Why Do Cats Roll Over Into Their Backs But Not Let You Touch Their Bellies?

It’s common knowledge dogs love to have their tummies rubbed when they freely lay down before you and roll onto their backs. But, if you’re also familiar with cats, you know that when they roll onto their backs with their bellies exposed, rubbing the belly will most likely result in bleeding. So why do they do this?


An expression of trust

Cat behaviorists will likely answer that it’s a sign of trust when cats roll over and expose their bellies. That is true, indeed. But is it also a request to rub their bellies? The fact that your cat exposes her tummy to you means she trusts you, but that doesn’t mean she wants her belly rubbed. One or two tummy rubs will get her to leave or attack your hand quickly.

Some cats do not roll onto their backs and expose their tummies. This is because most cats feel vulnerable in this position. You might be able to pet their undersides for a few seconds, but they quickly right themselves.

A cat’s preferred area for petting

There is a good reason why cats protect their bellies. There are vital organs there, first of all. The second reason is that they are more vulnerable in this position. While they’re still able to scratch and bite, it is much more difficult for them to do so. Due to their flight-or-fight response, they can’t run or jump from this position.

In contrast to their defensive posture, rolling onto their backs is the exact opposite. Whenever cats are afraid, they rise on all fours with their backs raised, tails erect, and fur standing on end.

You are more likely to find cats lying on their sides and letting you stroke their exposed sides. Additionally, they are likelier to stick out their chins since they love to have their cheeks and chins rubbed. Cats like to have their back nearest their tail scratched so that they will stick up their behinds. However, few cats will lie on their backs, and those who do will turn back if you rub their belly.

The real meaning of rolling behavior

In specific circumstances, cats roll for other cats. According to a 1994 study and subsequent studies, that’s the case. “Domestic Cats and Passive Submission,” published in Animal Behaviour, was authored by Hilary N. Feldman of Cambridge University’s Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour. An 18-month study was conducted on reproductively intact cats from two semi-feral cat colonies.

In her study, researchers attributed rolling behaviors to a defensive response before an attack or counterattack in cats. However, Hilary concluded that cats roll for a variety of social reasons.

She described a cat rolling onto its back, with forepaws cocked, legs spread, and abdomen exposed. The posture reminded her of dog-like behavior, and the position was held for several minutes. 79% of rolling behaviors were performed in front of another cat. The researcher believes the rolling cat approached the other cat rapidly and then rolled rather than responding to the previous behavior. It is interesting to note that the cats did not vocalize when rolling.

Females rolled in front of adult male cats during heat, but males rolled in front of other males 61% of the time. Usually, younger males rolled in front of older males. Still, older males ignored or tolerated the younger cats’ presence, leading the researcher to believe that rolling behaviors may be passive submission to prevent overt aggression.

In addition to showing other signs of estrus, Hilary concluded that female cats rolled to demonstrate a readiness to mate. To avoid a conflict, males rolled as a sign of subordinate behavior.


When it’s maybe okay to touch the belly

Cats sometimes sit on laps. Many cats give their people head bumps. Others enjoy vocalizing and asking for petting or brushing from their favorite people. Look for signs that your cat is uncomfortable, such as flopping onto their backs and allowing a belly rub. When we understand their cues, we should respect them.