Close up of a cat screaming, yawning or making another noise with mouth open.
Close up of a cat screaming, yawning or making another noise with mouth open. Photography ©csivasz | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

Cat Screaming — What It Sounds Like and What It Means

Is your cat screaming — or are you not sure what this cat noise sounds like? And why do cats scream? Let’s talk about what causes cat screaming and which cats are most likely to scream.
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For those who have heard a cat scream, the sound is unforgettable — a piercing, multisyllabic yowl that shocks the senses and demands your undivided attention. A screaming cat can wake you from even the deepest sleep. Cat screaming may conjure up Halloween-type images of arched backs, extended claws and bared fangs. And most importantly, cat screaming can scare the crap out of humans and other cats alike, which is often (but not always) exactly what the screaming cat intended.

Cat screaming mouth open, making noise.
Cat screaming is an ear-splitting noise. Photography ©Seregraff | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

What does cat screaming sound like?

If you’ve never heard a cat scream, perhaps you’ve been to a haunted house? You know those spring-loaded, shrieking ghouls that jump out of the walls at the moment you least expect it? Yeah — that’s about what it’s like the first time you hear a cat scream — particularly if it’s your cat who’s screaming.

Related: Let’s Talk Angry Cat Sounds and How to Handle Them

If you need a reminder that these cute, cuddly creatures we love so much come fully loaded with the instincts and equipment to hunt and kill their prey, just listen to a cat screaming. It’s a gut-wrenching, primal sound, and cats use it to convey a wide variety of emotions.

A cat screaming sounds a lot like a human screaming, except a bit more urgent and desperate — kind of like something out of a horror movie. The sound can rise and fall in intensity like crashing ocean waves, or cat screaming can be sudden and shrill, the equivalent of a human yelling, “Hey! Watch it!”

Here’s a video of cat screaming to demonstrate:

Note: For a cat who is screaming at an outside cat, cover the windows or doors so that your indoor kitty can no longer see the outdoor cat. A (gentle!) towel throw (similar to what’s done at the end of this video) should also help distract and diffuse the situation.

What is cat screaming?

A “scream” is just one of the hundreds of sounds cats can make. In fact, cats are extremely vocal animals, capable of making nearly ten times as many sounds as dogs. But the cat scream is exactly what it sounds like – a sustained, high-pitched vocalization that is often accompanied by growls or yowls. Cat screaming is instantly and utterly distinctive — there’s no mistaking this sound for anything other than what it is.

Cat screaming is fairly uncommon, which is probably why it sounds so shocking. The time of day cat screaming usually happens makes this sound even more alarming. You’re more likely to hear cats screaming while it’s dark out and you’re trying to sleep for the simple reason that cats are crepuscular, meaning they’re most active at dawn and dusk — and that includes fighting outside your bedroom window, of course.

Why do cats scream?

One of the main reasons cats scream is because they’re angry or afraid — hence why cat screaming often happens during cat fights. According to cat behaviorist Jackson Galaxy, “The sympathetic nervous system kicks in with the ‘fight or flight’ reflex; if there’s nowhere to flee, the only option is to fight. A fear-aggressive cat is extremely fearsome in itself; this is a cat that can hurt you, badly. Be very careful!”

Cats don’t only scream out of aggression, though. Cats may also scream when they are ill. Galaxy recommends staying on top of veterinary checkups to catch any health concerns before they become so severe as to warrant one of those cat screams. Aging cats can show signs of confusion or dementia, and they may scream if they get startled or fearful of their surroundings.

Cats may also scream if they’re in distress. Ever accidentally locked your kitty in a closet? She probably wasn’t shy about communicating her displeasure with your unintentional negligence. And if you’ve ever accidentally stepped on your cat’s tail, you’ve also probably been privy to some cat screaming — you may have been so alarmed that you screamed yourself!

Finally, cats might scream while mating or while searching for a mate. Needless to say, screaming cats are not concerned about waking the neighbors.

Which cats are more likely to scream?

As is the case with most behaviors, certain cats are more likely to scream than others. Two major factors are the cat’s temperament and environment — is the cat living in a multi-cat home where he regularly needs to establish his dominance in the social hierarchy? Is he easily over-stimulated or startled? Was he handled roughly as a kitten? All of these aspects of a cat’s home and development can make him more or less likely to scream.

Additionally, unaltered cats who aren’t spayed or neutered are more likely to scream out of aggression or due to hormones. When I first adopted my calico cat, Phoenix, she was in heat, and she wandered around the house screaming at night for several days until I was able to get her spayed.

Galaxy offers this bit of advice: “Intact cat aggression includes both maternal aggression (totally normal behavior in a new mother when defending her kittens), and territorial tomcat aggression. Intact cats, both male and female, tend to be more aggressive as well as highly territorial; and they are also apt to spray urine on any and all convenient surfaces. The solution: spay/neuter, of course!”

Featured photo: ©csivasz | iStock / Getty Images Plus.

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21 thoughts on “Cat Screaming — What It Sounds Like and What It Means”

  1. One of my cats, Miss Midnight the Feral Queen of the Office heard the cat screaming in the video. While she didn't start screaming back, she DID start growling back. She was growling for a few minutes and was on alert.

  2. Have you tried food at McDonald’s before? I had never heard of the place so I tried going there and discovered they have a variety of edible items for purchase by customers. What a surprise!

  3. Pingback: 10 Widespread Cat Noises — and What They Imply – Cute funny cat kitten pictures videos

  4. I have a question: my cat has feline herpes. I have been giving him some L-Lysine supplement daily, as recommended by vet. While it is not getting worse, it doesn’t appear to be getting better. Is their a better remendy? I live on a small fixed income, but do not want my kitty to suffer. He lets me wipe his eye with a non-lint type handkie, but is very finicky as to what he eats. This is maple flavored and he does seem to take it on top of his wet food. If you have a solution, please, please help (Rascal) and me out.

