A large, fat tabby cat upside down.
A large, fat tabby cat upside down. Photography ©ColleenB_Pics | Thinkstock.

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? Why do cats show us their bellies? And do cats like belly rubs? The answers vary.
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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.

A cat upside down, showing his belly off.
If you see your cat’s belly, should you pet it? Photography ©Aleksandr Zotov | Thinkstock.

The Cat Belly is a Vulnerable Place

First of all, the 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. When you see that cat belly, your kitty is telling you, “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? Do Cats Like Belly Rubs? 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 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.

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.

The Bottom Line on the Cat Belly and Belly Rub

By and large, I don’t recommend rubbing a cat belly. If you do rub the cat belly, 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 cat belly rub? Would you do it again? Share your thoughts in the comments!

Read Next: What is a Cat Kiss?

 

361 thoughts on “All About the Cat Belly — Why Cats Show It and If You Should Pet It”

  1. One of my two rescue cats begs for his belly rub several times a day. The other one only occasionally (on his terms, when HE wants it!) We adopted them both when they were about ten weeks old and I have been blessed with them for two years.

  2. What no one here seems to understand is this game was invented by cave cats. It’s called “Cute Cat.” All my cats through the years flop on their backs when we say cute cat. Sometimes we get a cat rub and sometimes a bite or claw. It’s similar to some other games like “Make My Day” but a little more dangerous. Beware.

  3. Uh, one of my cats DEMANDS his belly rubs. If I stop rubbing, he grabs onto my hand/arm and DRAGS it back to his belly! And very few of my kitties don’t like their belly rubs. But Sparticus takes the cake when it comes to belly rubs… I can give him raspberries, rub & rub & rub & rub, bury my face in his belly… anything I want! I call him my PuttyKitty.

  4. My very shy, skitterish Lucy, LOVES her belly stroked from chin on down!
    She will lead us to the bed and flop belly up…quite an invitation. She never gets over stimulated, nor has she scratched or bitten. I don’t get it!

  5. My one ????, Nova, will kick and bite if I touch his belly. It’s actually more like a tap and a nibble. He doesn’t try to hurt me. It’s more like he’s playing. He seems like he enjoys it. He still sleeps on his back, a lot.
    His brother, Comet, loves his belly rubbed. When he sees me coming, he’ll jump up in my spot, lay on his back and spread his paws. He just lays back and purrs when I start rubbing. He will let me rub forever and go to sleep.

  6. My car Beau and I have a wonderful belly rub relationship. I usually begin by just resting my fingertips under his chin and stroke softly. I gradually move to his chest and repeat. By this time he is mine! Everything I do is slow, soft and calculated. I let the palm of my hand rest on his mind belly and then strike downward. Just read his body language as you do this and all will be well. He usually comes to me, showed me his belly and just looks at me. This all makes for a great relationship. By the way, he was a stray but I have had him since he was about six months old. Good luck!

  7. Adopted a stray and he’s so delighted that he loves being stroked and rubbed ALL OVER.Gentle naked foot massage of his tummy makes him blissful.Also doesn’t mind being used as a footrest.About to flea treatment him for the first time..uncommonly hot here in NZ..and a bit anxious about his reaction.
    Pat.B.Auckland,NZ

  8. As usual, a wonderful article. We have an eclectic mix of rescues. 12lb. Rat terrier, 120 lb. mastiff, two 12 lb. domestic long hair cats, and a new 25lb. Golden retriever puppy. Sadly, last week we lost our 19 year cat Simone. They all get along and we are vital to each other. That being said, the kitties are constantly wanting to be petted, and always have feet out, belly exposed for tender loving. If they are ignored, Bella will pull your arm to her repeatedly, until you pet her and Chloe will scream at the top of her lungs until you call her for more pets (24/7). Cannot image life without our critters.

  9. I had to go in for a series of shots because i went for the belly rub on a cat i didn’t know well enough. I’m very careful now even with my two at home.

  10. I’ve heard (and read) about this MANY times, and while the theory is correct, the logic is flawed. I’ve been owned by cats for over half a century and ALL those dozens of cats showed their bellies and loved me and my wife to “rub” them. The whole thing revolves around training — and this is true even of older strays we’ve adopted.

    No cat loves hard belly rubs — they aren’t dogs — and cats who aren’t used to it will indeed protect their bellies, but if you gradually earn their love and trust they will understand you aren’t going to hurt them with a pet there. The key is a GENTLE pet — it isn’t a “rub” per se, but more a stroke. But I repeat — ALL cats can get used to this and enjoy it, even those who at first will defend themselves fiercely. It just takes time and trust that you won’t over rub them (although, as with all things cats, different cats can tolerate different amounts of pressure).

