Close your eyes and think of the iconic image of a cat. Most of us will imagine a cat standing from its resting position, arching its back while extending its tail. But why do cats arch their backs?
The reason why most of us find this image so remarkable is due to the amazing way the cat flexes its spine. It almost looks like they have an accordion in their back as they stretch out the tension.
Cats arch their backs for several reasons. Most of us will also remember the classic cartoon drawings of a scared cat leaping up with an arched back and its fur standing up straight in fear.
So, why do cats arch their backs? Do they find it pleasurable? Does it serve a function?
Why Does My Cat Arch Her Back?
Cats have a longer and more complex spine than humans. In comparison, the human backbone has twelve thoracic vertebrae while the cat has thirteen. The additional joint in the back gives your cat its hyper-flexibility.
Cats have additional elastic cushioning between the spinal disks, allowing for greater range-of-motion in the joints.
The joints also rotate more than humans, and it’s for this reason, cats always land on their feet. They can twist and rotate in the air without needing additional leverage from the environment.
As a result of the additional mobility, your cat can contort its spine into some fascinating positions that make your back hurt just by looking at them.
As mentioned, your cat arches its back for several reasons.
Cats Arch to Stretch
Cats love stretching. Look at any video of its big cat ancestors like the tiger and the lion, and you’ll see these predators exhibit this stretching behavior as well.
Stretching helps your cat keep its muscles and joints limber and ready to pounce on a moment’s notice. When it’s go-time for your cat, they need to leap into action right away.
There’s no time for warmups or a quick jog around the block. Failing to act may mean the feline would miss out on a meal in the wild.
Cats Arch when Scared
We discussed the classic image of the black cat arching its back with its hair standing on end. This iconic depiction of a cat accurately shows cats’ fear response.
Your cat experiences a fearful reaction when you catch it by surprise, or they experience an environmental stimulus creating a scare in your feline friend.
Typically, your cat’s instinct is to jump up and out of the way of the stimulus. Some cats look like a coiled spring when they experience this reaction, jumping several feet into the air while arching their backs in flight.
Cats may also arch their back and growl when they feel threatened. This behavior typically occurs when two rival cats meet each other.
They arch their backs and stand their fur on end in an attempt to look bigger to the rival. They may also start circling each other while growling in warning to the other cat.
If the cats don’t fight and walk away, it might take a few minutes before their hair flattens out. If they decide to engage in combat, you might notice the cats arching their backs as they strike and move away from each other during the fight. The cat’s spine acts like a spring, providing explosive movement.
Cats Arch During Playtime
If you bring a new kitten home, they need to bond with you through playtime. You’ll probably notice that some kittens adopt the behavior of arching their back and hopping around.
While it’s an adorable behavior, it’s your kitten practicing the behavior mentioned in the fearful reaction in the previous section.
However, owners need to note that your cat isn’t doing this out of fear for you; it’s just practicing in a safe environment.
You’ll find it easy to tell when your cat is arching its back for fun or out of fear. The rest of the cat’s body language gives their intention away.
The most common sign of aggressive or fearful arching is the appearance of the cat’s hair standing up. If your cat is upset or afraid, it may also start hissing, growling, or spitting.
However, it’s uncommon for cats to exhibit aggressive or fearful behavior to their owner unless the cat is dealing with mental health issues.
What Do I Do If I See My Cat Arching Its Back?
If your cat is arching her back in a stretch, it’s not aggressive behavior. You can pet them down the length of their spine and up their tail, and they’ll probably move towards you with an affectionate head bump.
However, if you’re in the street and a stray cat starts growling at you while arching its back, stay away. Back away slowly from the cat, and don’t make any sound. Fast movements and shouting may spur an attack by the aggressive or scared animal.