Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs? Top 8 Reasons

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Cats can leap up ninefold their height, squeeze through tight openings, and rotate and twist their spine unlike any other animal, which makes them an exceptionally successful predator.

Your cat curves its spine daily while scratching plus stretching, but did you know that a feline can arch their back when they’re happy, angry, stressed, frightened or when they’re in pain?

Let’s explore the meaning of this enigmatic body stance and also the reason for your beautiful kitty’s curved spine.

8 Reasons Why Cats Arch Their Back

A cat may arch its back due to several behavioral and physiological reasons:

#1 To Stretch Their Muscles

Cats stretch a lot so they stay limber and ready for action.

Cats have such elegant bodies and an elongating spine, which they need to flex as well as extend to keep their tendons and muscles in top shape. Stretching is a normal cat activity which regularly takes place when your kitty first wakes up or after a period of rest. Stretching is usually accompanied by yawning.

Felines can stretch either from a standing position by extending their forelimbs forward and drawing their body toward their rear legs or by extending all four limbs whilst upright and arching their back, seeming to stand on tiptoe as their legs extend.

Similar to humans, stretching consists of extension of the limbs, back, and neck. Stretching improves flexibility, increases circulation and blood flow, flushes toxins from the body, and prepares a cat for pouncing after moderate inactivity.

#2 Your Cat Is Fearful Or Sensing Danger

The “Halloween cat” pose is a clear sign that your cat is afraid.

Your gentle domestic cat is predisposed to fear instinctively. Most cats are quite alert. They can sense danger a mile away, constantly ready to go into a state of anxiety in response to being surprised or restrained, when displaced from home, or when they perceive a threat.

The “Halloween cat” pose is the classic example of fear in cats in which your feline stands in tilted posture to source the threat with the rear highly arched, feet close, hair raised up in piloerection (hair standing up), eyes staring at the object or person with dilated pupils, and mouth partly open.

Also Read: Why Is My Cat Staring At Me? Top 5 Reasons Explained

Avoid approaching or touching your cat when they are frightened or distressed since you’ll exacerbate their anxiety level.

#3 Expressing Excitement Or Happiness

Some cats arch their backs when they get excited, for instance, right before mealtime.

One of the cutest reasons cats arch their back is when they’re feeling excited or happy. One of our favorite times of the day is mealtime since Simba will approach me with a tail high up, quiver the base of his tail like a rattlesnake, arch his back, and rub against me in anticipation then excitement.

You can tell when your feline arches it’s back from happiness or pleasure as they will behave in an exceedingly relaxed manner, may purr, rub against you, head-butt you, and follow or sit beside you.

#4 Warning Unknown Cats Or Dogs To Back Off

Cats might arch their backs with hair standing up to warn off potential foes.

Your cat may display distance increasing signals when neighboring cats or dogs are nearby as a message to back off from coming any closer. Usually this behavior is seen when your cat feels its territory, resources, or itself are in danger.

Typically, when a cat feels threatened, trying to warn off an intruder, he or she will attempt to appear as large as possible by using the following techniques: display piloerection along the spine and on the tail, stand as upright as possible with straight legs on its tip toes, and arch its back. Your cat might also turn its body to the side and rotate its ears forward or backwards depending how it’s feeling.

This is a common response to a territory invader, which you shouldn’t shout or punish your cat for.

#5 Exhibiting Play Behavior

Cats sometimes arch their backs during especially stimulating play sessions.

Another fun, adorable reason a moggie will arch its back is when he or she wants to play.

Play behavior is common amongst kittens and you’ll definitely know your cat is happy since they’ll perform some of the following play behaviors:

  • Side-step: The feline soliciting play will move toward another cat side-on with the body arched and the tail will parade an upward curl. The moggie may additionally circle around the other cat and approach it sideways.
  • Horizontal leap: More commonly referred to as “crab walk” and usually witnessed in kittens, the cat will demonstrate the posture associated with side-step play, but suddenly leap off the ground with an arched back.

Play may either be social or object-directed at a favorite toy, a sibling, a dog, or a caregiver.

#6 Urine Marking

Cats arch their backs when urine marking.

Marking behavior used in scent and feline communication is displayed through a standing posture with a vertical, quivering tail, slightly arched back, and passing a small volume of pee. This behavior is known as urine spraying/marking.

Non-neutered males and females generally urine mark to advertise their sexual receptiveness. However, if your spayed cat starts urine spraying indoors, they may be communicating discomfort due to illness, anxiety due to unexpected change within their environment, perceived threat to their core area, stress, or territoriality.

