Why Is My Cat Stretching So Much?
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A cat will stretch repeatedly throughout the day. While this will sometimes be just before or after a nap, they can do it when they are completely wide awake. It makes sense that such an agile animal should stretch a lot, but it is important to know that certain behaviors can be interpreted differently depending on the context. A cat stretching is no different. There are important physical reasons behind stretching, but when a cat stretches a lot, it could be trying to tell us something. This could be about their overall well-being, but it could also be trying to communicate something with their guardian.
At AnimalWised, we ask why is my cat stretching so much? We look at the different contexts of this stretching behavior to see what your cat is trying to convey about themselves.
To regain muscle flexibility
Cats are synonymous with being sleepy creatures, often dedicating between 14 to 16 hours a day to napping. They do not sleep in one prolonged session like we do. Instead, they take short naps throughout the day with a lot of cumulative sleep. How much a cat sleeps in a day will depend on various factors, including age and overall health. Senior cats can sleep as much as 20 hours out of the day.
With so much time sleeping and resting their body, we can see the importance of stretching. Stretching works to counteract muscle rigidity which occurs when they are at rest. This is very important for wild cats who need to be alert at all times, even when sleeping. By stretching their muscles, they can maintain agility and form which is can make the difference between life and death if a larger predator is nearby.
The most common way a cat stretches is that they place their front paws in front and then raise their hind quarters in the air. This is such an effective way to stretch most of their body muscles that it has been adopted in yoga as a common pose. It helps to improve posture and eases back pain in yoga, so it must have similar benefits for cats.
It aids digestion
The benefits of a cat stretching are not only for the muscles of their limbs and spine. Although it is not well understood, it is known that stretching of digestive muscles can provide benefit to the cat. There is some evidence to suggest the stretching of the cat's gastrocnemius muscle can help in energy metabolism.
When a cat has eaten a large amount of food, it can struggle through the digestive system. This is especially so when the cat eats without chewing or does so very quickly. By stretching, the cat can help the food pass through their digestive system, helping to aid gastrointestinal transit.
If wonder why your cat is stretching so much, it is possible they have something stuck in their digestive system. Intestinal blockage in cats can be a potentially very dangerous problem. If you see other symptoms or signs of distress, you should take them to a veterinarian immediately.
To stay alert
Another reason why cats stretch so much has to do with their self-preservation instinct. As we have already mentioned, cats in the wild need to be alert to dangers around them. By stretching, they not only help prepare their muscles, but they can release energy into their body. This can provide them the advantage they need to avoid predation. Essentially, stretching serves as a wake-up call to their senses as well as their body.
Learn more about how a cat avoids being prey with our article on cat hunting behavior.
Because they feel safe
Emotional well-being is another trigger for cat stretching. If your cat frequently stretches out in your presence, there is little doubt they feel secure around you. The cat may be stretching so much because they want you to know how protected you make them feel.
Cats communicate differently to us. We can usually learn the most about how they feel in a given moment by looking at the cat's body language. Stretching is a way for a cat to both feel secure and to show you their trust. We can see this especially when a cat stretches on their back. When they do this, the cat exposes their belly to you. This is the most vulnerable part of their body and they'll only do this when they feel safe.
To mark territory
While a cat stretching shows their trust in you, it can also be a sign they consider you part of the family. When a cat feels this way about their guardian, they will want to mark them with their pheromones. Being very territorial animals, cats will rub against your legs, headbutt you or even stretch out on top of you as a way of claiming you as their own.
Cats are able to do this thanks to scent glands on different parts of their body. When stretching out on you, the scent glands on their flanks will release pheromones which are detectable to other cats. Since you provide them with security, they see you as their main point of reference and an important resource they need to protected. By stretching on you in this way, they are telling others to stay away.
While this is perfectly normal and healthy behavior, a cat stretching too much can be a sign of insecurity. If this is the case, there may be stressors in their life or they may be suffering anxiety for some reason. If a cat is too needy or marking you all the time, it is possible they feel insecure. It is a good opportunity to assess their living situation and address any physical or mental issues they may have.
It brings them well-being
The muscle elongation involved in stretching releases endorphins and provides well-being. They feel so relaxed that cats with a more restless or nervous temperament repeat it frequently. They may also accompany this behavior with frequent yawning. By stretching and reaching up with their paws, cats release tension, relax and enjoy a sweet moment. If they do this behavior too much, it may mean their well-being is threatened.
If you are unsure about the state of your cat's well-being, you can use our guide to the signs a cat is happy to see if your feline is having issues.
To get your attention
All cats will want our attention from time to time. This could be because they want to play, eat or simply commune with their non-feline family. They will get our attention in many different ways such as meowing, clawing or following you around the home. A cat's preferred method of getting attention will depend on the individual. Some will even stretch out a lot to do so.
Stretching to get attention is often a learned behavior. Since we can find the pose of a stretching cat adorable, we might give them more attention during this time. If a cat internalizes this, they will stretch when they want attention. This is especially the case if they want to be petted. While this is normal behavior, wanting attention too much may mean there is something lacking. Learn more with our article on why a cat is so being clingy.
They are in heat
The last of the most frequent reasons why a cat is stretching so much is specific to female cats. When a female is in heat, her hormones will be making her want to mate with a male. They will pine for them by meowing excessively and releasing pheromones which indicate they are ready to copulate. They will also make physical movements to do the same.
These physical movements will often be in the form of rubbing against objects or even licking their privates. This is because their hormones cause physical changes to their reproductive organs. They will also ‘present’ themselves by stretching their rear up. This is especially the case when a male is around, but not necessarily.
Learn about how to help a cat in heat with our guide so you can prevent frustration during this time.
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1. Matchanov, A. T., Shustova, N. I.a, Shuvaeva, V. N., Vasil'eva, L. I., & Levtov, V. A. (1983). Effect of stretching of the cat gastrocnemius muscle on its tetany, postcontraction hyperemia and energy metabolism indices. Fiziologicheskii zhurnal SSSR imeni I. M. Sechenova, 69(2), 210–219.
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