Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Jump Sideways?

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Jump Sideways

Understanding a cat’s body language and behavior is difficult at times but is essential to developing a strong and trusting relationship between you and your cat.

If you’re wondering why your cat sometimes arches their back and jumps sideways – I can help by explaining this curious and often crazy behavior.

Why Do Cats Arch Their Backs and Jump Sideways?

There are two parts to this body language; arching their backs, and jumping.

Cats arch their backs for a few reasons;

Stretching – Who doesn’t find it cute when a cat has a good stretch, right?

Most cats have a good stretch after standing up from a nap. They will typically arch their backs and stretch out their front legs all the way to stretching their individual claws.

Not too dissimilar to us really when we lean back in a chair and stretch.

Playing – Younger cats, in particular, will arch their backs when playing and hop back and forth. Especially if they are toying with some prey – albeit a fluffy mouse.

It’s a way they can stay alert on their toes and they puff up their back to look more intimidating to that non-threatening, fluffy, inanimate toy…

Cat arching back fighting in the wild

Defensive/aggressive – There’s a thin line between being friendly and aggressive for a lot of cat’s behaviors, such as licking, reaching out with their paws, and arching their backs too.

In the wild, cats arch their backs to try and make themselves look bigger and more threatening when they are ready to fight.

Sometimes the hair running along their spine stands on end too to give them that extra bit of height.

Why do cats also jump sideways?

If you take into account the reasons for them arching their back, if it’s followed by a jump you will have a good idea why.

The main concern is that a cat behaving like this might be in some kind of distress or is feeling threatened.

If you’re sure they’re playing, that’s fine. It’s pretty funny when a cat is behaving like this over a toy or chasing something you’re using to play with them.

If they’re arching up and jumping in defense mode, however, you need to figure out why and do something to stop putting them into this position.

How to React When Your Cat Arches Their Back

What Is It Called When a Cat Arches Its Back

Generally speaking, you should always approach them with caution and not try to handle them while they’re in this position.

Look at it like this; if they’re stretching – no one wants to be bothered at that moment. If they’re playing, then carry on. If they’re getting defensive, back away so they don’t feel threatened.

If you’re witnessing them behaving like this with another cat, then it’s a sign something is brewing. I always step in and separate my cats if it looks like a standoff is heating up.

What Does It Mean When Your Cat Runs Sideways?

Running sideways is another curious behavior that cats don’t do very often. But when they do, it’s quite the sight.

The main reason why cats do this is that they are either approaching or backing away from someone or something while being able to defend themselves.

Cats will often not turn their backs if they feel threatened. Some will, they’ll run like the wind. But others like to keep their eyes on the threat.

It’s almost always to do with them feeling threatened though, so it’s not a good sign. If your cat is doing this try to find out what they’re trying to keep their eyes on.

What Is It Called When a Cat Arches Its Back?

There isn’t a word to describe it as far as I can tell. Also, there are several reasons why cats arch their backs, so it doesn’t necessarily always mean one thing.

I always find it funny how the image of a cat shrieking with an arched back is commonly used to portray a scary black cat over Halloween.

Have you ever noticed that?

I guess it’s symbolizing fear or shock, but it’s not “spooky” for me. 

Related Meaning behind a black cat crossing your path

In Summary

There you have it, from innocently stretching out to trying to make themselves look big and scary – there’s a range of reasons why cats arch their backs and jump sideways.

As long as your cats aren’t behaving like this because they’re being spooked or feeling threatened, it is nothing to read into.

If you think they are on high-alert, however, please do something to minimize how often they’re stressed or feeling threatened.


Image credits – Header Photo by Timo Volz, cats fighting by Aleksandar Popovski, and cat biting by Santiago Steinkamp on Unsplash

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