HomeCatsCat BehaviourWhy Do Cats Arch Their Back? 12 Possible Reasons

Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? 12 Possible Reasons

Cats arch their backs on a daily basis. And while we most often associate this behavior with stretching, there are actually numerous other reasons your cat may be arching its back. It’s not just about rubbing against your ankles or a chair leg. 

To become the best cat parent you can possibly be, take a look at what this signal may mean, and what you should be doing, based on the message your pet is communicating. It will help you both understand and treat each other better, and befriend other cats as well.

Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? 

Cats arch their back when they are stretching, but it can also be a sign of fear or impending danger. They’ll also do it when they are enjoying a particularly nice scratch, or during playtime. 

A cat’s arched back can mean several very different things, and thus can be very confusing to those who are not used to deciphering feline behavior. 

In the most general terms, an arched back will either mean enjoyment or danger. You’ll be able to tell which one it is by the rest of your cat’s body language. If they are calm and purring, it’s the former. If they are hissing and yowling, it’s the latter. 

Here are all the different interpretations of a cat’s arched back:

They Are Stretching

Unlike us humans, cats can arch and flex their backs in an almost camel-shaped fashion. This helps their muscles stay limber and strong, and you’ll usually spot them stretching after a nap. 

Usually accompanied by yawning, this type of arched back is completely friendly and necessary. You’ll often spot your cat contorting itself in all kinds of odd positions when trying to get their blood flowing and ensuring they are ready for pouncing. 

They Are Happy or Excited 

Cats will also arch their backs when they are excited about something, for example, meal time. They will lift their tails high, arch their backs and rub against your legs, awaiting the food. 

The action will often come with purring, headbutting, friendly meows and an overall relaxed and positive attitude. 

Cats will also do this when you come home, or when they haven’t seen you in a while. It may also be their “pet me human” signal. 

They Like the Scratching 

If your cat is particularly enjoying a good scratching session, they will arch their back as a sign of pure pleasure and content. It’s their way of telling you you’ve hit the spot. 

Most cats will like being scratched behind the ears, under the chin, above the tail and down their spine. These are the areas they can’t easily reach themselves, so will appreciate you lending a hand and giving them a good, long, scratch. 

However, a cat can go from purring to biting you when they get overstimulated, so don’t overdo the scratching, and stop when your cat asks you to. 

They Are Playing 

Cats, especially kittens, can often be seen arching their backs during playtime, especially if they have another animal to play with. Humans and toys are also often graced with the side-stepping arched-back attack. 

An arched back in this situation, although it may appear a bit dangerous, is completely benign. Cats very rarely hurt each other (or you) during playtime, so you don’t have to worry if you spot your two cats playfully arching their backs and circling each other. 

They Sense Danger 

When they sense danger, cats will arch their back, tilt away from the source, keep their feet close, puff their tail up and their hair will stand up. They will also usually yowl or hiss, and will definitely not appear at all welcoming, friendly or playful.

Don’t approach a cat when it’s arching its back like this. You may scare it even more and suffer the consequences. 

Sasha for example puffs her tail up on a daily basis, even though there is no actual danger about. She’s just not yet finely tuned her instincts and responses. It takes her a minute to realize everything is okay. 

It’s a Warning Sign 

When a cat arches its back and does its best to appear larger than it actually is, it may also be trying to warn you of impending danger. They may have sensed another cat or dog approaching, or someone may be entering your home. 

If you are in the room and your cat does this in front of you, they are signaling high alert. It’s not quite clear if they want to protect you or be protected by you, but in either case, it’s their way of showing you something needs to be done. 

They Are Marking Their Territory 

Cats will also arch their back when marking their territory with urine. The action is accompanied with a quivering tail. 

Cats usually spray when they aren’t neutered and are looking for a mate or are trying to drive other cats away. If a cat has been neutered but is still spraying, it may be a sign of distress. They could be ill, under stress or anxious. If the behavior persists, take them to the vet to make sure they are okay, and consider what environmental changes need to be implemented to make them feel safer and more at ease. 

