Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When You Pet Them?

Why Do Cats Arch their Backs When You Pet Them

Arching may signal pleasure and contentment

A cat arching its back can signal pleasure and contentment. The cat can even do it simply to adjust its position so you can continue stroking its favorite spot.

To make sure that your cat is happy while you pet it, watch its body language. Contentment will show in its demeanor and mannerism such as slow and steady breathing, ears and whiskers in neutral positions, and a low and static tail.

Another reason your cat may arch its back has to do with stretching. Stretching eases tension in their back and shoulder muscles and releases endorphins in their brain, creating a general sense of well-being. Just like humans, right before a cat settles down to sleep, or upon waking up, a good stretch is in order. Cats usually arch their backs first, and then walk forward a half-step, extending the back and hind legs in the process.

Arching may also signal fear and distrust

Cats arching their backs sometimes means they feel threatened. As a defense mechanism to ward off would-be attackers, they exhibit this posture to make them look larger and more imposing. Some cats are nervous by nature and may not welcome any kind of handling.

It can also mean that the cat is strongly requesting you to not pursue petting or else you could end up being bitten or scratched. The wisest move for this situation is to leave the cat alone.

Do not be alarmed if your cat resists physical attention. It may just be part of its personality or upbringing. Some cats were not socialized with humans at an early age, making them reluctant to accept affection. Some cats simply do not enjoy being picked up and prefer to nestle next to you instead of being lap cats.

Although some cats are not receptive to petting, there are still other ways you can show your love as a cat parent. Cats appreciate being fed and provided with shelter. In turn, they can also display their affection through their behaviors such as winding their way through your legs, purring, rubbing their head against you, and blinking their eyes slowly.

Arching due to pain or discomfort

Arching due to pain or discomfort
Image: istockphoto.com / GluckKMB

Some cats may feel pain or discomfort when being petted. They arch their backs to communicate that they dislike being touched. The signs of dislike aside from arching their backs are the following:

  • Shifting, moving or turning their head away from you
  • Remaining passive 
  • Exaggerated blinking
  • Swishing or thumping tail
  • Ears flattening to the sides or rotating backward
  • Biting, swiping, or batting your hand away with their paw

This may happen because of the following reasons:

1. Carrying a condition

Cats are good at harboring sickness. They could have allergies, flea infestation, other skin conditions or infection they are carrying that makes their skin sensitive to touch. Before petting right away, gently check your cat’s body to check for any welt, wound or pimples. Look also for other symptoms such as sneezing or shortness of breath.

2. Overstimulation

Cats may find too much petting uncomfortable. Focus on the parts it prefers and stroke gently and ultimately give the cat the space it requires.

Do Cats Like To Be Petted?

Despite the common myth that cats are aloof, most welcome affection from people especially when it is done right. Petting a cat can be tricky. It is easy to misunderstand their reactions and end up holding it the wrong way or touching it in a spot where it does not like to be touched.

As a general guide, most friendly cats will enjoy being touched around the regions where their facial glands are located, including the base of their ears, under their chin, and around their cheeks. These places are usually preferred over areas such as their tummy, back and base of their tail. While your pet, take it slowly and pay close attention to your cat’s reactions to your touch and always respect its preferences.