    All three of our present girls, for example, all gotten differently (two were outdoor kitten strays, one only a few months old, one three months old, and one a pound kitty) all lay almost exclusively on their backs, all the time. They love and trust us, and it’s a very comfortable position for most cats who feel secure. Heck, most cats I’ve had the pleasure of loving even slept in my lap on their back. If they know you well they will trust you as much as any human will.

  11. My cat loves to have his belly rubbed and will lay there for a long time. I tend to alternate between his tummy and scratching his chest so as to not over do the tummy area. Sometimes he will get feisty but he usually loves it. My other cat not so much. She will tolerate a touch or two but not a full on rub.

  12. My three and cats before them have always loved having their bellies petted. They purr loudly. One of them only likes it for a little while but he just begins to play. Another one will go to sleep if I rub hers, and the third deliberately seeks me out and turns belly up for tummy pets and purrs louder than a blender. Maybe because we’ve been doing it since they were tiny kittens…I believe in petting the cat all over, toes, tummy, back, face, everywhere, so in case of an emergency and you have to help him or her in a usually difficult place, they will be more likely to allow it. In the meantime, it’s just purr-purr-purr!

  13. Karen A Billingsley

    My Madison, a 13-year-old Tuxedo girl, has a routine. Every night when I go to bed, she lays down next to me, on her left side. Then I gently rub her belly as she purrs and eventually falls asleep. When she was younger, she used to lay down belly up right in someone’s path, just begging for a belly rub; BUT, that quickly turned to claws and teeth!!! I guess she has mellowed in her senior years, but I’m the only one she allows near her belly now.

  14. My Shadow ( recently gone to Kitty Heaven at 17+) lived to have the whole arm experience. She’d flip in my lap and I’d begin by touching her belly fur a lightly as though stroking a raw egg yolk. Then gently relax and weed be stuck there for hours! She’d end the season usually with some good old rabbit kick and friendly gnawing on me.
    Girlie-Q is new in our house at 7 and still timid about belly rubs but is presenting as though she’d like to participate. Slowly we go just a little at a time.

  15. Our cats love full belly rubs, one for a minute or two. The others for longer. One even will pull my hand into her stomach and treat it like a kitten.

  16. Our Simba is a F-4 Bengal, And he will let you pet his belly BUT ONLY on his time. He will drop dead and let you pet his belly with long soft strokes he likes it when I massage his arm pits too….But as you say Beware of the TRAPS …..lol

  17. Our cat, Miss Kitty, was a stray we took in. Her fur was short and she was skinny and very, very hungry when she showed up in our front flower bed on a hot August day. She yowled at me and scared me, but I took her in the next day when she was still outside our house behind our trash can. She liked licking plastic and tape (I think she was used to scrounging for food out of boxes or plastic food containers while on the street, but also I understand tape is made with animal bone? She still likes to lick tape on boxes when she is hungry, or just because, even to this day, seven years later.) Miss Kitty had tapeworms we discovered after we took her in. We later took her to spay her and it turned out she had already been spayed. She is now vaccinated, treated for worms, and has filled out. Her fur is very long and soft. She appears to be part Maine Coon. She is very beautiful. Only at night when I am lying down will she let me stroke her belly for a long time. She will lay on my right arm and let me pet her with my left hand. She lays between my husband and me. She is an interloper! But we love her very much! I call her “girl” sometimes, and she is like a child to me. Sometimes she demands I play with her, and we have lots of fun, me chasing her onto the bed and teasing her. Sometimes I just pick her up and love on her and hold her like I would a child. She is a precious creature of God.

  18. Of the very many cats I have had past 70 years only one did not want his belly rubbed. My current cat Sammy who is 18 deliberately comes on the couch goes on his back and wants me to rub his belly.

  19. I have 3 cats, Moo Cow has always loved his belly rubbed from the time he was an 8 week old kitten to now, he is almost 14. He ends up liking it so much he drools as well. I always thought he was more dog like. My girl Charlie hates it, don’t go near her belly at all. And my newest kitten Maverick, a Maine Coon likes it sometimes. I’ve only had him 5 1/2 months. At the shelter he rolled over and showed me his belly immediately and even let me rub it there. I knew he was a keeper!

  20. So of course you preach danger of indulging in cat bellies…the exceptions come out lol…. I have four cats who enjoy belly rubs, one loves to sleep on his back, sadly looking laid out for a funneral…. I always enjoyed my kitties greetings with them rolling on their backs…not my current crew. You’re article is actually usually true.

