted or touched. He is such a lovable little guy on his terms. I know he has behavioral issues, but he has slowly improved. I love him so much and am glad he’s part of our family.

  15. My cat has been growling even when she’s laying down. It seems it has something to do with her lower part. She seems to be in pain. I have observed that before she got home, she was mating. Does this pain subside after a few days of rest?

  16. My cat hates the snow. She will sit in the doorway growling at bad weather. She also growls when hurt, angry…. territorial/ strange cat in the area growling has a bit of yowl mixed in. Snow, however, is the most growl worthy thing.

  17. My cat occasionally growls. The first time I heard it it surprised me and I wasn’t really sure if I heard it or not, however she will do it and I did hear it.
    The cause of my cats growling is always a reaction to the same thing. My cat loves to be with me or on me all the time. The minute I sit down she is up on me settling down for the evening or the afternoon, whatever the reason she is up on me looking for cuddles and love. She can be in a deep, deep sleep but if this one thing happens she reacts and growls.
    The cause of my cats growls is…. if she is happy on my lap cuddling and someone drives into my driveway she gets mad because our time is over and she will growl get up and goes into another room. It’s funny and I am thankful it’s only because of this reason when it could be a more serious cause. At least I know she loves me.

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  19. Natasha is my older cat about 7 yrs old. 3 months ago I brought a new kitten home she was a kitten from an alley cat i I quarantined her for 2 weeks while inside vet visits with new kitten nikita and slowly introduced new kitten nikita to natasha.
    But from the get go natasha will not accept new kitten nikita. She growls hisses smacks at new kitten nikita. It doesnt look like natasha will accept her. I don’t like natasha stressed out, but I also dont want new kitten nikita who just wants to play( I think) to have to be rehome ‘d any suggestions?

  20. I have a cat named Davy, he growls as soon as he is picked up, but even when I hold him for a long time (15+ minutes) he won’t do anything physical, just a low growl and some scattered hissing. Why does he act this way? If he really didn’t like it, wouldn’t he try to escape? He hasn’t been conditioned, he’s been this way since a friend of mine rescued him off of the street.

    1. You may not be holding him correctly. Always support their bum. If you pick him up under his front arms without supporting his bum that causes the weight of his backend to be pulling on his arms which can be painful.

      The other thing might be what position you are holding him in. The majority of cats do not like to be held on their back like a baby, for example. You can experiment with different positions.

      Finally, he may simply not like to be held, or not like to be restrained. That’s true of a lot of rescued cats from the street if they were not properly socialized with humans as little kittens. That’s not too surprising since cats don’t hold each other the way we hold them, so it’s not innate for them.

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  22. I wipe my kitten, Caramel, down with baby unscented wet wipes after the vet visit. My older cat, Buttercup, finally stop growling at him after awhile…two days maybe.

    1. Baby wipes – even unscented – likely have all sorts of chemicals that are not healthy for your kitty to injest when he licks himself. It would be better to NOT wipe him with anything and just let Buttercup deal with the vet smell until he relaxes eventually. If you MUST wipe your kitty down use a 100% alcohol wipe. Cat’s hate the smell but it will evaporate quickly and won’t leave a toxic residue. Then it is much less likely that your kitty will injest any of it when he licks himself.

  23. Pingback: Understanding Your Kitten's Vocals And Body Language – Pampers for pets

  24. i have a 2.5 year old maine coon male and a 9 month old maine coon male and within the week i brought home the youngest in july 2019, the oldest and he had fully bonded and never left each other’s sight. well, in october 2019 all that changed when i had the youngest neutered. i brought him home expecting the normal growling and hissing from aslan because of all the funky vet smells that aspen brought home with him but i thought it would cease in a day or two once aspen started smelling normal to aslan. boy, was i ever fooled. aslan has had such aggression toward aspen that aspen dodges him. aslan is also getting aggressive with me, especially if he sees me paying attention to aspen. i have tried melatonin 1mg to try to calm aslan; i have tried having just aslan and mom time; i have tried rubbing aspen down with familiar towels or clothing to get rid of any unrecognized odor to aslan; and i also give him composure treats and i’m about at my wit’s end. aslan has never been aggressive until aspen was neutered. HELP!!!!

    1. I have a cat who gets very territorial when another one of my cat’s are around. He growls and hisses and if I try to pet him he scratches me very badly. The only solution I have found is to avoid him when he acts like that and just give him love when the other one is not around. I also started using Feliway concentrate in my house and that has seemed to help some. It did not work right away but after about two months he was better, I hope this helps some at least knowing you are not alone with this problem. I wouldn’t not give him away. That is never the right solution.

  25. My cat Lennon starts with a soft rumble a few short bursts, then if the other cats or whom ever she’s pi$$ed at doesn’t leave or move, the next is a loud growl then a hiss. She’s a nasty one, a rescue from a teen crack house, she was starved and covered in fleas. After countless flea baths (I’m not sure what they used) She ended up at my house. She’s loving sometimes and to some people. She tolerates one of the other 3 that I rescued. I think the reason is she, Blackie was the runt of the litter. She was always last to eat, last to stay with me, last for everything. She even gives you this “are you talking to me?” look. She’s a great hunter though. Blackie also is very submissive she knows when to get close to Lennon and when to run the other way. I was told after 4 years she’s not going to get along with the others. Do you think that’s true?

    1. Yes, that is probably true. You could try using some Feliway in your house. It has helped in my home since I bring in ferals from time to time to get them acclimated to home living before finding them a forever home. Never force them to get along. I have 5 female cats and they all do not get along and 2 of them have hated each other since I brought the other one in over 8 years ago. They don’t fight but they give each other a good swat here and there for good measure. I ignore them and take it all in stride. Cats have to work it out their own way.

  26. Our older cat never growls, but our 2-year-old does. She does it when she’s being held against her will (when we cut her nails). We also have a foster kitten, and she’s not good with other cats so she’s been growling and hissing at him, even though he just wants to play with her. She’s a unique kitty though.

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  35. I found a baby cat today and brought him home and gave him away to someone’s about five hours later. My own cat has done nothing but hiss and growl at us and even slap at us. He’s been like this all day and this is not her normal behavior. She’s always so sweet :( will she stay like this forever now ?

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  38. My cat screams a lot. Veterinarian says he doesn’t know why. Zoe is 15 or 16 years old. Not sick. Bad teeth. She is very loud.

  39. My Bengal, Charlie, growls and hisses if you try to move him off your lap to get up. I understand that, as we know that he doesn’t want to move, but the confusing growl is after he has eaten something he has really enjoyed, like fresh, warm chicken. He will growl and hiss at anyone, except me, that goes near him while eating or afterwards. He does this for a good 5 mins after finishing his meal, often even if no-one goes near him, he just walks around growling. We have recorded him several times as it is comical. He also growls at our other cat to keep him in his place and occasionally follows it with a minor attack if he doesn’t do what he’s told. Lol, he has just growled at me now, as I was moving my legs and he was on my lap. He has now stormed off hissing in disgust! He is so lovely.

    1. Too funny ! We have a growling Bengal as well . She also does not like to be moved off the bed. She walks around growling and growls at her sister !?

    2. My Bengal will growl at me when I pick him up and turn him on his back kissing his belly. As a kitten it took a year for him to stop sucking himself (during first day of bringing him home, he suckled my face wort and I was first amused but pulled him off only to find him suckling his own nipple). So he growls at me in irritation and I tell him to quit it. I do this to him all the time when he hasn’t gotten enough attention. I sometimes will growl back as I face dive into his belly!! He weighs over 35lbs and has a great panther belly!

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