Why Do Cats Walk Sideways?

Why Do Cats Walk Sideways

Cats typically walk sideways because they are exhibiting fear or they are being threatened. It could also be a sign of defensiveness, intimidation, or a health condition such as vestibular disease. It may also just be part of a cat’s or kitten’s favorite postures during playtime. 

Why do cats walk sideways?

A cat walking in a sideways pose may be accompanied by an arched back posture which is akin to the so-called Halloween cat pose. However, the difference is that, when a cat does the latter pose, it is usually accompanied by hissing, growling, ears folded back, and hair standing at its ends.

Here are the probable reasons why cats walk sideways:

It could be that your cat feels threatened by another cat or person. 

If you notice your cat walking sideways accompanied by an arched back she may feel threatened by another cat or even a person. Cats will usually do this to appear as if they are bigger or larger. It may also be accompanied by a fluffed-out tail to create the illusion of size. 

She may be trying to intimidate or scare another cat or dog. 

Your feline may be trying to scare off a perceived threat such as another cat or dog. Just like when they feel threatened, cats do this when trying to frighten off a perceived enemy to look larger. It may be accompanied by an arched back and they will also puff out their fur. With this kind of posturing, it appears that a cat is stronger, bigger, and faster. 

It may be a part of playtime among cats and kittens. 

Cats and especially kittens love to spend most of their time playing with each other. Playtime for them is also a sort of practice or preparation for their adult life. Kittens usually arch their backs and walk sideways as part of their playtime mode and make-believe way of stalking and hunting each other.

It could mean that a cat is in defensive mode.

It could mean that a cat is in defensive mode.
Image: istockphoto.com / Nils Artsiom Petrushenka

A cat walking sideways could mean that she is in a defensive mode and ready to fight it out, especially in the presence of an unfamiliar cat or dog. Again, this will most likely be accompanied by an arched back and fluffed-out fur to appear larger and menacing. Some grown cats have been observed to have this posture when approaching a dog or if approaching an unfamiliar cat it may be showing dominance over it. 

It may mean that your cat has health issues. 

A cat walking sideways may also be a warning sign of an underlying health condition.

If your cat is walking sideways and is also manifesting the following signs then she may be suffering from the feline vestibular disease:

  • loss of body coordination
  • falling or circling to one side
  • the eyes are darting back and forth, also called nystagmus
  • the head is tilting
  • nausea
  • vomiting 

Cats lose their balance because of a damaged or diseased vestibular apparatus that is located in the inner ear, the part that is responsible for maintaining balance, and a cat’s sense of direction and orientation. The feline vestibular disease affects cats regardless of age and is usually caused by middle or inner ear infections. The growth of tumors and exposure to toxins and drugs may also contribute to symptoms of the disease although a majority of cases were attributed to unknown causes. 

Some common cat postures 

Cats are known to be complex animals and they have unique body language and behavior that can be confusing. However, if you will learn to understand it you will appreciate your cat more. 

Here are other common cat postures along with its meanings:

1. Your cat approaches you with tail straight up and whiskers forward.

If your cat approaches you in this posture and she rubs her chin or head against your leg in a friendly manner, it means that she is greeting you or confidently checking out something new to her such as a particular scent. 

2. Your cat rolls over and exposes her belly.

This posture means that your cat wants to play but female cats may also display this behavior during mating season.

3. Your cat is lying on the belly, sitting, or standing with the back of the body at a lower angle than the front.

If your cat is exhibiting this posture it could mean that she is anxious. This is usually accompanied with bent legs and her tail is curled close to the body with the tip moving up and down or side to side. 


Cats are sometimes hard to decipher but as you learn to familiarize their body language, postures, and behavior you will realize just how unique and smart they are. Cats may walk sideways because they feel threatened, as a sign of defensiveness, or as part of various other postures that they manifest during playtime. However, it may also mean that they are not feeling well and suffering from health issues like the feline vestibular disease. If this is the case, a proper consultation with the vet should be made as soon as possible.