Categories: annoyance

Cat back twitching, what does it mean?

Cat back twitching, what does it mean? It signifies mild annoyance or irritation in my opinion. In this post, I am putting to one side the medical condition called ‘feline hyperesthesia‘.

I am sure that a lot of cat owners have seen feline back twitching. From personal experience I see it rarely but it will occur when my cat is slightly unhappy with something. It may occur when he rejects the food I have given him. Or he’s a bit irritated because I want to move him off my lap. In my experience, it is under these sorts of circumstances that he twitches his back.

It’s a very transient piece of body language which cat owners should be aware of but it can be missed. You may have a different interpretation and if so I’d be glad to read about it in a comment.

Jackson Galaxy calls back twitching ‘back lighting’ and has a more prosaic explanation but it is essentially the same. The reference to lighting is a reflection on the way the twitches ripple in a line down the back.

He believes that domestic cats can build up energy levels throughout the day which need to be released.

It is as if a balloon is being filled up and it needs to be expelled through a valve.

“Once the balloon is full, the tail becomes an escape mechanism [tail swishing]. Same thing with ‘back lighting’. The twitching that happens through the cat’s back is, at least partially, a spasm, but also a way of getting that energy out…”

A cat may also soothe herself at this time by self-grooming. Grooming is a calming behaviour. Jackson calls it a ‘self-regulator’ by which I presume he means that it helps to regulate pent up energy.

Overstimulation can cause the ‘balloon’ to fill up because it becomes irritating to a cat. It depends on the individual cat as to how far you can go with petting. All cats don’t automatically like being petted a lot.

Sometimes back twitching might be followed by something more obvious such as a hiss or bite. But as I said, for me, most often feline back twitching occurs when he is disappointed with the food that I have given him. This may be because I give him certain treats at certain times and he expects it. If I have run out of his treats and give him a poor substitute in his eyes, he may turn and go while back twitching.

Do you have experience of this in your cat?

P.S. The Jackson Galaxy quote is from his book ‘Total Cat Mojo’.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • Cats in their entirety are simply one big sensory organ. They are acutely aware of everything. Our BabyMook can become extremely over stimulated by petting her down her body more than a few times. Their bodies express and reflect their feelings and the environment they live in. I have suspected for sometime that many cat ills are directly related to stress in their lives.
    Cats release this energy during play and their zoomies. Watching a cat in full throttle mode at 2AM you can see every muscle in their body tensed. As I said in another thread I consider the zoomies natural or adaptive cat behavior and no reflection on the guardians care of the cat.

  • My neighbors cat who is 16 yrs old gets them and so bad that he almost goes into a seizures and he is getting worse and his owner wont do anything about it.

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