Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? Understand Your Cat’s Body Language

Medically reviewed by: Rebecca MacMillan BVetMed BSAVA PGCertSAM MRCVS
Cat Behavior February 16, 2022

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Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? Understand Your Cat’s Body Language

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If you’re a cat parent, you’ve probably seen your furball take the classic Halloween pose.

You know the the one   – back stretched upward, tail up, and maybe their fur standing on end.

If you’re often surprised or even worried that your furball may hurt themselves when they strike this pose, you’ll be pleased to know that your feline is safe.

Cats can arch their backs in this way due to their flexible spine. Your feline’s spine is made up of  60 vertebrae which is nearly  twice the number of bones that humans have in their back. These loosely fitted vertebrae make your furball’s spine very flexible. This is why cats can also twist easily to right themselves when falling and are usually able to land on their feet.

Many cat parents also assume that cats arch their back because they’re scared. While it’s true that cats do display back-arching behavior when frightened, it isn’t the only reason they do it.

So, what are the other reasons why cats arch their backs? Let’s explore.

1. They Are Stretching

If your cat just woke up from a nap, he may stretch by arching his back and outstretching his limbs. Your cat may even let out a yawn.

Just like humans, cats stretch to get their muscles active after sitting still or sleeping for long. The only difference between your feline’s stretch and yours is that she will extend her limbs and back more than you as she’s so much more flexible.

Besides, cats are predators, so keeping their muscles ready for action is very important. This is why you’ll find your cat constantly stretching. Although sometimes the stretch may appear exaggerated or strained, remember that a cat’s spine is highly flexible. So, don’t be worried.

2. They Are Displaying Their Bottoms

Yes, you heard that right!

Your cat may arch her back to show you her bottom.

But why would your cat want you to see their bottom?

Cats display their bum as a form of a friendly greeting. When your kitty arches their back while also showing you her bum, she is letting you know that she is happy and feels comfortable around you.

Your cat may also be inviting you to touch and pet them.  Try returning the love by giving your Puss a scratch, many cats enjoy this on their lower back, just above their tail.

3. They Are Playing

When playing, your cat’s body language will change, and you will definitely know that she is happy and  looking for fun.

Your feline will still arch her back, but instead of the stretch being followed by spitting, hissing, or growling, your feline may hop, bounce, or pounce on you.

This playful behavior is very common among kittens and is often directed to a favorite toy, a fellow cat, or a familiar person the cat trusts.

4. They Are Happy

You may observe that when you’re petting or scratching your kitty, she sometimes arches her back or snuggles next to you and turns around in circles.

This is a good sign as it shows that you have hit a sweet spot. Your cat turning around in circles is her way of encouraging you to pet her some more.

You will often notice this behavior when you pet your furball on specific areas, such as:

  • Behind the ears
  • Above the tail
  • The base of the ears
  • Around the cheeks
  • Under the chin
  • Down the spine

For most cats, these are their preferred spots for a stroke . A cat who is enjoying your touch in any of these areas may also knead, purr, or wave his tail from side to side.

However, don’t forget that there are also no-go areas for touching your feline. Such places  include the belly and the base of the tail. A touch on any of these areas may be interpreted as an attack and can lead to a scratch or a bite from your furball.

5. They Are Frightened

When confronted with danger, your cat will arch her back and stand tall with his fur raised (known as piloerection).

This stance makes your cat appear taller and bigger, which is a strategy to scare away the opponent.

When a cat makes this move, they’re simply trying to tell their opponent that they’re ready to defend themselves even if they’re feeling scared. This stance may also be accompanied by aggressive, loud noises such as growling, hissing, or yowling.

If you see your kitty in this state, walk away and leave them alone as trying to approach them or come between her and her rival will only aggravate the situation and you risk getting hurt.

Conclusion

Your cat arching their back doesn’t always mean that she is ready to attack. They might be inviting you to play, or they might just want some petting.

However, we advise that you look out for other body language and behaviors in your cat when they arch their back so you can learn what they really want. Don’t rush to pet or touch a cat if you are unsure why they are arching their back.

Touching your cat too fast just because their back is arched may agitate them, especially if they’re ready to attack. This may see your cat scratch or bite you in self-defense.

Another point to note is that you should be careful not to be too enthusiastic when your cat when she invites you to pet her some more. Overstimulation in cats will lead to discomfort, which will make your cat bite or even growl at you.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats arch their backs when you pet them?

Cats arch their backs when you pet them to show that they like your touch. Most of the time, your cat will arch her back when you gently scratch a sweet spot. They will also arch their back to encourage you to give them another pet.

What does it mean when a cat raises its back?

When a cat raises its back, this may mean several things. The most common being that the cat is feeling scared and defensive. But it could also mean that your feline wants to play, or she’s just stretching. It can also be a sign that your cat is comfortable around you and giving you a friendly greeting. Look for other body language clues, raised hairs on the back of the neck and hissing indicates aggression, purring and bouncing around suggests playfulness.

Why do cats arch their back and walk sideways?

This is common cat behavior, which helps cats, especially kittens practice self-defense. This may also indicate that your cat is in a playful and happy mood. The cat may exhibit this behavior in front of their favorite toy, when they’re with their owner, or even with another cat.

What is it called when a cat arches its back?

When a cat arches her back, this pose is called the classic Halloween pose. When the pose is accompanied by hairs standing up straight, this is referred to as piloerection. This is often observed when a cat is trying to make herself look bigger against her opponent. It also signifies that the cat is feeling threatened, but that they still ready to defend themselves.

Agnes is a freelance writer with big love for all fluffy creatures, especially her Maine Coon cat. She's written over 200 articles about animal care, ranging from how to raise kittens to the healthiest pet snacks on the market
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