My cat’s hair is standing upright, what does it mean?

cat fur stand upright

To communicate, animals depend on non-verbal communication (posture, attitude) and paraverbal communication (rhythms, pauses in vocalizations). In order to understand your cat’s behavior and provide them with what they need, it’s important to learn to understand their way of communicating. For example, what is your cat communicating to you when their hair is standing upright? In this article, Letsgetpet will explain some of the possible reasons behind this behavior.

What does it look like when a cat’s hair is standing upright?

As a cat owner, you probably know that cats can have unusual behaviors. One of these unusual behaviors is when their hair stands upright, a reflex that is very common in animals. Cats generally try to make their silhouette seem larger to give themselves a more imposing appearance. This is done to scare off enemies. This type of reaction is similar to goosebumps that appear on the arms of humans. Goosebumps are a reaction that that we have that we cannot control.

This reaction comes from the triggering of certain sensory stimuli, such as the cold, fear, or unpleasant sounds. We are referring to piloerection, horripilation or pilomotor reflex.

This reaction comes from the contraction of small erector muscles at the base of the hairs. The fur stands up, leaving the appearance of small bumps at the base.

We often hear that animals make their fur stand on its end voluntarily to make themselves look more ferocious. This information is not completely false because this reflex helps them raise their chances of survival when faced with a threat. However, it’s not a voluntary reaction. Their horripilator muscles, also known as “arrector muscles”, depend on the autonomic nervous system, which directs the body’s involuntary functions.

The various reasons why your cat’s hair might be standing upright

Is your cat`s hair standing upright? Are you trying to understand the different reasons that can explain this behavior? The most common reasons are listed below.

Your cat is afraid

Fear or a feeling of insecurity is the most common cause for a cat to have their hair stand on end. Felines are sensitive animals that can have this type of reaction when there are changes in their environment. It could be a sudden noise like a ring at the doorbell or an object that falls close to them. A cat’s hair might also stand upright after a new pet arrives, a stranger arrives, or other types of situation that make your cat jump. These different situations can cause their hair to raise around their tail. If this happens, you need to respect the limits of your cat and leave them the possibility to escape from the stress. You should avoid forcing them or constraining them physically.

Their fur might also raise on their back and appear larger than it is. This could happen if they can’t quickly identify the source of a noise, for example. It’s their way of showing that they are ready to face the situation.

Your cat is cold

Cats have a huge advantage related to their coat. Their hair density is more abundant than dogs. This is because their coat is made up of an overcoat and an undercoat, which helps them ensure good protection from the cold. The more the coat of cats is dense and tight, the more it ensures efficient protection.

The normal temperature of a cat is around 38 and 39 °C (≈ 100.4 and 102.2°F), which is slightly higher than that of a human. Even if this difference seems insignificant, it makes cats more resistant to the cold than humans. However, this does not mean that cats cannot feel the cold at all. They can feel the harmful effects of the cold when they are exposed to cold winds and can even die if they can’t keep warm.

One of the ways to know if your cat is cold is to verify if they have their hair standing up. Fur-covered mammals generally puff up their coats when temperatures are low. This is a defense mechanism that allows them to conserve body heat.

European cats often have their hair standing up when they are wet, either because they went for a walk under the rain or the snow, or because they fell in the water.

If you notice your cat shivering when wet, the best solution is to rub them with a dry towel, while warming them up.

However, if you notice that your cat continues to tremble and is not reacting well, they might be suffering from hypothermia, an involuntary cooling of the internal temperature of their body. In this case, they need to be taken to the vet urgently so that they can receive proper care.

Cat hair stand upright
A cat’s fur might also stand upright when a new pet arrives.

A problem related to coat maintenance

In general, cats are clean animals that spend a lot of time taking care of their coat. They wash themselves by getting rid of fallen hairs with their rough tongues. This allows them to get rid of stress and cool themselves down. Grooming their coat is of paramount importance for felines. This is because the state of their coat often reflects their physical and mental health. A cat that does not groom themself often might have a problem with their health and this lack of care can make their coat dull and give it a spiky appearance. However, when a cat licks themself too much, enough to make them lose hair, this can be the sign of a mental discomfort, which requires special attention.

When licking their fur, they can sometimes swallow a large amount. This can bother their transit and cause hairballs. To avoid this, you should not neglect grooming your cat. For this grooming to be without stress and be as pleasant as possible, it’s best to brush them in the direction of the way their hair is growing. If you gave a cat with long hair, you need to lift the first layer to reach the undercoat before brushing them everwhere. We recommend choosing a brush that is suitable for cats and brushing them often during molting season.

Washing their hair too often is not recommended. This is because it can ruin their skin and cause dermatological lesions. The epidermis of domestic pets is thinner and less protected than that of humans. Washing them once a month is enough.

Other reasons why your cat’s hair is standing upright

Your cat can also have their hair standing upright because they feel the need to defend themself against a threat. They could, for example, have a run-in with another cat or animal that they consider to be a threat. The fur on their tail and back will, therefore, be standing upright. With their back hunched and their rear legs stiffened, they are doing all they can to appear larger to scare off their opponent.

Their ears can sometimes flatten towards their back to avoid getting hurt when they come in contact with a threat. In some cases, they can start to walk askew or sideways, all while jumping slightly with their hair standing up. These reactions are often accompanied with groans and chirps. Their goal is to appear dangerous to scare off their opponent, and avoid a fight. The ancestors of cats used this tactic a lot in the nature to defend themselves and deter predators or eventual threats.

Your cat can also behave in this way when they are having their zoomies while alone or in front of a mirror. This can happen if they need to use up excess energy that has been building up or unwind.

You might also find this article interesting: The most common cat fears