Why Do Cats Arch Their Back?

Last updated
Updated by
Medically reviewed by
Our reviews are based on extensive research and, when possible, hands-on testing. Each time you make a purchase through one of our independently-chosen links, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

A cat can arch its back for several reasons. A study by Springer Link shows that cats naturally have curvy spines, even when standing around. The curvy spine stems from extra backbones, which give felines mobile spines. Consequently, cats are remarkably flexible and arch wherever they want.

But as a person who has been in the pet grooming business for over 10 years, I’ve learned that cats arch their backs for other reasons. 

I’ve seen cats arching their backs and going sideways like Halloween cats; some hiss and growl when arching, while others rub against objects or the owners’ leg.

All these postures communicate different messages.

Read on to learn:

What’s The Meaning Of An Arched Back

Cats arch their backs for various reasons. The only giveaway of what they’re trying to communicate with an arched back lies in their body language and the context of the situation.

Unlike humans, cats don’t rely on sound to communicate with each other or people. While people speak with words and occasionally roll their eyes or furrow brows, cats use body language to communicate with each other or humans.

To fellow cats, your kitty’s arched back doesn’t look alike. And to figure out what your cat means with each arched back means, you need to pay more attention to other body language and context. 

Here are some common explanations why your cat arches its back.

1. Your Cat Is Stretching

Cats frequently arch their backs as part of their stretching routine. The behavior helps felines keep their muscles flexible and maintain their agility. 

When a cat stretches, it often extends its front legs forward and its hind legs backward, causing its back to arch. A typical kitty stretch would be a tail-up, nose-down, outstretched paw. 

The stretch and a back arch is a sign of laziness or sleepiness.

You’ll likely see your cat arching its back and stretching after a long nap with a big yawn. Stretching is one of the most common arches you’ll see.

The stretches are necessary to prepare your cat’s muscles for movement again after resting.

2. Your Cat Is Acting Aggressive

When a cat arches its back and puffs up its fur, it’s often a sign of aggression or defensiveness. The aggressive back arching is accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Moving or facing towards an opponents
  • Dilated pupils
  • Piloerections
  • Ear and whisker forward
  • Hissing and growling
  • Howling at the enemy.

You’ll likely see your cat assume this posture when:

  • It feels frustrated or angry towards strangers 
  • Is sick
  • Conflicting with another cat
  • Have territorial dispute

An aggressive cat arch posture makes your feline appear larger and more intimidating to potential threats or rivals. 

While aggression is normal, domestic cats tend to avoid physical aggression. Consult your vet if your kitty is aggressive towards you, other household pets, or humans.

3. Your Cat Is Grooming

Cleaning hard-to-reach areas like the tail’s base or the neck’s back can be hard. However, your cat has many vertebrae that allow it to reach these spots by arching its back.

Arching its back during grooming serves several purposes, including:

  • Improved reach: Arching its back during grooming helps your cat reach areas that might be challenging to access with a straight posture. For instance, the posture allows your cat to reach its lower back, sides, and the base of the tails more easily.
  • Allowing better cleaning: By arching its back, your cat can position itself more effectively to groom some body parts. The posture allows the kitty to lick, nibble, and clean areas like the face, neck, chest, belly, and legs with better precision.
  • Matt prevention: During regular grooming, your cat can use arching motion to separate the fur and prevent it from becoming entangled or clumped together.
  • Temperature regulation: Adjusting fur position during grooming can help with temperature regulation. When your cat arches its back, it can fluff up the fur, which can help insulate your cat if it’s grooming during the cold season.

Arching its back is a natural and practical grooming routine for your cat.

4. Your Cat Is Afraid

When your kitty is around something unfamiliar or something it doesn’t like, it might arch its back to look bigger and scare it away.

The arching is a defensive response. 

The arched back might be accompanied by raised fur and hissing, making your cat appear larger to deter potential predators or perceived threats. By arching its back, your cat aims to ward off its opponent, hoping it might look for a smaller victim rather than the bigger, more dangerous cat.

However, if the threat continues charging, your cat may try to make itself look smaller by crouching down as a sign of surrender.

5. Your Cat Is Playing

During playtime, cats may arch their backs because of excitement when engaged in activities like chasing toys or play-fighting with other cats. The back arching can be a sign of enthusiasm and readiness for play.

You can distinguish between when your cat is arching as a play and when responding to a threat. When threatened, your feline might growl or hiss and show their teeth. But when excited, it will display playful body language.

Your cat usually directs its playful back arch to:

  • A play friend
  • You (if you’re playing with it)
  • Favorite toy

Expect pouncing and bouncing behavior to accompany playful back arches, showing that your kitty is comfortable and friendly.

6. Your Cat Is Enjoying Petting Session

If you pet your cat’s back and it starts back arching, it might signify pleasure. The arch is a good sign during a scratch or a pet.

Most cats will arch their backs when petting or scratching into your hand, meaning they want you to keep scratching them. Your kitty will arch its back to give you easier access to the sweet spots.

