Your cat has their individual preferences for touch. They might take all the affection they can get. Or, perhaps, they only allow very short bouts of scratching and petting. No matter your cat’s personality, you probably have the same question as many other pet parents: why do cats lift their bum when you scratch them?
To answer why cats like having their butts scratched, we must first understand the reason for their behaviors. Many cats will lift their rear end when scratched here. Others will bite and scratch to ward you away. The reason for both reactions is the same: it’s highly sensitive, and not all cats enjoy it!
Why Do Cats Lift Their Butt When Scratched?
There are three main reasons why cats lift their butts when scratched: being in heat, enjoying the attention, and communicating with you. It is important to note that not all cats enjoy being scratched here. You must pay attention to your cat’s body language to know when to hold off. Your cat’s ears might flatten. Their tail might twitch. Their body might grow tense, and, if the signs are ignored, they will progress to hissing, biting, and scratching. This aside, why do cats lift their bum when you scratch them?
Perhaps one of the less endearing answers to why cats like having their butts scratched is the possibility of being in heat. An unspayed cat has her first heat cycle at around six or seven months old, but this may be sooner or later on depending on her breed. The cycle lasts anywhere from 7 to 21 days and occurs every three to four weeks. Chances are, if your cat is in heat, the signs will be obvious. During this time, she will be more affectionate than usual, vocalize loudly, lose her appetite, beg to go outside, groom excessively, and assume the mating position where she raises her rear end in the air. The latter behavior involves her dropping her head, laying with her front half low, and raising her rear end into the air with her tail pushed aside when you pet her.
They Enjoy It
Many cats, but not all, enjoy being scratched at the base of their tail due to the number of nerves in the area. The end of the spinal cord brings a bundle of nerves that extend into the tail and hind limbs. This makes it extra sensitive to the touch. When you scratch your cat here, they get the maximum amount of pleasure compared to other parts of the body. However, too much scratching here can be overwhelming for your cat. Much like how tickling can hurt if done for too long, scratching this sensitive area can cause a similar feeling of overstimulation. So, some cats will enjoy a scratch here for a short time, but other cats dislike it altogether. Be sure to respect your cat’s personal space and boundaries.
A 2002 study using a small sample of 9 cats garnered curious results. It was concluded that these cats preferred being stroked in the head area. The most negative area was the temporal, or rear, region. However, the sample size was small, and several variables were not controlled. What we can gather from this, however, is evidence that not all cats enjoy being scratched at the base of their tail.
Your cat communicates in a number of ways, some of which are endearing, and others of which are offputting to us. For example, your cat might present their rear end to you as a show of trust. A cat will allow those they trust to have a quick sniff – this is thought to be the reason for the “presenting” behavior we see in our feline friends. When communicating with other cats, your cat will use their tail and rear in several other ways. For example, they will raise their tail and stay low so as to show that they mean no threat. This is is another reason why cats like having their butts scratched – it may count as a form of greeting to interact with this area!
Why Do Some Cats Don’t Raise Their Butts
Your cat may not lift their butt every time you stroke them at the base of their tail. One potential reason for this is uncertainty or wariness. The other reason is pain and discomfort.
If your cat is in pain, they are unlikely to lift their bum when you stroke them. Instead, they may shy away or shield their rear end from you. In cases of extreme pain, your cat might even bite, scratch, or hiss at you. Be sure to speak with your local vet if your cat shows signs of pain. Cats are adept at hiding pain, so any outward signs of pain must be taken seriously.
When a cat lifts or shows you their rear end, it’s a sign of trust and can be seen as a form of greeting. When your cat approaches another cat, they usually start by sniffing each other’s faces. Once comfortable with one another, the sniffing progresses down to the flanks. This region of a cat’s body holds the scents of other cats and humans, so it tells the sniffer a lot about the other cat. The last step is a sniff of the anus beneath the tail. So, if your cat is shy and not open to further interaction with the other cat, they may keep their tail and rear end down as normal. While a raised tail can signal that the cat means no threat, a tail that is kept down signals that the cat is unsure.
Do Cats Feel Pain When You Scratch Their Bum?
If your cat is otherwise healthy and happy, scratching their bum too much can cause them to become overstimulated. This area is highly sensitive due to the concentration of nerve endings here. However, there are other causes for a cat to react painfully to being touched in this spot.
A cat with hyperesthesia will have extreme sensitivity in an area of their skin. This is almost always on the back, near the base of the tail. If you attempt to stroke the affected area, your cat might suddenly go to scratch it themselves. You may notice their skin “ripple” in response to the stimulation. In more severe cases, your cat might become aggressive, and develop dilated pupils and drooling. These cats might chase their own tail, vocalize, or urinate on the floor. It is currently thought that feline hyperesthesia is related to obsessive-compulsive disorders or might be a form of seizure disorder.
Cats with spinal arthritis may also struggle with pain when being stroked in the area at the base of their tail. A cat with spinal arthritis may lose flexibility in their spine, making them less able to stretch or turn around. The pain and discomfort may stop your cat from jumping onto high surfaces or climbing stairs. Your vet can prescribe pain management medication for your cat such as NSAIDs.
So, why do cats lift their bum when you stroke them? The answers range from the enjoyment of the affection, being in heat, and communicating with you. No matter the cause, be sure to always respect your cat’s boundaries and personal space.