Cats are natural acrobats; able to jump many times their height, move at blurring speeds, and pound for pound, are as tough as nails. Out of all of the things they can do, why do cats jump sideways?
Cats jump sideways when startled – a reflex that acts like a jumpstart to a fight or flight response. They also jump sideways when playing- often with another cat or kitten. The excitement of play causes this burst of energy.
Other behaviors will accompany a sideways jump immediately or just before the launch. The corresponding behaviors will help you to determine whether the cat jumped from being startled, out of play, or as an indicator of aggression.
What do People Mean by a Cat Jumping Sideways?
When something happens, like a loud noise or a friendly fellow kitten playfully charging toward another, the cat or kitten will often spring to its feet and catch air.
In most circumstances, they jump straight up or sideways, in the opposite direction of whatever caused them to jump. Sudden noise or quick action can create this response.
Why do Cats Jump Sideways When Startled?
For owners of a single adult cat, this may be the only reason you catch your cat jumping sideways. Though toys sometimes cause a cat to jump sideways, it’s not the norm.
Cats are incredibly alert creatures, with few exceptions. They like to be aware of everything that is going on around them or even remains aware of what’s going on in the entirety of the home.
When something is new or out of the usual order, you can rest assured that the cat will take notice. Sometimes inspecting something new to the home can startle a cat enough to take the sideways leap if it moves suddenly or smells suspicious.
Cats are always on their toes, mainly due to their instinct to be ready to either pounce or flee, but some cats are naturally nervous. The more nervously tempered the cat is, the more often you might catch it being startled by something.
When cats jump sideways from being startled, it’s no different from how we respond to being startled. Haven’t you ever heard the term “being jumpy” or instantly recoil from a jump scare?
They’re called jump scares because our reaction to them is typically a jump. It’s the same behavior we’d see in a jumping cat due to being startled.
But we’re not nimble enough to catch the kind of air that a cat would. Most of us wind up looking like we’re being electrocuted while trying to keep our hearts from thudding through our chests.
Why do Cats Jump Sideways when Playing?
A cat that jumps sideways when playing is releasing built-up tension or energy. It doesn’t happen suddenly from an otherwise peaceful state, as we’d find under the “being startled” category.
Cats playing with each other get extremely excited because they get to practice some attack and defense moves that come naturally. Even though they’re instinctively preparing to be able to defend themselves or launch an attack against a rival, kittens or playful cats only care about the fun they’re having.
When two cats are playing, the scenario that prompts a sideways jump will be as follows.
The Attacker vs. the Victim
Both cats are aware that they’re playing with each other, but one gives the other the slip and tries to do a sneak attack. As the “attacker” cat is speeding to the “victim,” the victim takes notice, gets a sudden burst of energy, and jumps sideways away from the attacker.
Even in mid-air, the cat or kitten with the victim role will try to respond with a whap before hitting the ground. And if this act of evasion is successful, it will hit the ground running, causing the other to chase.
Now, if the attacker anticipates the jump, it may decide to leap forward and clutch the victim while it’s still in the air. From there, they’ll latch on to each other, biting and kicking, but not enough to cause any real harm.
If this is going on early in their time of play, one will get up and take off after a few moments of struggle, causing the other to chase. If it happens after a while of playtime, there’s a good chance that as they mellow out, they wind up crashing into a nap right where they fell.
Why do Cats Jump Sideways when they’re Being Aggressive?
What we find the kittens or playful cats doing in play can be displayed aggressively with angry or competing cats. After all, it’s what they grew up preparing for.
However, they do a special little sideways hop when they’re angry or immediately threatened. This little sideways hop usually results from a cat getting its fur up and quickly arching its back.
Its feet must get a little closer together to arch its back properly. This can happen fast enough to cause the cat to catch a little air. They aren’t doing this due to something coming at them as they would mid-fight. But rather when facing a threat, or even being the antagonist staring down an opponent nearby.
Often in this position, they’ll curve their bodies with their back arched, fur on end, and tails puffed out. This is when you hear all the growls and the other unsettling warning noises that sound like a siren with dying batteries.
If nobody backs down, they will move forward with a fight, setting the stage for them to use all of their acrobatic and aerial maneuvering skills- along with all of the weapons they’ve been practicing.
As I like to remind everyone, cats are predators. They spend the entirety of their upbringing practicing to kill things or prevent things from killing them. The jump sideways is as much a tactical maneuver as any other skill they learn.
However, it can be funny to watch a cat do the jump sideways if it’s playing or even being startled. To us, it’s funny because we don’t get to catch them doing it that often. To the cat, it’s just another fancy move they instinctively pull from their bag of tricks.
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