  5. As Pat above mentioned… my Leo started doing this after his brother, Little Boy died..
    Only difference is that Leo & Little Boy “are” brothers & I’ve had them since they were born 10 years ago..

    We lost Little Boy Nov. 26th. Leo actually started this after Little Boy was gone from the house & taken to be cremated..

    He sat by the door all the time just howling, crying & fits of screaming…
    It has been heartbreaking to say the least, for us both…

    I still grieve for my Little Boy & I know Leo still grieves, but he is starting to get better..

    Although, he is forever changed & has become 1000% more needy than he ever was..
    I feel guilty leaving him alone when I have to go out. He is so attached to me, I can go nowhere in my house “literally” without him right there, NOWHERE!!!

    Everyone keeps saying “get another cat” No other cat will ever replace my Little Boy & after going through this & knowing I will be going through it again someday with my Leo… It’s just too painful… so I give Leo my undivided attention near 24/7… enjoy what time I am blessed with… Just me & him…

  6. Hi Stephanie, I don’t really have the answer, but I DO know that Rescue Remedy works wonders if they’re nervous. You can put a few drops in their water or onto their fur. I always put it on the nape of their neck or on their paws so they’d lick it or someone mentioned the tips of their ears and top of the tail (where the tail meets the body…on the fur). Long story short, I would just put a few squirts on my fingers and put it on their ear tips…or the nape of their neck..worked every time. The health food stores have it. I always get the one for ‘humans’ but they also have it for animals.

    And, bless you for adopting a senior kitty… that is such a loving act. Thank you Stephanie!

  7. One of my cats screamed. She was hiding under some furniture. Turned out she was anemic. Another one started screaming, turned out she had thrown a blood clot, and her back legs couldn’t work. The vet gave her pain meds, and she stopped screaming. She died a few days later, despite 24 hour vet care. Please visit your vet IMMEDIATELY if your cat screams and doesn’t stop.

  8. AnnieLaurie Burke

    They also scream when in pain or frightened from pain. Years ago, my amply-proportioned calico was trying to open a cabinet door over the fridge to use it to climb to an upper ledge on a partial wall (I have one of those weird modern-architecture homes). She slipped and fell ungracefully to the floor, with a splat. She started screaming and I thought she’d broken her back. Called my vet — they could hear the screaming over the phone. Bundled her in a large towel and rushed her there, screaming all the way (the cat, not me). Got her in to the vet, screaming stopped. She was just bruised, nothing broken. I was terrified, but she was OK with a little kennel rest and some pain meds. But the way she sounded, I thought the worst.

  9. When Moon found me as a two month old kitten he had been horribly abused, no whiskers, no eye brows, no fur and a broken tail. He screams at night, usually about 4:00am when I have just got home and am in a different room or in the shower, He stops as soon as someone rushes over to him. It is awful it sounds like he is being murdered. Our other boy Skye gets quite scared and runs away.

  10. Geraldine Rondeau

    Over a year ago, I adopted a Senior Cat from our Shelter and they thought she was 18yrs old? ‘Honey’ will wake up with what sounds like crying. She has done this twice now over a month. It’s like she has had a bad dream or something? I go see what is wrong, pick her up and soothe her if she will let me.
    Could anyone tell me if they’ve experienced the same reaction from their cat and what do U think it is or why it happens?
    Thank you much.

    1. Yes my 17 year old male cat does it quite often. Most of the time after 1in the morning and scares me to death. I get up and give him fresh water. Sometimes it works and so it doesn’t

    2. I had a cat called simba, she got knocked down by a car i witnessed the accident and it broke my heart, I had her from 6 weeks old , she was a 40th birthday present from my mum, and she died in my arms , she was 17 years old, she had 3 kittens when she was nearly 1year old , she had 2 boys and 1 girl, I kept the girl and still have here and she will be 17 this July 2021, I was my mother’s carer for nearly 10 years and she left my life sept 18 2019 , since then charley the cat screams and howls whenever she leaves the house and comes back in, especially if she can’t see me, I am 100% convinced that it broke my heart and hers when we lost her mum, then mine, I believe that she misses them as much as me , and the howling is her way of crying for the 2 most precious people
      In her life,

  11. Charlotte Barnes

    I’ve only heard this primal scream once – my two indoor cats saw a mountain lion in our back yard in the middle of the night ( Arizona ) and went from sound asleep to totally freaked out in 2 seconds. I’d left a bucket of water out back accidentally and the poor thing just wanted a drink. He was spooked also – as I flipped on the back lights all I saw was a BIG cat doing an 8ft vertical leap over my back fence. !

  12. We lost one of our kitties to cancer, who was 16 years old, and best buds with George, one of the older cats. George has been screaming for over 3 weeks now and doesn’t stop until you sit down and he sits down in your lap. George has quieted down a bit, but I’m sure that was his way of grieving for his little buddy.

  13. Could be she’s in heat, so yes, spaying would help immensely. I know its stressful to take her to the vet, but it would be a huge favor to her to get her spayed in the long run.

  14. Stephanie Lueke

    I adopted my cat when she was 14 years old. She’s an indoor only cat and wanders the house screaming all the time. Mostly at the dog but also at me if I’m not paying her enough attention. Is this something I should be worried about? I didn’t know that this was an unusual thing for cats to do. I thought she was just a strange cat! As she has been a big weird since her rescue date. She is not spayed. I feel like at her age it would be more unnessicary stress as she absolutely LOATHES car rides and being in her cat carrier. Also hates new places took her 6-8 months to leave my bedroom after I moved. Is spaying the only thing that could help her?

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