While dogs are known to enjoy belly rubs, cats are literally a different breed. Cats flip onto their back, exposing their bellies. We think it’s an invitation when it’s showing their trust. Feline’s most vital organs are in the belly, and exposing it to you is a sign of trust. Though some do, most cats don’t enjoy or merely tolerate belly rubs.
According to Katenna Jones, one of our Certified Cat Behaviorists at Cat World, “Dogs may show their belly as a subordinate or deferential behavior or attention-seeking behavior. This is a natural behavior that dogs often demonstrate to other dogs as well as humans as a way to communicate that they don’t want conflict. Cats tend not to have deference as a social behavior; however, they can certainly learn that belly rubs get attention. Both cats and dogs can show their belly as a way to ask humans to back off, so many humans are not familiar with this. If the animals are on their back and tense and their arms are tucked over their abdomen or chest, they’re probably asking for more space and not to be touched.”
How can I tell whether my cat likes belly rubs?
While it can feel daunting to understand your cat’s likes and dislikes, cats communicate with us. They cannot speak, but they are clear on whether they enjoy something!
Our first instinct is to pet the fluff when a cat exposes their stomach. First, you should check their body language.
Body language which may signify openness to belly rubs before petting includes:
- Ears: If their ears are in a natural position, it’s a sign of relaxation. They aren’t swiveling constantly. If they’re feeling playful, their ears may point forward.
- Eyes: Relaxed eyes can be half-closed with typical-sized pupils. Excited eyes may watch you intently, with dilated pupils.
- Body: Their stomach exposed is a good indicator that your cat is relaxed.
- Tail: Their tail will likely lie flat and fairly still. The fur doesn’t stand up on end.
If your cat’s body language has given you the green light before petting, pay attention during the belly rubs too. This is the primary cue on whether your cat enjoys it. The relaxed or excited body language could continue during belly rubs.
Additionally, if a cat enjoys a touch, they may rub themselves against you or move closer. If they engage in either of these, it’s a sign your cat enjoys it.
Signs your cat may not enjoy belly rubs as much as you think
While the fluff on a kitten’s belly looks soft and inviting, a cat doesn’t usually enjoy it being touched. It’s a sensitive area, but luckily they will tell us plainly if they don’t like it. It just takes us interpreting the signs.
- Ears: When a cat is scared or worried, their ears flick back and forth to monitor their surrounding. Their ears also may point sideways or flat against the head in the traditional “airplane” style.
- Eyes: A scared or worried cat will not have their eyes half-closed. Their eyes will be wide open, with big pupils.
- Body: Cats could arch their back, or their hair could stand up straight, especially at the base of the tail. Cats may jump up at the unexpected touch. Additionally, cats who weren’t expecting belly pets may lash out with a claw or bite.
- Tail: A tail might be rigid or curled against the body to protect them. When a cat is annoyed, their tail may swish back and forth, like how a dog wags their tail. But this isn’t a good sign.
- Vocalizing: Cats have a wide range of noises. The most common is purring and meowing. When your cat doesn’t enjoy belly rubs, they might let you know with a noise. It could range from a “whine” to a growl.
Why don’t all cats like belly rubs?
Katenna Jones chimes in, “Belly rubs can be very overwhelming and scary, and vulnerable for many cats, especially if they aren’t experienced. Remember cats are also a prey species, so being belly up with a hand “holding them down” can be a very scary experience especially if something startling happens to occur, for example, a stranger or a dog walking into the room or a sudden noise.”
Cats have sensitive areas where they may not enjoy being touched. One of these is the stomach. Some places have more nerve endings, which affects the sensations of the cat. If a cat is being pet in one of these places, it can feel overwhelming. Their first instinct is flight or fight.
Additionally, cat bellies are vulnerable areas. As said above, their internal organs are inside the stomach. A cat wants to protect these areas from predators. A cat having their belly rubbed may increase anxiety due to the area’s vulnerability.
Why does my cat like belly rubs?
Katenna Jones says, “Some cats love or hate belly rubs for the same reasons some people like back rubs while others can’t stand them. It can feel good to some cats, especially those that are confident and familiar with belly rubs.”
Your cat may enjoy belly rubs because:
- Trust: It is simple. Your cat may enjoy belly rubs because they love and trust you. The bond between human and cat is unique, and cats can recognize if we want something. Your cat may allow it because it makes you happy.
- Play: Kittens learn how to play from each other. This includes rough play, which may target the stomach. Your cat may allow belly rubs because they want to play with you. Cats often bunny-kick each other’s stomachs during play.
- Enjoying: Your cat could just enjoy the sensation. While most aren’t fond of the close, sensitive contact, others will be. Cats come in all kinds but pay close attention to ensure your furry friend is still enjoying the encounter.
- Itchy: Your kitten may be itchy! While cats are flexible enough to lick their entire body, the stomach is one of those hard-to-reach places, especially for scratching. The area is sensitive, but they may have an itch there, and you’re helping!
Why does my cat have a pouch on her belly?
Your cat has something called a primordial pouch. This is the pouch on their stomach. It’s a saggy flap of extra skin. This is used to protect their lower belly during fights with predators.
Can I pet a pregnant cat’s belly?
You can, but that doesn’t mean you should! It’s not recommended to touch a pregnant cat’s belly due to internal organs and the kittens growing inside. During the last stages of pregnancy, a cat’s stomach gets hard to protect the kittens from predators.