Urine marking is instinctive cat behavior. If it’s causing you distress, seek advice from your veterinarian or certified animal behaviorist.

#7 Display Of Aggression

Similar to the fear response, an aggressive cat may arch its back with hair standing up, often while also hissing, growling, or spitting.

Another reason your cat may arch their spine and display signs of offensive aggression: hostile postures include facing or moving toward an opponent, piloerection, dilated pupils, ears and whiskers forward, staring and hissing, growling or howling at the enemy. This may occur when they are feeling frustrated or angry toward known or unknown people, when they are sick, or when there’s conflict or territorial dispute with another feline.

Although aggression may be a normal behavior of the species, cats tend to avoid physical aggression. If your cat is behaving aggressively toward you, other humans, or other household pets, it warrants a medical and a behavioral intervention as early as possible.

#8 Experiencing Abdominal, Joint Or Back Pain

If your cat is arching its back frequently, and seems uncomfortable or is exhibiting other unusual behaviors, it could indicate an underlying medical issue.

Lastly, cats feel pain and get sick similar to people. A cat that’s displaying changes in behavior, stance, or movement could also be experiencing discomfort and a medical condition.

Look out for behavioral alterations like reluctance to handling, signs of aggression, lethargy, inappetence, overgrooming, and increased vocalization.

Localized pain in the chest together with stomach may cause a feline to appear hunched or crouched. A cat with back or abdominal pain may stand or lie on its side with an arched back or walk with a stiff gait. Moreover, a cat who’s reluctant to walk up or down stairs, walks with an arched back, has difficulties getting out of bed, or is experiencing stiff joints or lameness may be suffering from osteoarthritis.

Trust your intuition and observe the cat. if your is cat experiencing a number of the above symptoms, consult your veterinarian without delay.

Conclusion

Cats are fascinating species with intricate yet extremely flexible body structures.

Arching of the back is a normal behavior that a cat may display when they are happy, excited, or ready for playtime, however a spine raised higher can also imply your cat is frightened, in pain, or ready to attack.

Watch for subtle changes in behavior and body language to decipher what mood the cat is in before reaching out to stroke them.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats arch their back when you pet them?

Generally, cats arch their back when you pet them as display of affection and joy of being touched. A happy cat may also purr loudly, meow in a loving manner and head-bunt you at the same time.

Why does my cat arch its back when it sees me?

Your cat is arching it’s back when it sees you as a friendly happy greeting. One more reason is invitation for play, food solicitation, asking to be petted, or simple attention seeking.

Why do cats arch their backs when being stroked?

Your cat could be displaying their bum as a sign of affection, asking to be stroked on their favorite spot on their body. A cat may spin around in circles while arching their back to communicate contentment.

An unspayed female may raise her bum while being stroked, roll around, meow constantly, and pace when she is in heat.

Lastly, certain cats may show touch aversion or displeasure, or indicate discomfort by arching their back, thrashing their tail, and hissing or swatting to get you to back down. It’s best to leave the cat alone until you build trust with the individual to minimize distress or overstimulation.

View Sources

Care, I. C. (2020, September 01). Advanced Feline Behaviour for Vet Professionals Module 2 Senses and communication. UK. Retrieved May 10, 2022

Care, I. C. (2020, September 01). Module 8 Clinical Animal Behaviour Part 1. International Cat Care Advanced Feline Behaviour for Vet Professionals. UK. Retrieved May 20, 2022

Fraser, A. F. (2012). Feline Behaviour and Welfare. (S. Hulbert, Ed.) CAB International. Retrieved May 21, 2022

Heath, I. R. (2016). Feline Behavioral Health and Welfare. St Louis, MO: Elsevier. Retrieved May 24, 2022

ICatCare, U. a. (2010). Cat Behaviour Described Chapter 1 Maintenance Behaviour. (U. o. Lincoln, Compiler) UK. Retrieved May 23, 2020

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About Melina Grin

Melina’s love of animals began in childhood, when she would care for sick or stray dogs and cats while dreaming of becoming a Vet. While working in the Veterinary field she found a distinct interest and passion in Feline Behaviour and Small Animal Rehabilitation. Melina is the proud director of Pet Nurture in Sydney, Australia (Unique Mobile Animal Wellness Centre specializing in Cats). Melina contributes to various animal publications in the United States, Australia & NZ and also the founder and admin of the Facebook group: Feline Courses, Seminars, Webinars & Events.

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