A cat’s body language and their voices are their only tools of communication with humans. As much as we’d like them to, they can’t speak. It’s hard to understand their intentions if we don’t understand their body language.
In cartoons and other media, cats shown anger using an arched back. However, this isn’t the only meaning to having an arched back.
Why do cats arch their back?
Your cat may think they’re in danger
Here, the stereotype is true. One of the more common reasons a cat will react to danger is using an arched back.
Cats may react to danger that humans cannot see or sense. A cat’s sense of smell has over 200 million odor sensors, compared to 5 million for humans. Your cat may react to a predator or perceived threat you haven’t detected yet.
If your cat senses danger, it will be clear in their body language:
- Raised hair
- Tensed posture
- Front paw off the ground
- Lowered ears are
- Teeth showing.
This body language gives off “don’t mess with me” vibes. It lets the predators out there know your cat will not hesitate to defend themselves. If pushed, a cat in this position will probably attack if they continue to feel threatened.
If your cat is showing these behaviors, it would be best to give them some space. You don’t know whether you or something else is causing the behaviors, but you don’t want to be scratched or bit. Cat scratch fever isn’t fun!
If these behaviors are strange for your cat, see if you can find the source of the “danger” vibes. This will help relax your cat.
Your cat feels happy
Surprisingly, your cat’s arched back may be because of pleasure or happiness. This is the opposite of the stereotypical media we see showing arched back as a sign of anger or danger.
If you’re petting your feline, they may arch their back up to the hand to increase the feeling. It means “keep going” and “don’t stop”.
Other body language you would see includes:
- Relaxed posture
- Ears in the natural position
- Tail held loosely
- Eyes partially closed
If you’re hearing purring and your cats seem to enjoy the interaction, there is nothing further to do here. Your cat loves your company and attention, meaning you’re well on your way to continuing a loving relationship.
Your cat may feel overstimulated
While petting is a great activity to build a bond between your cat and you, it can cause overstimulation. Certain areas of your cat, such as the base of the tail and stomach, are sensitive spots. They may enjoy the petting at first, but then it becomes overstimulating or irritating.
An arched back can be a sign of petting induced aggression. In petting induced aggressions, your cat’s overstimulation leads to them lashing out.
Other signs can include:
- Skin or tail twitching
- Stiff body
- Ears are back
These behaviors are communicating to leave them alone.
Additionally, cats can be overstimulated due to skin diseases, illnesses, or allergies. Hyperesthesia is an extreme sensitivity of the skin on the back.
Other signs of hyperesthesia include:
- Dilated pupils
- Rippling skin
- Intensive scratching
Honestly, the best thing to do is give your cat some space. When they are ready for more petting, they will approach you to ask. Listening to their needs helps to develop a better relationship.
To help prevent this in the future, you can change the way you pet your cat. One may prefer short strokes, or others prefer scratching between the ears. It may take some time to learn, but your cat will let you know.
Your cat could be in pain
Cats have nerve endings called nociceptors that signal the brain, generating pain. A cat with abdominal or back pain may lie with its back arched because of pain. Abdominal pain in cats can present as a hunched back because they have tucked in their abdomen to protect it.
The cause of pain in your cat can be hundreds or thousands of things. However, the best way to narrow it down is through the associated symptoms.
Other pain symptoms include:
- Crying or yowling
- Stiff and abnormal posture
An arched back while walking can signify pain
Cats walking with an arched back may have an illness called osteoarthritis (OA). OA affects over 90% of cats above the age of 10. It’s a common ailment which causes pain in the joints. This can cause your cat to walk funny to try to relieve pain.
If you suspect your cat is in pain, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian to understand the issue. The vet will conduct blood work and a physical examination to help determine potential issues.
Whatever you do, don’t punish your cat for showing aggressive or upset behavior because of pain. This will diminish your relationship with your cat when they are recovered again. You want your cat to trust you, and punishing while they are in pain will not do that.
They want to play
Cats will enter an arched back when they are ready to attack. However, this occurs not only when your cat is threatened. It happens if they are playing. Your cat may direct this behavior at a toy, humor, or friend.
You can tell whether it’s play or danger based on their associated behaviors. As mentioned above, danger behavior has other negative behavioral signs. Play-fighting often includes jumping and chasing each other. Some cats wrestle or play bite each other. They love to kick each other playfully. What breaks this apart from danger behavior is the friendly behavior. Cats playing will not growl or have flattened ears.
You shouldn’t do anything unless play-fighting turns into actual fighting between the cats. If your cats are fighting and not playing, disrupt the situation with a loud noise or a towel. Don’t break it up yourself, as you may get injured.
The big stretch
Cats are flexible, able to contort their bodies in strange ways humans certainly can’t accomplish. We try to emulate it with the yoga position “cat” with our arched backs. Arched backs often mean your cat is stretching the muscles there.
A cat who stretching in front of you can show they are comfortable around you. They are safe and want your attention.
You don’t need to do anything if your cat is stretching after a nap. However, you can play or engage with them if you want to. Feline friends love to spend time with their people, especially after a good nap.