Helping Guide Bengal Cat Owners

Why Do Cats Arch Their Back When They’re Scared or Anxious? Here’s the Explanation

Cats arch their back to stretch, to invite play, and to express fear and nervousness regarding a perceived threat. It does make you wonder, why do they do it instead of just hissing and baring their fangs?

When scared, cats arch their back with raised hair to make them appear taller and bigger to intimidate a perceived threat.

It’s interesting to know that this act isn’t something that cats do voluntarily. In this article, we will take a deeper look at why cats arch their back when scared and anxious and how to spot if they’re doing it out of defense or something else.

Why Do Cats Arch Their Back?

It’s so amusing to watch cats squeeze themselves into a tight hole and twist their spines to do almost impossible feats for us to mimic. Here are other reasons why cats arch their back:

  • When they feel scared. Animals in general puff their feathers and fur to appear bigger and intimidate a perceived threat. Cats do this as a warning when shaken with fear.
  • When they want to stretch their muscles. After a long nap, they get those muscles moving and ready.
  • When they feel happy or content. You’ll see this in kittens when they’re feeling playful and in adult cats when they’re content and relaxed. When you’re petting your cat and
  • When they are experiencing bodily pains. Senior cats will exhibit the pains they are experiencing in some way or another. Arthritis is one of many possible causes or a more complicated disease.

You might ask, how can you tell if the cat is happy or scared? By looking at how their ears and tails are positioned, you can distinguish which applies to your cat. When the ears are pinned back, the cat isn’t feeling safe and is ready to attack or flee. When it’s forward or perked up, the cat is curious or playful!

Read: Why Does My Cat Stare at the Ceiling?

How to Calm a Scared and Anxious Cat?

As much as you’d like to pick up your frightened cat and nurse it in your arms, let your cat retreat in a safe space, and don’t attempt to coax it out. In a state of fear, your cat may not react to you as warmly as you’d like.

Use a soft voice and don’t make sudden movements that can surprise your cat. If you’re worried about your cat fleeing, make sure that exit points are closed such as windows and doors.

Read: Why Do Cats Attack Their Owners for No Reason?

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Walk Sideways?

It may look funny when cats do this. This stance is also called the “crabwalk” and you can imagine why when you see it in action. As cats arch their backs, trying to appear bigger and taller, they walk sideways to keep an eye on the threat as they feel scared. This is also a sign of territorial behavior paired with hissing and the ears set back.

For kittens, they’re showing that they’re in a happy, playful mood and that they’re enjoying themselves. It’s rather adorable!

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When We Stroke Them?

It’s almost instinctive for many of us to start petting a cat when it initiates contact with us, frequently by rubbing its face against us. We often start stroking the head and then glide our hand down to their back to the base of the tail. Some cats respond to this by arching their backs, which increases the amount of pressure they put on our hands. This shows that the cat appreciates the encounter.

A cat that is particularly animated may occasionally almost stand on its hind legs to almost rear up and meet an approaching hand with its head before arching its back in response. Have you ever seen your cat react this way to you? If yes, you’re doing a wonderful job!

Read: How to Discipline a Cat Not to Bite?

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When Rubbing on Something?

When you see your cat rubbing against something – for example, the furniture, a feline housemate, or even against your legs, this behavior occurs with relaxed body language and usually starts with the cat rubbing its cheeks against the object. The cat then advances along the object until one of its sides comes into contact with it; at this point, the cat’s back frequently arches.

This is also done to mark territory and leave their scent on you and the objects they rub against. As they leave their scent on you, they pick up yours. A cat’s body has many scent glands that release pheromones which is useful for telling other cats that somebody has already claimed this turf. PetMD further adds that your cat is claiming this place and these things as their own.

Read: Why Does My Cat Hug My Arm and Bite Me?

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When They See Their Owner?

Your cat is arching its back when it sees you as a friendly and happy greeting. It’s also an invitation for play, food solicitation, asking to be petted, or simple attention seeking.

If you’d like to see more of this behavior from your cat, respond to it happily by petting it and giving praises. It makes for such a warm welcome seeing your cat greeting you by the entrance with a display of unique “hello”.

How to React When Your Cat Arches Their Back?

In general, you should try not to handle them while they’re in this position and always approach them carefully. Consider it this way: if they are stretching, nobody wants to be interrupted at that time. Continue if they are amusing themselves. Back off if they start to act defensively so they don’t feel threatened.

If you’re witnessing your cat behaving like this with another cat, then it’s a sign that something is brewing. Step in and separate them if it looks like a standoff is heating up.

Read: The Meaning Behind Your Cat’s Licking Behavior

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs When in Pain?

A cat with abdominal or back pain might stand or lie on its side with its back arched or walk with a stilted gait. All animals have specialized nerve endings called nociceptors that, when activated, send signals to the central nervous system, which then generates pain and makes your cat arch their back in response.

The best way to properly assess your cat’s condition is by taking it to the vet. Preventing it from becoming worse will save your cat from dealing with further discomfort and pain in the future.


It may be hard to pin down what’s causing cats to arch their backs when they’re scared or anxious. It’s a pose of warning to tell the perceived threat to back away, notably if your cat flattens their ears to the sides of their head and hisses. However, if your cat doesn’t exhibit any of these signs, it may well be an indication of a playful and happy cat.

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