Why do Cats Arch Their Backs and Have Their Hair Standing on End? Signs of Stress in Cats

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links.

Why do cats arch their backs?

Why do cats arch their backs? If the raising of fur accompanies the arched back, your cat is feeling stressed or agitated. There are a few other reasons cats may arch their back, such as stretching or pouncing.

Cats display their emotions through their bodies. When they do not feel safe, if they are anxious or frightened, this is often indicated by an arched back and a possible hiss or growl (or other sounds such as a low rumbling).

A man was fixing the neighbor’s roof, and my cat suddenly arched her back and made herself look very large. Her fur was standing on end, and her tail was all puffed up. Did she think there was an enormous crow on the roof? This behavior is a classic example of a stressed or frightened cat who wants to look bigger to scare away any intruders. Although cats avoid fights where possible, she was also getting ready to defend herself if necessary.

This article will answer the question, ‘why do cats arch their backs?’ We’ll also look at some of the most common signs of stress in cats.

Why do cats arch their backs?

There are a few reasons that cats arch their backs. By looking at the cat’s body language, you can determine the cause of an arched back.

Why do cats arch their backs and have their hair standing up? To make themselves look tough!

To make themselves appear larger

Cats arch their backs to help them appear larger and more intimidating to other cats: it’s a way of saying, “don’t mess with me.” This is typically seen in situations where the cat is frightened or anxious. The cat’s fur will also stand on end. As cats are territorial, they will arch their back if another cat enters their territory. By appearing larger, they will scare the other cat away.

When cats present an arched back, this is typically a sign of stress. Why did the cat get stressed? What triggered it? Once we can figure that out, through observation, it’s usually possible to determine what needs to change for the cat to feel less stressed.


While arched backs can indicate fear and stress, cats display this behavior when they are playing, too – that arched back allows room for the cat to launch into a pounce if she is in a playful mood. If a cat is playing, they typically won’t puff up their fur unless they become stressed.

Why do cats arch their backs? Observe your cats body language to determine the cause. This cat is arching her back to make herself look larger so that she can protect her food.


Cats arch their backs while they are eating. This is a way of protecting what they’re eating from other animals or dominant cats in the area.

Health problems

Some cats get an involuntary arch in their back. This is typically related to health problems, such as pain or another sign of discomfort; sometimes, there are no obvious signs at all. Take your cat to the vet if you are worried there may be an underlying health condition that’s making your pet arch his back.

Having a good stretch to get the blood flowing!


A sleepy cat will stretch and arch his back when he first wakes up. This cat is having a good stretch and doesn’t feel threatened. Tiny muscles in the cats body allows him to stretch as cats are very flexible animals.  

What are the signs of stress in a cat?

Cats who are experiencing chronic stress usually have very tense muscles. These cats frequently also carry their tail in a level position rather than upright. Their ears may be held relatively low on the head.

This black cat may feel uncomfortable due to a perceived threat. He has his back arched to make himself look bigger in the hope of scaring away another cat.
When cats become extremely agitated and hyper-aroused, the cat may vomit; this is considered a normal response to extreme stress. 

These postures are “fight or flight” indicators and are often an appropriate fear-based reaction to something in the environment. If your cat seems distressed, keep all interactions with the cat very low key, talk to your cat in a low voice, and consult a vet if you think your cat has any underlying medical conditions.

Cats who remain in these “fight or flight” states for any length of time likely need management of their environment so they cannot hurt themselves. For example, some cats will begin scratching or biting at things they would not normally consider to be of interest. If this is happening, it’s best temporarily to contain the cat in an area where they cannot injure themselves while displaying these behaviors.

Cats who are chronically stressed also often have other symptoms that are indicative of extreme anxiety, including but not limited to loss of appetite, hiding, increased litter box usage.

Why do cats arch their backs? Final thoughts

Stress is a normal part of a cat’s life. Cats arch their back and puff up their fur if they are feeling threatened. These behaviors make the cat look larger if there’s an intruder.

If your cat constantly seems to show signs of stress, work out the stressors and reduce or eliminate them as much as possible. This will help your cat to feel safer and more relaxed. When stress cannot be eliminated completely, long-term medical intervention for the cat may be needed to give the cat relief.

If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends!


Recent cat care articles