Why Do Cats Lie On Their Back?

Anybody who follows our Facebook page will have seen the many photos of our cat Norman, lying on his back. No matter how many times I see it, it never gets old. Norman will flop down anywhere and at any time on his back.

Norman will lie on his back when he is awake or asleep. While definitely not unheard of, lying on the back is less common than other positions, especially when sleeping.

Common cat sleeping positions:

Cat sleeping curled up
Cat sleeping curled up
Cat sleeping on its side
Cat sleeping on its side
Cat sleeping on its back
On their back
Cat sleeping on its belly
On their belly

Why do some cats lie on their back?

They feel safe and trust you:

The belly is one of the most vulnerable parts of the cat’s body (along with the head). It houses several vital organs and cats are hardwired to protect the belly from the risk of trauma due to fights or attacks from predators.

A cat who feels vulnerable or is at risk of predation (such as a feral or stray cat) will not sleep in the belly up position. If a cat shows you their belly it means they trust you, take it as a huge compliment.

They want a belly rub:

Back to Norman, he clearly feels good on his back, but there’s another reason too. When I make my bed in the morning, he always jumps up, rolls over and shows me his belly. He knows my focus is on the bed, and by him getting between me and the bed, he will get himself a belly rub.

It feels good:

Sometimes Norman twists his limbs in different directions when he’s on his back. Interestingly, this is similar to one gym instructors use when we are cooling down after a class, called a spinal twist. This move helps to release and relax tense muscles and is aimed at the lower back.

Submissive behaviour:

A submissive cat will roll onto its back and expose the belly to the dominant cat, this is to communicate that he or she is not a threat.

They’re hot:

A hot cat won’t always lie on his or her back, but what we do know is that hot cats stretch out and cold cats curl up to conserve heat. The first photo of Norman in this article was actually taken on a recent hot day. He is stretched out as long s possible.


  • Julia Wilson, 'Cat World' Founder

    Julia Wilson is the founder of Cat-World, and has researched and written over 1,000 articles about cats. She is a cat expert with over 20 years of experience writing about a wide range of cat topics, with a special interest in cat health, welfare and preventative care. Julia lives in Sydney with her family, four cats and two dogs. Full author bio

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