Companion cats have their own ways to communicate with their people. Many of those ways involve using body language – what we humans call non-verbal communication.
One of the weirdest ways that cats use non-verbal communication to “talk” to us is with their butts!
While not every single pet cat loves to have their butt scratched, nearly every single family feline will use their butt in some way to tell you what they like or don’t like and what they want or don’t want.
In this article, we decode this admittedly strange communication tool and how cats use it, as well as some theories about why cats like their butt scratched.
Why Do Cats Like Their Butt Scratched?
Until we can talk with cats in a common shared language and ask specific questions, we are left to compare notes with fellow cat owners and come up with our own theories and conclusions about why cats like their butts scratched.
The current reigning theory is that cats like their butt scratched because it is an erogenous zone for felines. In other words, it feels good!
Watch a Researcher Test the Butt Scratch Response on Wild Cats
This interesting YouTube video recounts the adventures of a researcher who decides to test what he calls the “butt scratch response” on larger true wild cats.
While the research didn’t produce the over-the-top enthusiasm that many small domestic pet cats often display when their butt is scratched, the larger wild cats weren’t indifferent either.
The researcher definitely noticed that several of the wild cats had a more positive response to having their butts scratched.
What Is Cat Elevator Butt?
As Woman’s Day magazine explains, cat “elevator butt” is a real thing.
And even if you didn’t realize until now that that is what you were looking at, you have probably seen elevator butt happening with your cat.
Basically, the elevator butt is what your cat does when you scratch their butt and they want to tell you that they like it and want you to do more of it.
Your cat will hoist their butt in the air and the arc of their back looks a lot like an elevator going up!
Unfortunately, your cat doesn’t realize that people don’t typically say “thank you” to our own species by sticking our butts in someone else’s face.
So you just have to take it for the compliment and “thank you” message that it is when your cat sticks their butt up and into the vicinity of your face.
You may also see elevator butt when your cat would like you to scratch their butt and they want to let you know it.
Is It Elevator Butt If Your Kitty Hasn’t Been “Fixed?”
Before you get too excited and head over to give your feline more butt scratches, it is important to mention this caveat: if your cat is female and has not been spayed, then you may actually be seeing your cat going into heat and sending out mating signals.
As VCA Animal Hospitals explains, most female cats will start entering into their first estrous or heat cycle around the age of six months.
So if you are seeing “elevator butt” in your young female cat, and that comes with other similar well-known heat signals such as discharge, persistent vocalizing, clingy behavior with you, and, of course, sticking their butt in the air.
However, this isn’t the case if your cat is male and not yet neutered. The tail-raising behavior is more typically associated with female cats in heat.
Why Do Cat Butts Matter So Much?
As researchers reported in the Journal of Applied Animal Behaviour Science, scientists now know exactly why cat butts matter so much to their owners.
Cat butts are one of the cat’s primary erogenous zone.
Interestingly, the very same study highlighted that petting a cat on their butt is actually the very worst place to pet your cat.
The reason is the same – cat butts are one of the cat’s primary erogenous zones.
So what does it mean to say that an area of the cat’s body is an “erogenous zone?”
As Live Science points out, an erogenous zone is really just an area with heightened sensitivity.
This is also an important point to understand if you happen to have a family cat that doesn’t seem to like having their butt scratched or even having their hindquarters touched in any way.
Some cats actually hate this, which is what the research study we just mentioned earlier here highlighted.
Because the hindquarters region, and especially the region right above and to the sides of the tail, is so central to feline mating rituals, some cats don’t prefer to be petted in this area at all.
They can easily become over-stimulated if petted in that area and may react with aggression as a result. If you have tried to pet your cat on the butt and have gotten a hiss or scratch instead of elevator butt, this is likely the reason why.
Other Reasons Why Cats Raise Their Butts When Scratched or Petted
As Cat Health points out, there are a number of theories about why the elevator butt occurs and what the cat in question is trying to communicate with this body language.
It is possibly a leftover behavior from kittenhood
When kittens are newly born, they can’t really do anything for themselves. They can’t even keep themselves warm without help from their mom.
Another thing young kittens need is to help to remember to urinate and eliminate. So their moms (or human surrogate carers) will lick them in the euro-genital area to stimulate elimination after nursing.
It is possible cats remember this even into adulthood and will raise their backside in familiarity with “their” humans.
It is a signal your cat uses to say “more please”
Another theory many cat owners have for why cats raise their hindquarters when scratched or petted on or near their preferred or favorite areas is to simply say “more please.”
Since your cats can’t say to you “yes, right there!” they will raise their butts to tell you that you have found the exact spot that needs scratching or feels best.
Your cat is subtly spraying you with their scent
Cats have anal sacs on either side of their tail and anal opening. These sacs secrete a substance that smells pretty terrible to people and probably pretty great to cats.
The sacs also secrete scent markers called pheromones.
Pheromones are like personal scent signatures. Each cat’s pheromones are unique and other cats can sniff them to tell who has been where and who has claimed what territory.
So if your cat raises their butt while you are scratching them or petting them in the hindquarters, they may be subtly “marking” you with their scent markers – kind of telling other cats with their pheromones “this is mine.”
Why Would a Cat Hiss, Bite, or Scratch When Being Scratched on Their Butt?
We already mentioned here that some cats may be so super-sensitive in their erogenous zones that they are easily over-stimulated and may react with aggression.
But there are also potential medical reasons why a cat might hiss, bite, or scratch when you touch, pet, or scratch their tail region. It is important to know about these so you can watch out for them.
Impacted anal sacs
Just like many dogs can suffer from impacted or clogged anal sacs, this can happen with cats as well.
When a cat’s anal sacs get plugged or blocked, they may raise their tails or do elevator butt – but for a completely different reason. They are uncomfortable and may need medical help to get their anal sacs working properly again.
Many cats today suffer from skin allergies that can cause itching, lesions, hair loss, and similar symptoms.
As Veterinary Practice points out, certain types of feline allergic skin disease can cause lesions, surface ulcers, alopecia (hair loss), and similar symptoms.
This type of skin allergy can make being scratched or petted very uncomfortable for your cat – even though the skin may also itch and your cat may even solicit scratching but then respond aggressively if you hit a painful or sensitive spot.
Yet another common medical condition that some cats suffer from is called hyperesthesia syndrome.
Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine explains that this is not well understood but can cause sudden random responses to being touched or petted.
So if your cat formerly enjoyed having their butt scratched but has now started to respond with strange random movements, urination, dilated pupils, twitching tail, and other physical symptoms, it is probably time to schedule a veterinary exam.
Now you understand more about why many cats enjoy having their butt scratched – and also why some cats don’t.