What Does it Mean When My Cat Shows Its Belly?
Feline communication can be downright confusing for first-time pet parents.
You arrive home when your sweet kitty walks up to your feet to greet you. Your cat turns over, rolls on its back, exposing its furry underbelly.
The cute sight melts your heart. You may believe that your cat is asking for a good tummy rub. This dangerous assumption could end in injured hands, physical pain, and hurt feelings when your feline scratches you. Why did this innocent scene end badly?
The body language of dogs and cats differ. Puppies turn over to expose their stomachs as an act of submissiveness. Dogs want you to rub or scratch their bellies.
When cats show their tummies, it can have a variety of meanings. So, what does it mean when your cat shows you its stomach?
In the wild, feral cats expose their stomachs as a defensive posture. Felines fight off predators by rolling onto their backs. For example, if a cat gets into a fight, it will turn over to give itself access to all its available weapons (teeth and claws) to fend off an attacker. A supine position allows a cornered cat to fight and protect its vital organs located in the underbelly.
How can you tell if your feline is showing defensiveness? Pay attention. If you observe the following behaviors, proceed with caution.
- Licking its lips: Cats lick their lips after meals or when they clean themselves, however this action can also be a sign of stress.
- Flattening their ears: This is an indication of fear.
- Making agitated vocalizations. This is a sign of fright.
Showing Deep Trust
On the flipside, when a cat shows its stomach and purrs, it is a sign of adoration and respect. Your kitty is saying, "I trust you." It feels safe and comfortable around you. This simple, loving gesture is the warmest compliment a cat can give to its pet parent.
But as with any animal behavior, it's good to pay attention to all of the signs before attempting a belly rub.
"Your #cat may show its belly to signal that it feels safe and comfortable around you." TWEET THIS
Happy to See You
When you come home, your a cat might turn itself on its back and excitedly roll. This is not a tantrum, but a sign of love. Your pet is showing that they are happy to see you. It wants your attention.
Be careful and respectful. If your cat loves belly rubs, you can rub its belly (more on that below). If not, scratch underneath its jaw.
Another time that felines expose their stomachs is when they feel completely relaxed. They may be happy and in a playful mood. Sometimes, cats will turn over onto their stomachs when they play with their favorite items (like a toy mouse or bird). They may also roll over after expending their energy, and they're in need of rest.
However, even though they're relaxed, this isn't necessarily an invitation for a belly rub. Proceed with caution even in the of best scenarios.
An unspayed female cat will roll onto its back as a mating behavior. It is a sign of frustration and affection to its mate. In this case, it's best to stay away until she settles down again.
The Lowdown on Belly Rubs
Feline experts have differing opinions about giving cats tummy rubs. Some professionals advise against it. Others say it's okay. Should you give your cat one?
Giving belly rubs depends on your cat's preferences. Not all kitties enjoy belly rubs, but some do. Some felines don't like belly rubs because their sensitive organs are located near their soft underbellies.
You can immediately tell if your kitty enjoys belly rubs by their behavior. If they allow you to touch their stomachs without reacting, then they are comfortable with stomach rubs.
If a cat bites, claws, or scratches, stop rubbing its stomach. They are not comfortable with you touching that area. Some pet parents view this behavior as rejection, but they should not take their cat's behavior personally.
About Dr. Natalie Waggener
Dr. Natalie Waggener has 17 years of experience in emergency work and general practice in Rhode Island, Florida and Massachusetts. She has a special interest in dentistry, wellness care and rehabilitation therapy. She is currently licensed in both Massachusetts and Rhode Island.