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Why do cats arch their backs when you pet them?

October 20, 2021

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When you’re petting your cat, does she arch her back and purr contentedly? Chances are, as much as she’s loving the attention, that what you’re doing feels good for her.

It isn’t just cats that show their enjoyment of being petted by arching their backs: similar behavior has been noted in many other species, including big cats like tigers, smaller ones like bobcats and servals, and even in domesticated house cats.

What's behind this behavior?

Animal experts think that when an animal arcs its back, it is temporarily positioning itself to stretch further when the muscles in that area are relaxed. Like when you’re getting ready to stretch a sore muscle, or cat is preparing to settle into a particularly good belly rub.

It may also be that the position makes it easier for them to switch between moving forward and falling back as they respond to different types of petting. Your kitty may arch her back when you pet her with long strokes from head to tail, but she may rub her cheeks against your hand for shorter strokes.

This behavior almost always means that the cat is enjoying what you’re doing. However, it can also indicate that she’s feeling amorous or aggressive. If you have other cats in the home, sometimes they show their affection by arching their backs and rubbing on each other or on you.

With house cats, it’s often found between females and males when mating is on the mind. The behavior of lions, tigers, leopards, and other big cats may be part of a complex series of actions that can lead to aggression or sexual encounters.

Why do cats hunch their backs when you pet them?

Another thing you may observe is your cat hunched over while she’s being pet. This isn’t quite the same as arching her back, although it does happen at about the same time.

She may be doing this to maintain contact with you during slow petting – it can be easier for cats to fall asleep when they’re lying on a surface. That’s why she’s probably more likely to do it when you’ve slowed down on the petting or stopped for a while.

Will it always mean pleasure?

Whenever your cat shows this behavior, it is safe to assume she likes what you’re doing. However, some reasons may make your kitty more prone to hunching over.
Suppose she’s anxious, frustrated, or aggressive. In that case, she may be less likely to enjoy what you’re doing. She will instead try to maintain control of the situation by staying in contact with you.

Some of these things are easy for us to remedy – playing soft music or turning on television can ease tension and anxiety – while others may take a little more effort. If your cat is showing these behaviors when she’s not in the mood for petting, it could be because you’re putting too much pressure on her or moving too quickly. You might try breaking up your petting sessions into short segments and only working on petting her back until she starts to relax.

There’s no reason not to keep petting her, but you may need to take things slower or stop for a bit if she begins to tense up. If these behaviors continue, it might be time to consult your veterinarian.

A cat arching his back can also indicate he is ill. If he does this when you are petting him, you should immediately stop and contact your veterinarian.

Why does your cat arch his back at you?

A cat arching his back at you can mean many things. It could be a simple case of him expressing his pleasure and happiness toward spending time with you, or it can indicate that your kitty is getting ready to attack or defend himself.

Suppose he’s attempting to mark territory by rubbing up against you. In that case, the arched back along with a swishing of his tail means he’s feeling amorous and might attempt to initiate mating. However, suppose your tomcat is showing these behaviors when you’re not home or around other cats. In that case, it’s a sign that he needs more playtime or attention with you.

The behavior could also indicate fear when taken along with the kitty turning his head away from you and flattening his ears. If your cat is putting his tail between his legs, he might be anxious or afraid.

Suppose other pets in the home are exhibiting this behavior toward you. In that case, it may be a sign that they’re attempting to show their dominance over you by protecting their territory. If this is the case, you should definitely consult with your veterinarian for advice on proceeding.

Why do cats arch their backs when they're scared?

Cats that are feeling threatened or frightened may also display such behavior. It gives them a larger appearance and makes them appear more imposing. When an enemy is approaching, the cat may stand tall and arch his back to stretch out all of his muscles, especially those on his shoulders and neck. This will make him appear larger than he really is.

The cat may also be attempting to warn his opponent that if they come any closer, they’re in for a fight. Some cats are known to pee or release other foul odors when their owners pet them, which only adds to the intimidating factor.

Does your cat purr when you rub his back?

If so, it means he’s very content and is letting out small bursts of energy that signal the main line of his energy is not near its end yet. A purring kitty usually indicates that he’s feeling relaxed and happy.

It could also indicate that your pet is ill or in pain, so you should pay close attention to whether he feels like arching his back after rubbing and petting him – if this behavior continues for more than a few days, then consult your veterinarian right away.

Why do cats rub against your leg?

When a cat rubs against your leg, it could mean a variety of different things – he might be expressing his pleasure and happiness at spending time with you or trying to mark his territory.

If he is not around other cats and is instead rubbing against your leg, then it could be a sign that he’s feeling frustrated and needs more attention from you. If he does this when you’re not home or around other cats, it may be because your furry friend feels neglected or bored.

If your neighborhood has stray cats, you should also be aware of this risk – any scared cat will attempt to attack by standing tall and arching their backs while attempting to protect themselves from what they perceive to be a threat. If you see a cat in this state, back off and immediately contact your veterinarian for advice and assistance.

Here are a few tips on how to pet a cat:

The way your pet your feline friend can impact her attitude toward being stroked – if you move too quickly, she might feel scared or threatened by you, which may cause her to express her displeasure in such ways as hissing and arching their back.

Always approach your cat when she’s in a relaxed state – this way, if your pet displays any signs of nervousness or anxiety, then it will be much easier for you to simply stop and see what’s bothering her rather than allowing things to escalate until she is acting out.

When you’re petting your furry friend, you should take care to not put your fingers too close to her face and eyes as this could upset or frighten her. You should never scratch under a cat’s chin as that area is very sensitive and could hurt just as much as it would if you were attempting such behavior with a human being.

It’s also important to make sure that you don’t pet a cat too firmly as this can hurt her – if you ever feel your kitty is digging his claws into your hand or arm, stop immediately and use stern words to let him know that this behavior is not acceptable.

This may seem to go against what was previously mentioned regarding cats enjoying persistent gentle stroking. However, you’ll find that if your pet feels more relaxed around you, she will not object to a softer touch.

Summary

It turns out that there are some different reasons why your cat might arch her back when you try to pet her. It may mean that she’s feeling scared or threatened. It could also be an attempt at showing dominance over the human trying to interact with them.

This behavior will depend on whether other pets in the home are exhibiting this same behavior toward you. If all of these behaviors seem confusing and overwhelming, let us know. We’ll provide some insight into how best to deal with them so everyone can get along peacefully!

Mary Wilson
Mary Wilson
I am a happy cat parent and animal lover, and I am from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. Living with three cats and my lovely husband - James. We like traveling around with our cats and writing in our free time. Sharing what we have learned over the years of cat ownership brings joy.
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