  21. Ramses loves to be loved. He lays on his back quite a bit and he does not care where I pet him. He loves belly rubs, back rubs, head rubs, butt rubs, chest rubs, you name it, he loves it. He is definitely a hedonist. This is the first cat I have every had that doesn’t have a spot on his body that touching would cause him to become irritated and/or bite.

    I had four friends over, all sitting on and sort of lined up along the curved sectional. Ramses took his time but he managed to lay next to/in between everyone at some point to get his full share of attention.

    He is either a large cat or a small dog in a cat costume!

  22. I guess we have a really unusual cat then but it kind of makes sense because she is so gentle in every other way possible. Bullseye seems to demand belly rubs and I personally never knew about the “don’t do that” advice. Maybe because she has always been an indoor cat?

    Like I mentioned though this cat is by far the most different one we’ve ever lived with. She demands to be picked up, petted, rubbed, you name it. She’s five years old and to this day has never scratched or bitten anyone at all. I always felt that was unique.

  23. All three of my cats adore their belly rubs. I keep hearing that cats don’t like their bellies to be rubbed but I have never seen it in a cat I’ve owned and I’ve owned many cats over the years. Even my persnickety tortoise-shell loves having her belly rubbed.

  24. My Manx cat often rolls over on his back and sleeps that way. He loves getting belly rubs if you are gentle and purrs while you do it. He sometimes will “bunny-kick” you at first with his hind legs, but then starts to purr. My other cat loves to lie in the crook of my arm holding onto my arm with his front paws while I give him belly rubs. He often falls asleep this way and has exhibited this behavior for fifteen years!

  25. My cat was a stray. He had been in our neighborhood for over a year, cold last winter, felt so sorry for this cat. Bought a cat bed and left it outside. He never went near it. Finally this spring he is still around. I decided that he did not have a home and really liked this little guy. So I unilaterally adopted him. Took him to the vet – no chip. Got shots, etc. 2 years old. In perfect health. He is a pure white cat with one green eye and one blue eye. To get a cat like this, $600-$1,800 from a breeder. Rare type out of Thailand. Someone paid good money for this little one. He hates to be held, but he does like to have his belly rubbed. He likes his inside home and his outside home. Can’t deny him his pals outside that he truly loves and been used to for a very long time. Needless to say, I love this little guy. My friend who never thought he would like a cat, loves this little one. He has his toys in a paper bag which he goes in and out all day and plays with. We call him Skeeter. So precious and so loved. Wakes me for his breakfast about 6:15 a.m daily. Sleeps wherever he wants, most time in bed with me – lays on top of some of my clothes near the bottom of the bed. He is safe, well fed, and so happy to have a home to go to whenever he wants. If you want to see what he looks like, they all look alike, just type white cat with one blue eye and one green eye. They all look just like that.

    1. I love my baby boy, an all black rescue cat with emerald green eyes. He sleeps with me and hates when I substitute teach as a retiree. He tries to prevent me from dressing. He hates to be bathed but will let me. He tried to seal my food. He will let me rub his belly and play with his whiskers.

  26. Both our Siamese love belly rubs. The older male will roll over on his back by himself when approached and wait to have his belly rubbed. The younger female will lie on her side waiting to be rolled on her back for a belly rub. They go for a full body massage, starting from the chin all the way to their tails. They never show any resistance and they’ll stay lying on their backs when I’m done.

  27. I have 6 cats and not one of them will refuse a belly rub. I’ve never owned a cat that didn’t allow it. I started the kittens early on and even the adult adopted have allowed it. They always let me know when it’s enough either getting up or starting to play and kick. But none of mine are hands off altogether. I love their soft squishie bellies. Love to bury my face in their furry bellies. Apparently I’m incredibly brave or foolish to put my face there lol

  28. I used to have a calico cat named Gabby that loved to have her belly rubbed but then she would grabbed my hand with her front paws and scratch with the hind ones. My cats now Snow Monkey, Tiggy, and Sir Chester all like to have their belly rubbed. At least for a little while. They let me know by pushing my hand away that I’m done. Sir Chester would, not a bite to hurt but would bite and hold on like in love. Snow Monkey and Sir Chester likes their chin rubbed but Tiggy does not like it much.

  29. I have an 8 month old Stella Marie, a 9 month old Oilcan Harry and an 8 year old Ozzie. All 3 love their bellies rubbed. It makes me feel good also, because they totally trust us!

  30. I’ve had four cats over the years and only one out of them let’s me give him a tummy rub. He loves having his tummy rubbed and scratched. He and his sister, actual litter mates, are both the friendliest cats and the most cuddly cats I’ve ever had.

