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Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? 6 Reasons You Should Know

reviewed by a veterinary box

You’ve probably seen your cat in this famous Halloween pose. Tail up, back stretched upwards, and just enjoying the moment. But why do cats arch their back?

Well, your cat could be arching their back for various reasons. It all depends on personality and the situation at hand. Cats tend to do funny things, like claw at us and lick our noses. But one of the most famous and unique cat behaviors is arching their backs.

These nimble little creatures are very flexible and get into some interesting positions from time to time. If you’d like to know more about why your cat is arching his back, keep reading!

bengal cat with back arched walking


Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs?

Cats find themselves in many different situations throughout their day. They might face a rival kitty on the block or get a pet from their favorite human.

All these interactions call for different responses. Felines are incredibly emotive animals with a lot to say and ranging opinions of the world. Hence, understanding kitty body language can be tricky. So let’s dive into why cats might arch their backs and what this means.

1. Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When Scared?

They might come face-to-face with a threat that makes them feel uncomfortable. This will result in them arching their back, hair standing on end, and often hissing. Most cat parents have seen their cats in this position at one time or another. 

This stance will make the cat appear bigger and hopefully scare away the threat. This position slightly differs from when a cat is suddenly startled, but more on that later. By arching their back, cats aim to ward off their opponent, hoping they might look for a smaller victim rather than our big, vicious, and very dangerous kitty.

black cat arches back on top of car

This is a direct reaction to a dangerous situation. This kind of body language translates to “I feel threatened, but I am ready to defend myself if you come closer.”

The best move would be to leave the unfriendly cat alone and not try to approach them. If it’s your cat, it’s best to speak calmly, but not come in the way between rivals.

brown and white fluffy cat arches back

2. They Are Playing

 If your cat is in a playful mood, it might also get into a similar position. This is similar to their  “ready to attack” pose. However, you can differentiate between this and their response to threats. When threatened, cats growl or hiss and show their teeth.

This behavior can be directed to a play buddy, a favorite toy, or a human. You can expect pouncing and bouncing behavior when the cat is stimulated. This is an indication that the cat is comfortable and friendly.

fluffy tabby arches back on road

3. Simply Stretching

A brief arch of the back can be written off as a lazy stretch – just like us humans. However, cats are more flexible than us. So, if your cat arches back with its eyes closed, it’s probably having a good stretch..

A common cat stretch would be a nose-down, tail-up, with outstretched paws. This simply indicates laziness or sleepiness and a way to stretch. You’ll most often spot your cat arching her back just after she’s uncoiled from her favorite sleeping position.

fluffy tabby siberian arches its back

4. Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When You Pet Them?

You’ve hit the spot! This is a good sign if your cat is exhibiting this behavior during a pet or scratch. This means that you’ve triggered a positive response in the cat and they appreciate your touch.

They are simply asking for more pets and they will often turn in circles. They’ll arch their backs to give you easier access to the sweet spot.

tabby cat arches its back

But with all that being said, where are the common sweet spots?

  • Behind the ears
  • Above the tail
  • Under the chin
  • Down the spine

Remember to be careful when petting your cat, especially the belly and tail area. These are the most sensitive spots on a cat and won’t always be met happily. 

There is a thin line between contentment and discomfort – especially with our feline friends. When a cat becomes overstimulated, it will most likely end up in a scratch or a bite.

⇐ Take a look at this guide on how to stop cats from biting.

grey cat grabbing human hand with mouth and paws

5. They Might Be Displaying Their Bum

A common reason why your cat is arching his back maybe because he is presenting his bum – that’s right! Do not take this as a negative sign.

Cats display their bottoms to each other as a sign of friendly greeting, and they tend to do this to humans to ask for more pets. It’s an indication that they feel comfortable and happy around you.

tabby cat arches back on top of car why do cats arch their back

6. Your Cat is in Heat

If you have a female, non-spayed cat, her arched back could mean she’s in heat (ready for mating). Cat’s cycles can vary according to their age, so keep your eye out for the signs. If you find your cat or kitten arching back when walking around the house, she might be in heat.

Other signs your cat is in heat include (source):

  • Being overly affectionate
  • Constant meowing
  • Moving her tail
  • Rolling.

