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Why Do Cats Arch Their Back? Cat Body Language Explained

siamese cat arch his back
Image Credit: Brenda Carson, Shutterstock
Last Updated on November 16, 2023 by Rachel Giordano

Cats have limber bodies, so much so they can squeeze through the smallest of gaps. They can also arch their back in ways that seem impossible, but have you ever wondered why cats arch their backs? Is there a particular reason for the behavior?

Cats arch their backs for various reasons and you need to put it into context with the rest of your cat’s body language to work out what your cat is trying to tell you. In this post, we’ll list the five common reasons for the behavior so that the next time you see your cat arch his back, you’ll know why.

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The 5 Possible Reasons Why Your Cat Arch Their Back

1. Your Cat Is Frightened/Threatened

A common Halloween decoration is that of a black cat arching his back while hissing or growling. The hair is standing straight up, and the cat looks angry. A cat will make this pose if he is frightened to try and make himself look bigger. However, this “fear aggression” pose allows the threat to know that the frightened cat is afraid but will defend himself if need be. Hissing, growling, spitting, and showing teeth often accompany this type of pose.

british shorthair cat having Arched Back
Image Credit: Piqsels

2. Your Cat Is Stretching

You may notice your cat arching his back after a long nap. A cat’s back is very flexible, allowing him to stretch out the muscles in a way we humans wish we could mimic. Stretching allows for good blood flow and circulation—everyone loves a good stretch, and cats are no different!

3. Your Cat Is Angry

You may see your cat arch his back when other pets approach him in the home. When this happens, he is telling the other pet to back off before he gets pounced on. If your cat is angry, he may hiss, growl, and show his teeth to drive the point home. In the event your cat is angry, don’t provoke him—let him cool down before approaching, or else you may feel the wrath of his claws!

cat and dog fighting
Image Credit; Esin Deniz, Shutterstock

4. Your Cat Wants to Play

Cats want to play on their own terms, and when your cat is ready for some playtime, he may arch his back as an invitation to play. Sometimes, a cat may side-step or jump sideways while playing with his favorite toy, and most times, the back will be arched—this behavior is more common in kittens, but adults may do this as well.

5. Your Cat Is Happy

While your cat may seem aloof most of the time, they may arch their back to show their happiness when being petted. If their arched back is also accompanied by purring, headbutting and rubbing around you, it’s usually a sign that they are enjoying the fuss!

cat rubbing its head against the owner's legs
Image Credit: Jaromir Chalabala, Shutterstock

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Final Thoughts

All cat owners have seen their cats arch their backs, and many may have never known why. We hope this post gives you insight into why cats do this and contort their body in this strange way. It’s important to look at your cat’s other body language signals, and what else is going on around them, to work out what your cat is communicating to you. Remember that if you feel your cat is angry or frightened, allow them to cool off before approaching.

Featured Image Credit: Brenda Carson, Shutterstock

About the Author

Rachel Giordano
Rachel Giordano
Rachel Giordano is a Pensacola, Florida-based musician and writer. She lives with her partner and their two dogs, Sophie, a Boston Terrier, and Aero, a Border Collie/Sheltie mix. Rachel holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication and loves writing about all types of cat breeds. When she’s not writing about cats, she loves to write suspense/thriller novels. A musician by night and writer by day, she enjoys sharing her knowledge of the needs and requirements of our furry friends.

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