Some common sweet spots during petting that can trigger a back arch include:

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

However, be cautious when petting your cat in the belly and tail area because they’re the most sensitive. Your feline might not always appreciate it. You must learn to strike the right balance between contentment and discomfort. Otherwise, your petting session might result in a scratch or a bite.

Arching because of pleasure is often accompanied by purring, relaxed body language, and a contented expression, indicating that the cat is enjoying the attention.

7. Your Cat Is Showing You They’re In Pain (abdominal, joint, or back pain)

Arching of the back can also be a sign of discomfort or pain, especially if other unusual behaviors, vocalizations, or changes in mobility accompany it. 

Your cat may arch its back to relieve pain or tension in their abdominal, joint, or back areas. If you suspect your cat is in pain, consult a veterinarian for a thorough examination.

Back arching because of pain is usually accompanied by behavior, movement, or stance changes.

To rule out medical condition or pain as the reason behind your cat’s back arching, check out for the following behavioral changes:

  • Signs of aggression
  • Reluctance to be handled
  • Inappetence
  • Lethargy
  • Increased vocalization
  • Overgrooming

If the pain is localized in your cat’s chest or stomach area, your cat might appear crouched or hunched. In case of back or abdominal pain, the cat might stand or lie on its side with an arched back or walk with a stiff gait.

Sometimes, a cat arches its back because it’s suffering from osteoarthritis. However, this condition is associated with other symptoms, such as:

  • Difficulty getting out of bed
  • Stiff joints
  • Reluctance to walk up or down the stairs
  • Lameness

If several symptoms accompany your cat’s back arching, consult your doctor for further recommendations.

8. Your Cat Is Urine-Marking or Scent-Rubbing

Another time you’ll catch your kitty arching its back is when it rubs against things like:

  • Your legs
  • Furniture
  • A housemate cat that’s closely bonded to

Cats have scent glands along the sides of their bodies, and when they arch their back and rub against objects or people, they mark their territory with their scent. The behavior is a form of communication for cats to establish ownership of their surroundings.

During scent rubbing, your cat assumes a relaxed body language and usually starts by rubbing its cheek against objects. The feline will move along the objects so that its body side rubs against them, with a back arch.

During this physical contact, your cat releases chemicals from the gland on its body to objects it’s rubbing against. The glands are mostly on your kitty’s face in the following locations:

  • Around the mouth
  • Behind the whiskers on the cheeks
  • In front of the ears
  • Under the chin

The glands are more common in areas with sparse hair but might occur in other areas of the body, like the tail.

9. Your Cat Is Communicating With You or Other Cats Around

Cats use body language to communicate with you and other animals. Depending on the context and other body cues, such as tail position and vocalizations, the back arching can signify a greeting, affection, or a desire for interaction.

For instance, your cat can arch its back to signal that it wants attention or to play. The arching back can be accompanied by purring, rubbing against your legs, or meowing.

In other cases, your kitty can arch its back as a defensive posture when it feels uncomfortable or threatened.

The best way to understand what your cat communicates is to check the body language accompanied by back arching to respond accordingly.

10. Your Cat Is In Heat

Female cats in heat may arch their backs and raise their hindquarters to signal their readiness to mate. If you have a female, non-spayed kitty, its arching could signal readiness to mate.

The arching is a part of your cat’s reproductive behavior and is accompanied by other signs like increased vocalization and restlessness.

Other signs that your female cat is on heat include:

  • Rolling
  • Moving its tail
  • Constant meowing
  • Getting overly affectionate

Final Thoughts: Must You Know Why Do Cats Arch Their Back?

The cat’s arched back is pretty multi-functional. Your kitty could be stretching, showing aggression, playing, or enjoying petting. 

The context and other body language can help you understand what your cat is trying to communicate. You’ll need to pay attention.


Do cats scent-rub on humans?

Yes, cats scent-run on humans. Scent rubbing is a common feline behaviour used to mark territory and establish familiarity. Cats have scent glands in various parts of their bodies, such as cheeks, forehead, paws, and the base of the tail.
When your cat rubs against you, it’s transferring its scent onto you to mark you as part of its territory.

Where is a good place to stroke a cat?

Some good places to stroke your cats include above the tail, under the chin, behind the ears, and down the spine. These are sweet spots where your cat will likely arch its back in pleasure with every stroke.
However, petting the wrong spots results in overstimulation and guarantees a bite or scratch from your cat.

How to tell if your cat wants you to stop stroking them

Your cat can communicate when it wants you to stop stroking it in different ways, but some of the common signals include:
Tail twitching or lashing
Ear flattening
Purring changes
Bitting and swatting
Hissing and growling

About Laura Martin

I'm Laura Martin. I get excited about all things cat related. I love my two cats - Dom and Kitty. When I'm not playing with my two feline friends, you can probably find me hiking. And yes, I have a 9 to 5 job. Although if you asked me I'd rather spend my time blogging and educating other cat moms and dads about what it takes to raise a healthy cat.

Get a 30% Discount!

We are thrilled to announce our collaboration with Chewy.com, offering an unbeatable deal on high-quality cat food to our dedicated readers.

Get 30% OFF

Leave a Comment