Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs? (Key Physical & Emotional Reasons)

Approximately 25.4% of households in the United States include a pet cat. Even though cats are so prevalent in American homes, many pet owners find certain cat behaviors confusing. For example, why do cats arch their backs?

Some cats arch their backs when you reach to pet them, some seem to do it after a nap, and some do both of these and more. Continue reading for cat behaviors explained!

Cat Behaviors Explained

Before we can understand, ‘why do cats arch their backs,’ we first need to understand cat behaviors in general. No two cats are the same in regards to their personalities and behaviors. They do different things for different reasons.

This makes it hard to fully understand why they do anything. However, that doesn’t mean that we can’t get an idea. For those with cats in their lives, we recommend starting with getting to know your cat. 

Get to Know Your Cat

Whether you’re a new cat owner or you’ve had your cat for many years, you should consider how well you understand your cat and its personality. Even if you’ve never considered it before, you likely know more than you think.

People that just recently added a new furry family member may not get an accurate picture of their cat’s personality right away. This is because any animal takes time to adjust to new surroundings. 

Rule of Threes

If you have a new cat in your home, we recommend following the rule of three. The rule of three suggests giving your cat:

  • 3 days to destress
  • 3 weeks to test boundaries
  • 3 months to show their personality

After the 3-month mark, your cat will be as comfortable in your home as they are going to be. This is also the best representation of your cat’s personality. 

Create a Behavioral Baseline

Once your cat is completely adjusted to your home, you can create a behavioral baseline. Try to learn their habits such as what they like to eat, what kinds of toys (if any) they enjoy, and where they like to sleep. 

The better you know your cat, the easier it is to understand cat behaviors, especially concerning cat behaviors. If something is out of the ordinary with your cat, you know it’s time to have them examined by a veterinarian.

Signs of Likes and Dislikes

Some people unfamiliar with cats suggest that cats are ‘unpredictable.’ However, these same people don’t understand the sometimes subtle cues cats give to show whether they like or dislike something.

If you see a cat arching their back this can be a good or a bad sign. For that reason, it’s important to understand what your cat likes and what they don’t like. 

While all cats behave differently, some commonalities are helpful to know. The next time your cat arches their back when petted, you can watch for these signs. 

Signs of Likes

Cats are very affectionate creatures when they choose to be. However, their signs of affection may not be as obvious as, for example, a dog’s. Some common signs that a cat is happy or relaxed are listed below.

  • Purring
  • Kneading
  • Relaxed eyes and body
  • Slowly blinking
  • Ears pointed forward

If a cat is enjoying you or something you’re doing, they may also try to ‘mark’ you with the scent glands in their face by rubbing their cheeks against you. This is a way of showing other animals that you belong to them. 

Signs of Dislikes

The key to identifying an unhappy cat is to pay attention to its body language. You also want to compare your cat’s baseline behavior with their current behavior. Your cat may be unhappy if they exhibit any of the behaviors below.

  • Avoiding touch
  • Tense posture
  • Wide eyes and pupils
  • Thrashing tail
  • Hissing or aggressive meowing

Keep in mind that this list isn’t 100% accurate for all cats. That’s why it’s important to understand your cat and its baseline.  

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs?

Now that you have an idea of your cat’s basic behaviors and personalities, it’ll be easier to understand, ‘why do cats arch their backs?’ A cat arching its back can be a positive or negative response.

To tell the difference, you have to observe what’s happening in their environment. This will help you understand whether the arched back is a physical response or an emotional response. 

Physical Response

The first reason why a cat arches their back when petted or any other time is as a physical response. In many cases, this response is neutral or positive but it depends on what is happening in the environment.

Sleepy Stretch

Have you ever woken up in the morning and the first thing you do is stretch? You do this because your muscles relax while you sleep and fluid pools in certain areas of your body. Stretching helps things get back to flowing as usual.

Cats experience the same phenomenon. They may seem to do so more frequently because they spend a greater amount of time on average sleeping than humans do. Arching their back is part of their wake-up process.

Playful Behavior

When a cat is feeling playful, you can see its hunting instincts emerge. Part of their playful routine is jumping and pouncing. This is one of the behavioral reasons why cats arch their backs.

If they’re about to pounce, their ears and tail perk up, their eyes dilate, and their back end raises slightly. Some may even wiggle their rear end slightly before pouncing.  

Emotional Response

Another answer to, ‘why do cats arch their backs,’ is that they are experiencing an emotional reaction. As with a physical response, this can be a positive or negative response. 

Response to Touch

The most common emotional response occurs if a cat arches their back when petted or when you reach to pet them. Your cat does this because they want to be petted at that moment. It’s a way to push back against your hand to allow the petting.

In contrast, a cat may arch their back away from you if they don’t want you to pet them. If a cat is avoiding your hand, it’s best to leave them alone. 

Friendly Response

Similar to when being pet, a cat may stretch their back and raise their rear end when they are asking to be petted. They do this as a way to grab your attention and show you what they want. 

It’s also a technique used to show other cats that they’re friendly. A cat will stretch its back and display its rear end as a way of greeting. 

Response to Fear

A less common but very noticeable reason why a cat arches their back is fear. However, if a cat is fearful, the evidence isn’t just in its arched back. They may also raise the fur on their back, tense their eyes, and perk up their ears.

If you notice this behavior in your cat it’s important to address it. You want your cat to feel safe and this type of response is showing that they don’t feel that way. This can be a precursor to defensive behavior such as growling or swatting.

Identifying Concerning Cat Behaviors

If you’re new to understanding cat behaviors, you might be worried about identifying concerning cat behaviors. Cats hide their illnesses and discomfort well, so it can be difficult to notice when they don’t feel well or when something is wrong.

While regular vet visits are an important part of maintaining your cat’s health, there are a few cat behaviors that you can keep an eye out for. Some of the most common include changes in behavior, food/water consumption, and body.

Change in Behavior

One of the most common signs that a cat isn’t feeling like itself is a change in its behavior. Since every cat is different, this doesn’t mean they have to act a certain way for the behavior to be concerning. 

For example, if your cat is normally affectionate and vocal but they suddenly start hiding under the bed, they may not feel well. This is another example of why it’s important to observe your cat’s normal behavior and routines.

Change in Food/Water Consumption

Other concerning cat behaviors include a change in food or water consumption. If a cat’s eating or drinking less than normal, it may have an underlying medical condition that should be examined.

However, eating less isn’t the only food-related behavior that you should worry about. You should also be concerned if they’re eating more often or larger amounts than they normally eat. 

Bodily Changes

If your cat has any noticeable bodily changes, especially if it’s accompanied by other concerning cat behaviors, consider seeing a veterinarian.

This can include weight change with or without a change in food consumption, frequently dilated pupils, a lack of grooming, and more. 

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs – Now You Know

Now you know the answer to, ‘why do cats arch their backs?’ While it can be a neutral physical response, it can also mean your cat is trying to communicate with you. The more you pay attention, the more you’ll learn about your cat.

To learn more about your feline friend, visit our section on cats today. 

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