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 - Reasons is revealed

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?

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 also be causes. 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?

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”?

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.”

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Cancer Health Insurance

When you receive a cancer diagnosis, it can be overwhelming – for you, and your family. Having the right health insurance can help to reduce some of the financial pressures so you can focus on your health and recovery.

If you’re in need of cancer treatment, it’s important you know what’s covered by private health insurance. Every policy is different and every treatment plan is unique; this is one case where the fine print really does matter.

Covering cancer treatment costs – what are the options?

Treating cancer can be more expensive than you might expect. To help cover the costs, some people use the Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) alone, and others use a combination of Medicare and their private health insurance.

Here’s what each one offers:

Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme – what’s covered?

Medicare can cover hospital care, diagnostic testing and imaging, GP visits and some of the cost of specialist visits. If chemotherapy, radiotherapy and drugs such as antinauseants and immunostimulants are being used as part of your treatment, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) might reduce or cover the cost of prescribed medications.

With certain medications provided outside of hospitals, there may be a ‘gap’ or an amount you have to cover yourself. Always ask your health provider about these costs ahead of time so that you’re prepared for the bill.

Private health insurance – what’s covered?

Private health insurance generally covers you for part, or all, of the costs of being a private patient receiving treatment in a private or a public hospital, depending on your level of cover. It doesn’t mean your private hospital stays are free, but you can choose your doctor and the hospital you’ll be treated at, and your policy may cover the cost of a single room.

Depending on your level of cover, private health insurance may also cover you for out-of-hospital services. This is called extras or ancillary insurance. For most people, that means physio, optical and the annual dentist visit, but it can also include some of the complementary treatments sometimes used in cancer treatment. This could include things like, home nursing, assistance with travel and accommodation, psychology, occupational therapy, dietician advice, post-operative medical/health aids, assisted living programs.

As a private patient, you may need to pay extra fees including doctors’ charges, hospital accommodation, pharmaceuticals, theatre fees, prostheses and so on. Generally, the higher the premium you pay, the fewer additional costs you’ll have to deal with.

Limiting your health insurance expenses – what should you consider?

Here are some practical things you can do to keep on top of your expenses if you’re using private health insurance:

  • Contact your health fund before you receive treatment to find out exactly what they cover and what you’ll have to pay for yourself, and if there are any associated waiting periods you need to serve.
  • Understand what it means if your insurance policy has restrictions or exclusions. It may mean you’re not covered for things you think are included.
  • Find out if your hospital or specialist has an arrangement with your health insurer so you don’t face avoidable out-of-pocket expenses. You might even decide to change where you go for treatment based on this information.
  • Ask your doctor for a written estimate of costs and find out how long you’ll have to pay the bills.
  • Read any letters or brochures from your health insurer; they can make changes to your policy, so it’s a good idea to stay informed
  • Make any claims with your insurer as soon as possible so there’s no delay on your payments.

Choosing the right level of private health insurance may increase your comfort during treatment and help to lighten your financial load in the long run. It’s important to research your policy options carefully to choose the policy that best suits you.