Most people are familiar with the stereotypical image of a “Halloween cat” with the arched back and puffed-up fur. Understanding your cat’s body language can help you better understand your cat. What does it mean when your cat puffs up like this?
You may have heard the phrase “it made my hair stand on end” used to refer to a frightening experience. Technically referred to as piloerection, a cat has a similar response to frightening situations. An arched back, along with the fur standing on end throughout the whole body means that your cat is frightened, angry, or has been startled. Often, the cat may do a funny sideways crab-like hop. The sideways pose, puffed-out fur and bottlebrush tail are defensive tactics designed to make the cat look larger and more threatening to a potential enemy. When a cat feels threatened, the fur may also stand up in a ridge along the spine, sometimes ending in a puff of erect fur at the base of the tail. I have observed my own cat display this “kitty mohawk” while he was at the vet’s office, clearly a response to his fear or anxiety.
Your cat may also arch his back when you are petting him; in this case, the arched back indicates your cat is enjoying your touch. Cats will also arch their backs as part of a stretching ritual after awakening.
Cats have a wealth of body language by which they communicate if we just take the time to watch and understand.