Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When You Pet Them?
Behavioral Problems

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When You Pet Them?

The lower back and base of the tail are highly sensitive areas of a cat’s body. Stroking this area with the hand will likely elicit a positive physical response. In most cases, the arching or raising of the back and tail is a natural response to an enjoyable experience. This is your cat’s way of telling you that they are incredibly happy and contented.

Cats are complex animals, so the arching of the back and tail can be due to hormones, stretching, territorial displays, and displeasure. Pain can also prompt the arching and tensing up of the back.

Is your cat really enjoying being fussed by you or do they have a painful nerve ailment? In this guide, we are going to look at whether your cat’s body language is negative or positive.

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Raise Their Butts?

Back arching and rear raising are all about sensation and mood. Why do cats raise their backs when you pet them?

Let’s take a closer look at six notable reaction triggers:

1) Contentment

The most common reason why cats arch their backs while being petted is contentment. If you have hit the right spot while petting your cat, they will let you know through their body language. Arching the back and lifting the rear are signs of approval.

Although this display may appear unusual, most cats enjoy being petted and rubbed near the base of the tail and along the spine. If your cat is in a standing position and you hit the perfect spot, arching and rear lifting will occur.

  • The longer you own your cat, the easier it will be to recognize this sign of contentment. Knowing where (and how) your cat enjoys being petted is an important key when it comes to developing trust and a strong bond.
  • An arched back from petting can lead to food consumption. Some cats associate petting with mealtime. If your cat has raised its rear as a sign of contentment, it may feel inclined to finish off some food that you prepared a bit earlier. While this can occur in cats of all life stages, younger cats may learn to associate affection with food. I’ve been petted so now I must eat.

2) Estrus Cycle

When female cats engage in “elevator butt.” This position could be used to signal her desire to a mate. By raising the rear and placing the tail off to the side, this is an invitation to male cats.

If a female cat has entered estrus (in heat), then the touch of a human hand can provoke the same occurrence.

  • Female cats that are in heat should be kept indoors. A neighborhood filled with male cats will undoubtedly take advantage of this opportunity. It is also worth noting that female cats in heat are more vocal and affectionate. Being able to tell the difference between an arched back due to contentment and a similar pose due to estrus is vitally important.
  • If you have a multi-cat household and wish to avoid this issue entirely, it would be wise to have your cats fixed. Not only will it prevent unwanted litter within your own home, but it can also protect your female cat from unwanted aggression. Male cats are known to fight each other (and also the female cat) when the heat reaches a peak level.
Does a cat that arches the back feel threatened?

3) Scent Marking

Similar to a skunk and other scent-marking animals, cats have two anal sacs. Helping felines to mark their territory, anal sacs are capable of producing a dark liquid with a potent fragrance.

Expressed during the elimination of feces, the scent of the anal sacs can be used to scent mark. If your cat arches its back while being petted, this could be a subtle way of claiming you as its territory. This is notably true if the position is also connected with frequent passing between your legs, against your body, etc.

Scent markings of this nature can also be mistaken for urination. Some cats will mark by arching their backs and swiftly shaking their tails. In the majority of cases, nothing is being eliminated, but the scent of the anal sacs is potent enough that other cats will take notice.

  • PetMD notes that a feline’s anal sacs can be subject to a variety of issues. Impaction, infection, and abscess are the main concerns. One of the primary symptoms associated with these ailments involves pain near the tail. Your cat may arch its back due to pain associated with unhealthy anal sacs. Difficulting eliminating is also a symptom associated with this pain.

4) Stretching

Is arching the back a way of stretching? In some cases, what appears to be obvious is just that. In the same way that a person will stretch after being in one position for hours at a time a cat, usually after napping, will arch their back before slowly getting a move on.

Have you ever seen a cat seemingly drag their back legs for mere seconds? This is also another form of stretching. Arch the back and stretch the back legs. Coupled with arching as a means of contentment, the raising of the rear as a means of stretching are two of the more common reasons for such displays.

Although cats can be curious and hard-to-read animals, some displays are what they appear to be in every sense. It is the ability to notice smaller underlying clues that are important. As an example, stretching with tail up and ears back could be something more significant.

5) Pain

The high concentration of nerves near the base of a cat’s tail means that nerve pain can cause your cat to arch its back when petted.

Carrying a sense of sensitivity and over-stimulation, areas that are hypersensitive can be quite painful and provoke an assortment of responses. If your cat elicits an aggressive meow and other harsh vocals upon being touched in specific areas of the back or tail, this is likely to be a sign that pain is being experienced.

In addition to the anal sacs concern, issues such as skin allergies and physical trauma to the back and base of the tail can also be responsible for pain. If something has struck your cat, you should always check for flesh wounds and swelling.

is my cat arching its back in pain?

We encourage you to consult your vet if your cat is displaying a perpetual tendency to react negatively to contact in the lower back and tail region. In this scenario, the back arching that is being presented is likely a natural “tensing up” reaction to contact.

6) Anxiety and Fear

Why do cats arch their backs and jump sideways? Anxiety and fear can be the cause in certain circumstances.

An arched back, complete with fur standing up and ears back, are signs of displeasure. Either your cat has been visually stimulated in an unpleasing manner or is responding to an unwelcome touch.

Similar to how a cat might jump back and raise its rear when in the presence of a predator, your pet may take on the same pose and attitude around you.

Does a cat that arches its back feel threatened? In some cases, the answer is yes. This display may even occur during a petting or play session. A cat’s mood can change on a dime during times of over-stimulation.

In some cases, the arching of your cats back, accompanied by a low growl, is likely their way of telling you to leave well alone. If you have a multi-cat household, the reason for your cat’s anxiety could be in the room.

If you are concerned that your cat’s anxiety and fear is being caused by the relationship it shares with other cats, a vet or behaviorist may be able to help. Unless all of the cats within your home are from the same litter and have grown up together, it can be hard to introduce a new cat to the fold.

What can initially be viewed as back arching and butt raising could be an outward sign that the environment is not safe and secure. Experts in the field can help you identify what is causing your cat’s concerns and how they can be resolved.