They Are Being Aggressive 

An arched back can also be a sign of impending aggression. It usually means there is another animal in the vicinity your cat is threatened by and feels the need to protect themselves from. 

Note that cats are generally not aggressive. Feral cats or cats that have been abused and mistreated will show signs of aggression, but with the right care, they usually calm down and over time, start trusting humans and other animals. 

If your cat has not had a difficult life and has suddenly started showing signs of aggression, see a behavior specialist or a vet. 

They Are About to Pounce 

Cats will also arch their backs when they are about to pounce. This is usually a playful pounce, and they are trying to catch some sort of prey, usually in toy form. It might of course be an insect they are hunting, but either way, there will be no aggression in the arch, and your cat will just be focused on the hunt. 

They Are Showing Their Bum 

Cats also have this tendency to show their bums. In the cat world, it’s a sign of friendly greeting, kind of like a handshake for us. Felines rely a lot on their sense of smell, and since their butts obviously smell a lot, presenting them to each other serves as an introduction. 

Don’t be surprised if your cat does it to you too. It’s their way of saying hello, and probably a signal that they want to cuddle and be pet. 

They Are in Pain 

Cats may at times also arch their backs when they are in pain. If their belly hurts, walking with an arched back will alleviate some of the pressure and make them feel more comfortable. It could just be an upset stomach or a muscle strain, but it can also be a sign of something more serious. 

If your cat has injured a paw, it can also walk with its back arched. Arthritis or joint pain can also be the cause of the funny walk. 

There will usually be other signs of distress. Your cat will not want to be handled and will want to be alone most of the time. Their appetite and sleeping habits will change, and you’ll notice they are feeling glum. 

To be on the safe side, take them to see a vet if you are unsure what has caused the change in behavior. You may of course already know they have thrown up a hairball, in which case all they probably need is some time to recuperate. 

They Are Overstimulated 

Too much petting can make your cat feel overstimulated. In this case, they may be arching their back to ask you to stop. They will also nip your hand, raise their paw and in general try to get away from your hand. Their tail will start to wag and you’ll notice a less-than-happy facial expression too. 

Listen to your cat when they are trying to communicate with you this way. No matter how much you want to pet them, let them choose how they want to interact with you, and your relationship will become much better. They’ll soon come to be cuddled more and more frequently. 

Why Do Cats Arch Their Back When You Pet Them?

Cats will arch their back when you pet them to show you how much they are enjoying it. There will usually be purrs and gentle meows as well.

If a cat loves to be pet, they will also arch their back and nuzzle your hand or rub against your ankles to get the attention they are in the mood for. 

Why Does My Cat Arch Its Back When It Sees Me?

If your cat is calm and purring while it arches its back, it’s just happy to see you. If they appear to be angry or stressed, they are scared of you and consider you a threat.

Unless you have done something cats hate, or your cat comes from an abusive home or has gone through a lot, chances are they won’t show signs of aggression towards you. 

Most cats will give you a friendly back arch and try to get a bit of a pet when they see you, especially if you are a cat person. All the neighborhood cats greet me with arched backs and gentle meows, usually because they know a meal is incoming. 

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When Being Stroked?

Cats arch their backs when you stroke them to show you how much they like it. It’s their way of showing pleasure and asking you to keep doing what you’re doing. 

A cat may also show you their bum and spin around in small circles with their back arched, just to show you how much they like the cuddling. 

Are Cats Happy When They Arch Their Back?

If a cat is relaxed when arching its back, it is most certainly happy. If it appears stressed or aggressive, it’s trying to defend itself. 

The arched back can mean so many things, but luckily, you can easily tell if it’s a sign of fear or content by the rest of the cat’s body language. 

Wrapping It Up 

Cats will more often than not arch their backs as a sign of content or when stretching. There are also the more rare, aggressive arches, which are easily recognizable as a warning sign. 

If you’d like to learn more about cat behavior, take a look at our analysis of why cats cover their face when they sleep and our exploration of the cat loaf

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