Cat Reactions To Being Touched

As mentioned, it’s usually a good sign when a cat arches its back when you touch them. But, your characteristics and personality type can greatly affect how comfortable the cat feels around you. Don’t be offended if you don’t see your cat arching back in delight.

Cats may instantly feel comfortable with you or barely tolerate you in exchange for yummy food and security. This can depend on how you touch the cat and your behavior towards the cat.

light grey cat arches its back at dark sunset

Gaining a cat’s trust is rarely simple and often relates to previous experiences. It can be harder to gain the trust of cats who didn’t have good experiences with humans in the past, such as abandoned or shelter cats.

If cats had a bad experience with a human of a certain gender or appearance, they might stay clear of similar-looking people or display an aggressive stance.

1. How to Tell They Don’t Like It

If your cat continuously shows an aversion to being touched, it’s better to leave them in peace.

Signs that your cat isn’t enjoying themselves include:

  • Your cat biting you or scratching
  • Moving their tail aggressively
  • Moving away
  • Hissing or making sounds

No two cats are the same and might only display less obvious signs of aggression or irritability. The best bet is to leave the cat alone as soon as they show any of these behaviors.

ginger tabby cat with mouth open and paw grabbing finger

Some cats enjoy physical touch more than others, and it’s safer to keep your affections light until you get to know them, and they get used to your presence.

This small act might even result in the cat trusting you a lot faster and improving your relationship in the longer term.

tabby cat growling

2. How To Tell If They Do Like It

Why do cats arch their back and rub against you? Because they like your attention. Like arching their backs, cats exhibit numerous behaviors that indicate that they appreciate being touched.

person strokes black and white cat sitting in lap

However, not all cats are the same. Here are some common positive responses to human attention:

  • Purring
  • Kneading their owners
  • Kneeling with their tail up
  • Ears pointed outward
  • Relaxed facial expressions
  • Relaxed body language
  • Slow wave of the tail
  • Slow blinking

They might give you a slight nudge to encourage you to continue if you dare stop. Or a passive-aggressive claw might meet you on a tender spot. Fingers crossed they pick the first option.

ginger cat sits on person's lap.png

FAQs – What Does It Mean When Cats Arch Their Back?

Here are a few answers to burning questions you might have about cats and kitty behavior.

1. Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Run Sideways?

They’ve probably gotten a bit of a fright. If your cat suddenly arches its back and scurries away, chances are that it has heard or seen something that gave them a little scare. Hence the famous “Halloween cat” silhouette is associated with the spooky holiday. 

You’ll probably find them cautiously returning to the scene to inspect whatever is there properly.

2. How Do You Tell if a Cat Likes You?

Arching their backs and rubbing against you is a good sign that a cat likes you. If a cat slowly and comfortably approaches you with its ears up you’re probably in its good books. Most friendly cat breeds will welcome the affection of strangers but might become irritable if you overstay your welcome or sit in their spot.

3. What Does It Mean When a Cat Licks You?

This is a cat’s ultimate sign of affection. If you think about it, you’ll often see mother cats licking their kittens and cats licking themselves clean. No, this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s time for you to hop into the shower. It’s just your cat’s way of saying that they care about you and enjoy your company.

⇐Want to know more? Add this post on “why cats lick your nose” to your reading list.

Final Thoughts On What Does it Mean When a Cat Arches its Back?

Pay close attention to when and how your cat arches its back. They might be friendly and playful, but they may also be scared.

It’s best to try and leave the cat alone until you have a clear and obvious sign that they wish to be touched. If a cat is displaying negative behavior, it will never be a good idea to try and approach or touch them.

Now that you know everything you need to on why do cats arch their back, you’re just about ready to socialize with all the neighborhood kitties.

⇐Want to know more? Add this post on “why cats lick your nose” to your reading list.

ginger cat arches back on wooden floor

Do you have any ideas about why a cat arches their back? Have you taken a funny snap of your kitty arching their back? Share it with us in the comments below!

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April B. Denton

Thursday 18th of August 2022

Beautiful and very helpful article.

Thankyou for it.

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