Why does my cat growl when playing?

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Most pet parents associate a cat’s growling with anger. However, that isn’t always the case. Sure, a cat growls when angry or agitated, but there could be several other reasons for a cat to growl. They might growl to assert dominance, denote physical pain, show fear, or even warn other cats. But why does a cat growl when playing?

Even though cats are small in size, they can be fierce when it comes to asserting dominance while relying on behavioral traits such as swatting, hissing, or growling.

Understanding Your Cat’s Growling

Growling is often seen as a sign of aggression or displeasure in cats denoting that it doesn’t want to play anymore. Alternatively, your cat might be claiming its toy as prey. However, the type of growl is something you need to understand before you determine the behavior they are showing.

Cats and kittens are capable of producing a range of vocalizations. It starts with the basic meow sound, and then several others include yowling, mewing, whining, snarling, hissing, and so on.

Types of Cat Noises and Their Meaning

Cat noise


It represents a happy emotion when they observe something desirable, such as a treat, meal, or toy being offered
It is generally used by cats when talking to humans. They generally produce this sound when seeking attention, requesting to go outside, or when hungry
It is generally used by cats when talking to humans. They generally produce this sound when seeking attention, requesting to go outside, or when hungry
It represents a relaxed and content cat. This happens mostly after the cat has eaten something tasty and satisfying 
Growl represents a range of emotions starting from fear, agitation, dominance, pain, annoyance, and much more  

Growling: What is the context?

During playtime, your cat growls as it tends to get carried away and thinks that it is hunting while trouncing or pouncing on the object it is playing with. At this very time, any reactions towards the pet parent, other pets, and even objects around them can be particularly intense.

Your cat or kitten might growl as they get hold of a toy, wrestle with their playmate while pacing through the room, and even if they are picked up mid-act.

Is the growling dangerous?

Growling sounds produced by your cat might or might not be dangerous depending on the situation it is in and the emotion it is portraying. If your kitten is very angry, riled, or has to defend itself from a potential threat. In such cases, this growl will be accompanied by spitting and hissing while it arches its back to show its dominance.

Additionally, your cat might become stiff in its position or even back away as it shows its claws and teeth. You need to understand your kitten well to ensure that this growling isn’t dangerous or out of pain.

Reasons for Cats Growling

In a general sense, cat growling is a representative of a warning from the animal. This sound usually communicates that your cat is feeling powerful or upset and wishes that you back off. Let us delve deeper into a cat’s body language & circumstances that might be causing this growling while your pet is playing.

1. Possessive Growling:

A primary reason for kittens or cats to growl is when they are showing possessiveness. They might assume that the toy is their prey. After the cat has conquered its prey which in this case is a toy, it does everything in its power to protect and defend it from potential challengers. This habit might be more of an instinctual one as opposed to a habitual one.

Simply put, your cat wants to let you or any other cats know that it’s their catch, and there is no way you can snatch it away.

2. Territorial Growling:

Your cat’s growl can also denote that a particular place in the house is under its territory. For example, this vocalization helps them warn people or pets away from places such as a couch, cat trees, or similar areas that the feline finds comfy.

The best thing you can do in such a case is to provide them with a safe space to play without having to worry about intruders. A good option you can gift your pet is a BEDELITE Cat Bed for Large Cats. This foldable cat bed can be the perfect hideout and play station for your cat.

3. Dominant Growling:

Another representative of growling is to assert dominance. For example, when two cats or kittens play with each other, and one gets on top and starts growling, it is establishing that they have won. On the other hand, if your cat at the bottom growls, it might represent frustration or annoyance as it gets defeated.

The cat might also try and use this dominating growl on its pet parent.

4. Annoyed Growling:

Your cat might also growl in case it is annoyed by something. They might also be indicating that they are done playing or don’t like the game at all. This growl might be directed toward another pet or even you. When this happens, make sure you back off & wait for the cat to calm down.

Cats often growl when they feel tired, and you are pushing them beyond their physical limit.

5. Fearful Growling:

Fear could also be a big reason your cat might growl while playing. For example, if the toy is new and too big or weird for your cat, it might start growling out of fear. At times, the kitten might also growl if someone unfamiliar comes around them when playing.

6. Angry Growling:

If your cat is annoyed, its mood can transform into anger if you don’t heed the pet’s warning. An angry cat might add a yowling or whining sound to the growl or even start spitting or hissing. It might even attempt to bite or scratch you. So, you must understand this temperament and leave your pet alone.

7. Painful Growling:

Another reason your cat growls is due to pain. If you accidentally touched a part of your cat’s body that has been painful for quite some time, it could either growl at you or flinch away. Make sure you notice other signs that suggest your cat is in pain, including:

  • Rapid breathing
  • Makes minimal movement
  • Change in posture
  • Licking a specific part of its body frequently
  • Sudden changes in behavior
  • Limping


When you see your cat growling while playing, it isn’t anything to worry about. It could simply be a sign of competitive playfulness. However, as a pet parent, you must notice subtle signs of behavioral changes and report them to your veterinarian. It could also be a sign of pain or an underlying health issue. So, you mustn’t panic when the cat growls. Rather, monitor them and report any abnormalities to the vet for thorough guidance.

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