Why do cats flop down in front of you?
Flopping at your feet is an effective way to elicit attention from you. We have two choices, step over the cat or respond to the cute ball of fluff at our feet. For most people, the flop is guaranteed to make a person react with attention and by responding to the cat, we are rewarding it with positive reinforcement.
The belly is one of the most vulnerable parts of the body, and cats instinctively know this. Several critical organs (kidneys, liver, pancreas) are located in the belly, therefore cats will only show their belly to people they trust, or when they are being submissive towards another cat. The submissive and vulnerable cat will have his or her ears pulled back and the limbs raised in defence. This is very different from the flop at the feet of a human companion.
Should you rub a cat’s belly?
This is where cats show their idiosyncrasies, many cats will flop at your feet and expose their belly, but when you try to give them a belly rub, you are rewarded with claws and teeth. The flopping at your feet is a greeting behaviour, but not necessarily a request for a belly rub, in fact, a lot of cats don’t like belly rubs. For humans, this is confusing behaviour, but it’s not for cats. There’s just a miscommunication.
Every morning when I make the bed, Norman the Tonkinese jumps up and follows me around the bed as I try to work around him. He is persistent in his demand for attention, knowing my attention is focused on the bed, and by default him. Some days I will rub his belly, and he enjoys it, other times he will claw me. What is interesting is he displays inhibited behaviour, if he wanted to hurt me he could, but his claws are soft, and he is sending a message without actually causing any harm. I just roll with it, if he doesn’t want his belly rubbed, I stop, if he is enjoying it, I carry on.
My other cat Melody loves a belly rub. She may not flop at my feet or on the bed as Norman does, but she will jump on the sofa, expose her belly and demand a belly rub.
All we can do is read our cat’s body language, adjust our behaviour accordingly and feel flattered that our cat trusts us.
How to stroke a cat
The following meme has been widely circulated for years now and is an accurate guide to where cats like to be stroked. Most cats love strokes and gentle scratches under the chin and on the back close to the tail. Generally, you can’t go wrong.
Some have a limit and once that limit is reached will lash out, they do give subtle clues that they’ve had enough, and will start to focus their gaze a distance away (compared to the almost trance-like gaze Melody is displaying in the photo above), and their tail will flicker. That’s a sure warning that it’s time to stop.
Other signs of trust and affection in cats
Cats may have a reputation for being independent and offhand but almost every person who shares their home with a cat knows that’s not the case. They certainly do play by their own rules, but many of them love to be a part of the family.
Dogs are fairly easy to read a tail wag, an excited jump when you arrive home, licking, and following you around. Cats are more subtle in their behaviour but just like their canine counterparts, cats do show affection towards their human family.
- Kneading on your lap or a blanket close to you
- Purring (although cats will sometimes purr when they’re in pain)
- Greeting you with a chirp or a meow
- Slow blinking
- Rubbing their head or tail against you
- Walking towards you with their tail upright
- Licking you