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All About the Cat Belly — Why Cats Show It and If You Should Pet It

Isn't that cat belly just begging for a rub, pet or tickle? It depends on the cat and how you do it. Plus, what it means when your cat shows his belly!

JaneA Kelley  |  Dec 8th 2017

Picture this: Your cat is sitting on your lap, lazily enjoying spending some quality time with you. Then, he rolls over onto his back, exposing his belly. What do you do? The cat belly is a tempting thing, but, as Admiral Ackbar says in Star Wars, “It’s a trap!”

There are lots of places cats like to be petted, but if you try to pet a cat’s belly, you’re almost certainly going to be met with some claws and teeth. So, why do cats react this way when we try to touch their bellies? Let’s break it down.

The Cat Belly is a Vulnerable Place

A cat upside down, showing his belly off.

If you see your cat’s belly, should you pet it? Photography ©Aleksandr Zotov | Thinkstock.

First of all, the cat belly is a very vulnerable place. A host of vital organs sits mere millimeters under the skin of your cat’s tummy, and damage to any of them could be potentially fatal. Cats are therefore highly likely to guard their bellies from potential injuries.

Unlike dogs, who love to have their tummies rubbed, cats are a good deal more reticent about it. Sure, there are some cats who love belly rubs, but they’re few and far between. Although you’re not a predator bent on helping your cat meet a grisly fate, instinct tells cats that they should never leave themselves that vulnerable. That’s why you rarely see a cat lying on his back, even when he’s fast asleep.

So, When Do Cats Show Their Bellies? What Does It Mean When a Cat Shows His Belly?

Like dogs, cats have been known to roll over and expose their stomachs to the people they know. That doesn’t mean you should take it as an invitation for a cat belly rub. What your cat is telling you when he shows his belly is, “I trust you with my life.” Don’t violate that trust by going in for a belly rub, pet or tickle!

Okay, But What If You Really Want to Pet a Cat’s Belly? How Do You Rub a Cat Belly the Right Way?

So, what should you do if you really feel you must try for a cat belly rub? One obvious answer is, don’t.

The second answer, if you can’t follow that advice, is to take a different approach to the cat belly.

Some cats will let you touch their stomachs if you go in from the side, but you really have to watch their body language. My cat, Thomas, will let me rub his belly if he’s lying on his side and I touch the tummy fur with my fingers as I’m stroking his flank. My Tara will even let me stroke her stomach once or twice, but for my little Belladonna, the belly is strictly a no-go. Any time I do approach Thomas or Tara’s bellies, I’m constantly aware of subtle signs of discomfort, like a twitching tail tip or a glance toward my hand, and I stop as soon as I see it.

Have I gone in for the cat belly rub, even though I knew better? Yes, of course I have. Haven’t we all? But I’ve only done it with cats I’ve known for many years. I still got a paw-smack or two while doing so.

The Bottom Line on the Cat Belly and Cat Belly Rub

A gray and white cat upside down, showing off his belly.

Can you / should you pet a cat belly? In some cases — and if you do, proceed with caution. Photography ©anurakpong | Thinkstock.

By and large, I don’t recommend rubbing a cat belly. If you do so, you might betray the sacred trust between you and your kitty. Before you get anywhere near your cat’s stomach, be sure you know each other very well. Stay attuned to any signs that your cat has had enough, and stop before you reach the point where claws and teeth come out.

Tell us: What about you? Does your cat like having his stomach rubbed? Have you ever successfully rubbed a cat belly? What happened when you went in for the belly rub? Would you do it again? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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