Stretching is a common feline behavior that can indicate power, relaxation or readying for an impending attack. Just like human beings, cats often stretch their bodies immediately after waking up. Cats stretch to maintain flexibility and good physical condition.
If you spot your cat yawning and stretching, perhaps with her eyes partially shut, there's a good chance she's in full relaxation mode and is happy and at peace. Some people relax and wind down with this kind of body language positioning, too. Cats mimic and develop these body language positions from observing the people and other felines in their lives.
Stretching is a type of body language that can be a form of boasting in cats. If a cat feels assured that she's stronger than another, she may stretch her body to express that sense of total control. If you see a cat stretching out her legs, curving her spine, yawning and pushing her head back, it could mean she feels so certain of her superiority that she's able to relax fully. This behavior isn't only common in house cats but also in other bigger members of the cat family including both tigers and lions.
While stretching sometimes signifies relaxation in cats, it sometimes signifies readying for an upcoming attack. If you notice a cat stretching with her legs completely extended, it could mean that she feels threatened and is anticipating an aggressive physical confrontation. She could be communicating that she's able to defend herself if the situation calls for it.
Cats often stretch their bodies during scratching sessions. Scratching has numerous functions for cats. If your cat scratches, she may be claiming her territory -- perhaps her favorite napping location. She also may be maintaining her claws. Cats enjoy extending their bodies to appear taller when they scratch, hence the need for a scratching post that's no shorter than than 3 feet tall.
Never make assumptions about a cat's body language. If you see your cat on her back, showing her belly, yawning and stretching, approaching her and massaging her tummy may not be the best idea. Your cat could be relaxing, not asking you to rub her stomach. Felines often don't appreciate people touching the most helpless areas of their bodies. Your cat may bite or swat you to express her dissatisfaction.