You might be surprised to hear your cat growling, especially if it's at you for the first time. Body language and vocalization are how cats communicate with us. But humans still have a long way to go to fully understand our feline companions and their behaviors. Sometimes their behaviors can confuse us. This includes growling. So, let us take a look at why cats growl. More importantly, why is my cat growling at me?
Cat growling can be sort of scary. Your cat will often have puffed up fur, a flicking tail, flattened ears, and a look to kill. Are they crazy? Are they going to attack? The short answer: Most likely not. However, it's important to understand why your cat is growling and how you can stop them from continuing their aggression.
Is Cat Growling Normal?
Cat behavior and communication aren't as well studied as dogs. So sometimes cat owners are confused about why their cats are doing certain things. Sometimes it can even seem "random" or maybe for "no reason." But cats are usually very deliberate in their behavior.
While there are many reasons for cat growling, it's never because your cat is happy. It's very important to pay attention to what your cat is responding to since growling is often a defensive or angry behavior. Even though growling is normal, your cat may be in distress.
Do Some Cats Growl More Than Others?
Even though all cats have their own personalities, some breeds are known to be more aggressive than others. Siamese are known to lash out if they are left alone for too long. Sphynx can become aggressive when they are bored. Bengals are quite territorial, meaning they may growl and hiss at other pets in the home. Singapuras are very vocal, so they may growl more often than other cats when they are aggravated.
Every cat has its own unique personality. You'll notice some cats are quite talkative, chatting with you throughout the day. Other cats barely make a sound, opting to only meow when they really need something (like more food). Some cats purr really loud when you pet them. Others just contently close their eyes, relaxing in silence.
Growling is another form of communication that every cat uses differently. You might notice that previously feral cats or newly adopted cats growl more than other cats in your home. Since they are more fearful, defensive, or nervous, these less socialized feline individuals may be quicker to growl and hiss, hoping others will back off or leave them alone.
When is Growling Abnormal or Excessive?
If your cat is growling at things that normally don't make them upset — like petting them in a certain area or being aggressive when you approach them — you should immediately contact your veterinarian. Cats are experts at hiding their discomfort, meaning you will usually have to watch them closely to figure out the subtle signs. A growling cat that wants to be left alone may be very sick.
Even if they are not physically in pain, growling can also mean they are anxious. Is there a new cat in the home? Did a person visit that your cat didn't seem to like? Cats are territorial and will sometimes feel threatened by a new feline in their space. They might also have social anxiety if they haven't been around many people before.
While growling is a normal form of communication for cats, it's important to study the situation to figure out why they are growling. You know your cat's usual behaviors. If your cat doesn't usually hide, but now they are retreating under the bed and then growling when you go to check on them, that's a definite sign that your cat may be in pain, anxious, or suffering from a condition.
Vets may be able to tell you how to deal with your cat's fears and anxieties. They may also provide certain treatment plans and prescriptions to help your cat better deal with these situations.
Why is My Cat Growling?
There are many reasons that cats will growl. Maybe they didn't like how the new kitten kept trying to play with them when they wanted to relax. Or maybe they didn't like it when you were petting that spot on their back. Maybe they were angry that a visiting child pulled them out of their favorite hiding place.
Whatever the situation, there are five general reasons that a cat will growl. Most incidents can fall under one of these categories. The bottom line is that cats only growl for negative reasons. A happy or content cat will never growl.
If your cat wants to appear tough, they will possibly growl in hopes of intimidating cats or people that approach them. If a cat starts growling, back off. Don't stare at them or try to touch them. They are telling you that they're in charge and you need to listen to them. Or else!
Pain or Illness
A feline that is hurt or sick might growl, hiss, or even swat their paw your way if you approach them. Similar to how we act when we're injured or not feeling well, sometimes, cats don't want to be bothered or irritated. If you notice your cat hiding more than usual or eating less than normal it could be a sign that it's sick or in pain.
Once you start to understand cat behavior a bit more, you'll see that they don't suddenly lash out and try to scratch people. They often start with a warning growl or hiss.
If you see a cat with their ears back, bristled fur, and a flicking tail, they are most likely letting you know they are mad, hurt, or scared. The growl is another warning, hoping you'll back off.
Growling is not usually a sign of aggression for cats. They are usually terrified or anxious. It can also be a sign they are annoyed. Cats who growl are often warning people to stop whatever they are doing, whether it's petting them in an uncomfortable manner, trying to pull them out of a hiding space, or playing with them when they want to be left alone.
While cats usually opt to warn others and then escape when faced with a threat, cats can also attack if they feel it’s necessary. A growling cat might also be swatting, scratching, hissing, and biting.
If you notice your cat starting to growl and act agitated, don't further engage them. Calmly leave the situation, allowing them to calm down.
When Should You Go to the Vet?
Cats might start growling when they are in pain. Since they are uncomfortable and stressed, they might let out a growl when you attempt to approach them. They may also start growling when they are anxious or upset, growling to warn other animals to back off or to show dominance.
If your cat is growling more than usual — and at things they don't usually growl at — it's time to contact a vet to make sure your kitty is healthy and happy.
How to Approach a Growling Cat
The short answer is: Do not approach a growling cat.
Cats often growl as a warning for you and other house members (humans or pets) to stay away from them. Never taunt or harass a cat that wants to be left alone. Your attempt to pet or grab them will feel like you're antagonizing them. Making eye contact may feel like a threat.
If you are planning to approach a growling cat to bring them to the vet, there are a couple of ways you can go about this:
- Slowly approach your cat and then gently wrap them in a towel, burrito-style. Put them tail-first into a carrier and shut the door. They will untangle themselves from the towel.
- Scoop your cat up in a pillowcase when they aren't expecting it. Place them into the carrier while still inside the pillowcase.
- Give them calming treats, pheromone spray, catnip, and toys to settle them down before placing them in the carrier.
How to Calm and Relax a Growling Cat
If you feel like your cat is growling due to stress or pain, it's always the right thing to call a veterinarian and make an appointment. But meanwhile, you might want to give your cat some comfort to reduce their growling.
- Leave them alone: If you notice body language like hissing, baring teeth, tail flicking, and wide eyes, it's most likely best to leave your cat alone. They are probably warning you to back off.
- Don't pet them: While you might think petting them could calm your cat, it can come off as a threat to your cat.
- Provide them with CBD: CBD is a non-psychoactive cannabinoid. CBD interacts with your cat's endocannabinoid system (ECS), which may result in soothing and calming effects. Simply drop some CBD oil for cats in their food each day to ensure your feline feels balanced and more peaceful.
- Remove other pets from their territory: Sometimes their aggression may be due to a new pet's presence. It's possible you introduced them too fast. Your cat may feel threatened by the newcomer. Allow your cat to establish its territory while the new animal remains in a separate room.
- Never punish them: If your cat starts growling, don't spray them with water or yell at them. They won't understand that you want them to stop growling. Instead, they will only feel even more threatened and fearful. This will just make them act even more aggressive, scared, or defensive.
- Give them more comfort: If your cat is hiding or refusing to leave a certain spot, provide them with comfy bedding, their favorite toys, and maybe your own sock or hair tie to give them some comfort while they remain alone and unbothered.
Final Thoughts - Why is My Cat Growling?
Cat growling can be downright scary. While cats can seem unpredictable and crazy, growling is actually their attempt to warn you that you need to back off before they go crazy. Growling is often your cat's response to feeling threatened, scared, or if they are in pain. If you suspect your cat is stressed or injured, contact a veterinarian immediately. Your cuddly cat will be back to themselves in no time! For more information, take a look at these helpful cat guides.