Every day when I come home from work, my cat stretches her back leg, as if to say, “I was waiting for you! It’s playtime!” After having Tutu for almost a year and a half now (and yes, my cat’s name is tutu), I know what that gesture means. She feels relaxed and happy having me back at home while loosening those muscles from a long nap!
You probably haven’t seen a cat or a dog stretch on the streets, and some of you may even find this act strange. But most pet owners would say that their cute little animals stretch their hind legs every time they are around their favorite people.
In fact, researchers say that cats stretch more than any other type of animal when they are around their owners.
Table of Contents
- So, Why Do Cats Stretch?
- Types of Cat Stretches You Should Know About
- The Science Behind Stretching in Cats
So, Why Do Cats Stretch?
Cats stretch their back legs because their muscles have gotten stiff while they were sleeping or being inactive for an extended period of time and are just stretching it out just like how we humans would do after waking from sleeping in the same position for hours.
Cats stretching their back legs may also be a form of greeting or communication to their owners.
Well, every living creature has its own language and way of communication. In ancient fables and cartoons, we have seen animals talk! But in real life, they do so mostly through gestures and body language.
So, the next time you see your cat stretching her back legs in front of you, that means she is showing love and is feeling safe and content with your presence.
A comfy cuddle or other signs of love would definitely be a good way to reward her love and trust. (I will go with the female gender here, but most of the behaviors discussed in this article are applicable to both genders).
Interestingly, cats don’t just stretch when their owners are around. There are so many other instances when they feel comfortable and relaxed.
Such instances include stretching after a good meal while under a sunny spot on a wintry morning or as a social gesture when they see friends of their kin.
There can be various ways in which cats stretch, and at times stretching may go hand in hand with scratching.
For instance, if a cat rubs her head when she sees you, that means she is showing affection and love for you. If a cat arches her back, that’s an indication that she’s afraid or scared of something.
Yes, cats often stretch or arch their backs when they are afraid, and they’re different types of stretches that cats do, these are outlined further below.
These furry feline creatures are always on the lookout for danger and are better prepared to handle it.
To chill out a bit while compensating for the nervousness, cats stretch vigorously and persistently.
Another indication that cats are anxious or tense is when stretching is accompanied by yawning.
Have you seen any other strange feline behavior after she hit puberty?
A cat generally hits puberty or sexual maturity when she is six months old. So, when my cat reached that age, she started showing peculiar signs and behavioral patterns, which I grew worried about.
But this is normal for any cat who is in her sexually receptive stage (also known as the estrus stage in the cat’s reproductive cycle); that is when she is ready to accept a male kind.
At this stage, when she is ready to conceive, you may notice signs like rolling, head rubbing, purring, meowing, and so on, accompanied by stretching, of course! And breeding cats may show such signs even if a male cat is not present.
Types of Cat Stretches You Should Know About
Cats don’t always stretch for the same reasons we do. If you are a newbie in the pet parenting world, the following cat stretches may help you raise them better.
The Neck Stretch
If your cat seems like she’s having a neck stretch, it might be because she has seen an unfamiliar object nearby. This is an indication that she wants to learn about this new thing from a safe distance by stretching her head forward.
If you notice such signs, try identifying the thing that’s concerning her, and try to comfort her by introducing her to that object.
And if it’s harmless, you can even let her play or fidget with it and in no short time, she will start relaxing.
The Front Limb Stretch
As of now, we have mostly been discussing the hindlimb stretch. But at times, your feline family member may perform a forelimb stretch as if she’s showing respect by bowing down. Seems funny, right? Thinking cats would bow? Or is it the other way around?
If you see your kitten stretching with both her forelegs extended and popping her butt up at the same time, this means that she wants you to give her a pat or similar affectionate gesture on her back.
So literally, you are the one actually bowing down to run your hand on her furry back.
At times, cats can even stretch both their front legs while performing the same action for their hind legs at the same time. When my Tutu does that, trust me, she looks really adorable!
This is how your feline friend shows her affection and makes you feel that she’s content when you’re around.
In other words, when your cat leaves her tail and limbs exposed, she’s in her most vulnerable position because she considers you trustworthy and feels secure near you.
Another posture that symbolizes this feeling is the belly-up position.
It means she trusts and feels comfortable while interacting with you.
Sploot may be commonly found in dogs, but cats do it too! Splooting is a term that is going viral on social media these days.
Splooting is a popular animal stretch that involves a cat resting on its belly while spreading out one or both hind legs behind the body.
Both dog and cat owners have seen their puppies and kittens do this.
The type of stretch your cat does while splooting depends on its body’s flexibility and mood. Here are 3 different splooting positions you might find your cat in:
The Full Sploot:
This is when both legs are kicked behind the body to exhibit a full-body stretch.
The Side Sploot:
When either the left or the right leg is stretched on the side while the other one is tucked under the body. In this position, the animal is generally lying down on one hip.
The Classic Sploot:
When one back leg is tucked under the body and the other is spread back.
Splooting gives a good stretch to the animal’s hips and helps it to cool their bodies by pressing the belly against tile floors or the ground.
Younger cats happen to sploot more often than older ones, possibly due to more hip flexibility.
The Science Behind Stretching in Cats
So, why is stretching so important for cats?
We see so many complicated signs in our cat friends, out of which stretching is the most common.
It’s an important activity for them and for good reasons.
Many animal welfare guidelines say that cats should be provided with enough space to stretch in different situations.
Pet owners may fail to realize the importance of this, especially when they own and take care of more than one animal.
Even if your cat needs to be admitted to a veterinary clinic or rehabilitation center for treatment, they must be given the required space to stretch themselves.
Just as human beings need to stretch their muscles from time to time for enhanced blood flow, cats need that too.
Andrew Cuff, a postdoctoral researcher of anatomy at London’s Royal Veterinary College, once told Live Science that stretching helps cats to move their muscles again after long periods of being inactive.
For instance, when a cat is relaxed or taking a nap, its blood pressure levels drop and this is where stretching comes in to improve blood circulation and regulate muscle stiffness while helping them to be more active.
Even in humans, our brain paralyzes most of our muscles when we sleep, which happens due to inadequate blood circulation to all our body parts at that time.
Therefore, the first thing we do after waking up is stretch our limbs to activate our body muscles, so that we can start moving and going about our day-to-day activities.
The same goes for our furry animals, who need to stretch their limbs to elongate their muscle fibers for improved blood flow to the brain and body muscles.
In this way, they can feel more alert about their surroundings.
As for the question of why cats stretch more than we or any other species do, the answer is quite obvious.
Cats sleep and relax up to 16 long hours each day, which is almost twice as much as our total sleeping time, and yes, they have such a carefree life! So lucky! But my point is, cats would need to stretch more often to remain active and alert.
Well, cats are both predators and prey. In either situation, they need to prepare themselves for what’s coming and take necessary actions quickly.
For example, my kitten does a good bit of stretching before getting ready to pounce on a hurrying mouse, while protecting herself and being cautious at the same time when she senses an approaching threat.
Do you know why cats feel good after spreading their limbs? Because apart from releasing tension from their shoulder and back muscles, stretching releases endorphins (chemicals produced in the body to relieve pain and stress). It creates a sense of self-consciousness and well-being.
Your cat may very well be displaying her energy levels and state of mind.
If you are new to the pet world, there’s nothing to worry about. You will soon learn a lot of other similar stretches. Have a good time with your furry little member and enjoying her ways of life!