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Why Does My Cat Sound Like a Motor? 2 Common Reasons 

Nicole Cosgrove Profile Picture

By Nicole Cosgrove

Tabby cat meows with its mouth open

Cats tend to be quiet animals. Other than meowing, purring, chattering, and the (hopefully) occasional hissing or shrieking, they’re not nearly as vocal as other pets like dogs, birds, or guinea pigs.

Still, cats use their noises to communicate what they’re feeling—both good and bad. So, what does it mean if your cat sounds like a car engine? Here are the two reasons.

The 2 Reasons Why Your Cat Sounds Like a Motor

1. Purring

white cat purring
Image Credit: AleksDaria, Shutterstock

Purring is the most common sound that cats make. This often happens when a cat is laid back and relaxed, but it can also happen if they’re uncomfortable, nervous, or in pain. If the sound is low in tone and sounds like an engine rumble, this is a comforting noise. The purr can range from 20 to 40 Hz, which is close to the frequency of an engine at low RPMs.

However, the vibrations that happen with purring can be a way of self-soothing for your cat, like a baby sucking its thumb. If your cat is purring without an obvious cause, like being pet by you, you may want to schedule an appointment with your vet.

2. Growling

angry domestic cat growling
Image Credit: pixbull, Shutterstock

Cats sometimes growl if they’re angry or displeased in some way. While this sound is lower and comes off more aggressive than a purr, it can sound a little like a car engine. This means your cat is warning you to back off and stop whatever you’re doing, whether that’s petting them, trying to pick them up, or teasing them when they’re not in the mood. If you don’t back off, this can escalate to swatting, biting, or scratching.

What Other Sounds Do Cats Make?

Along with purring and growling, cats use a lot of unique sounds to communicate their feelings. The meow is another common one that can mean a lot of different things. This distinctive sound is used to ask for something. Cats may let out a long, drawn-out meow to be more demanding about what they want, such as food or playtime.

Sometimes, cats will have a high-pitched or low-pitched meow. The former is similar to a yelp in humans and may happen if your cat is startled or in pain. The latter is kind of like a complaint, so it may come out if your cat has asked and demanded something that you still haven’t provided, like food or attention.

Cats also chirp or chatter, which may be a hunting tool to deceive prey and gain an advantage. Hissing, which is unmistakable, can happen if your cat feels threatened, angry, or in pain. Cats often hiss to warn off other animals if they’re defending themselves or their territory.

Caterwauling and shrieking are sounds you hopefully won’t hear often. The caterwaul is a shrill wailing sound that typically happens with cats in heat to attract mates. Sometimes, this sound comes out when cats are about to fight.


Cats have unique ways of communicating, including a sound that’s similar to an engine or motor. Typically, this happens with purring, but some growls can sound like a motor as well. Purring often happens when your cat is happy or content, but it’s important to pay attention to the context to ensure your cat isn’t distressed or in pain.


Featured Image Credit: Kaan Yetkin Toprak, Shutterstock

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