  31. My Russian Blue Long hair female Woo,woo absolutely Love’s her tummy rubbed and brushed,She will come lie next to me and let me give her tummy love and just Purr for hours and eventually fall fast asleep!

  32. We have seven cats, and all of them love belly rubs. We never hesitated to pet their tummies when they were babies, so I guess they grew up loving it.

  33. Strangely, it is my little feral turned pet kitty, Critter, that allows belly rubs. His favorite pastime it rolling outside in the dirt ( or horse poop) with his belly open to all. Opie will allow his rubbed for a moment, usually while under the influence of nip. Josephine will allow 1 or 2 pets, Tony de Toeso doesn’t care for it and Creature my Savannah has very strict rules about touching, period.

  34. My Maine coon ‘Maisie’ just loves belly rubs. When we are out in the garden she goes straight to a table and lies on her back for the belly rub.-
    Often she is ready for it even before I reach the table. She stays in that position even when I get tired of doing it and move away.

  35. My cat Milo just “loves” to have his belly scratched and tickled. He forever rolls over on his back with his four paws in the air and just waits for me to scratch his belly. He starts to sing and will lay there forever if I keep scratching it. He even goes as far as to smile when I am doing it. He loves to have his paws tickled also. He squeezes on to my fingers.

  36. My Bengal boy can often be found completely sacked out on his back. When I go over to him and rub his tummy, he starts purring. It’s also the way he prefers to be carried. He just lies in my arms like dead weight.

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  38. Reading the other comments I guess mine aren’t all that special, but all three of my cats love to have their bellies rubbed! In fact, when they’re lying on me being pet, they turn so my hand lands on their bellies and will often stay there for an hour or more. Moose, the biggest of the 3 (the only male) lays with his belly exposed most of the time, sometimes sitting up like a person and has no problem with a little tickle as I pass by. I know it means they feel safe in my house and that makes me very happy!!

  39. I think whoever put this together needs to go visit Costa Rica. Prior to my trips there, I would 100% agree with this. However, to my complete shock, every cat I’ve ran into, whether it’s one of the 7 my brothers farm houses, or random cats I’ve ran into on the streets; they all love belly rubs and expose their belly to humans right away.

  40. My beautiful female ginger cat loves tummy rubs. So much so if she lays beside me it is on her side, at my waist with her head toward my feet. When I place my hand on her she flips one rear leg up and pulls my hand to her tummy. She stays that way until I move declining all other affection or treats. By the look on her face and lovely purr, I think she likes it.

  41. Pingback: All About the Cat Belly — Why Cats Show It and If You Should Pet It | mycatfirst.com

  42. Our at Parker (6 months old) will “fall Over” numerous times a day, because he wants his belly rubbed or gently scratched. He loves it and purrs as long as you are doing it. There is NO question as to what he wants.

  43. Marg Johannesson

    My cat loves her belly rubbed. If she is sitting on the floor and she sees you coming she immediately rolls over for a belly rub. There have never been any claws or teeth exposed during the rubs! She is not familiar with dogs but if she is outside with me on the driveway in the summer and my neighbors dog comes over she will lay down on the the driveway when the dog approaches for a tummy rub!

  44. My two 3-month old kittens love to get their bellies rubbed. They have never showed any signs of discomfort. In fact, it often puts them to sleep. Of course I do not rub hard, just normal, repetitive stroking. There were a couple of times that they clamped on with all four legs and teeth, but it is more playful (so I thought).

  45. My Siamese absolutely love having their bellies rubbed. They both have different places where they want it done, but a day isn’t a day without a nice belly rub.

  46. My Wife and I rescued 3 tiny kittens when their mother was killed by a predator on our farm. We raised them from 2 weeks old, bottle feeding them and interacting with them a lot. Although sadly we lost one in the struggle, the other 2 carry on and still let us hold them belly up like a baby in our arms and I constantly get to pet their belly…they don’t mind at all. At 18 months old they are still referred to as “The Kittens” because they are our babies. Even the kids get lots of cuddles and love from them…they are truly my favorite cats I’ve ever had. Our 17 year old housecat (affectionately referred to as Grandma Burnie), however, does not have the same opinion as me.

  47. One of our cats routinely shows her belly as I’m on my way to the kitchen for her breakfast, but not the rest of the day. She lets me stroke it a couple of times, then flips over and marches to her bowl. Our other cat doesn’t show his belly and doesn’t appreciate any attention to it.

  48. I really enjoyed this article! I am a cat fanatic and love my fur children to death. I got all my cats (4 or them) at a really young age (about 5 weeks) and have always held them on their backs like a baby. I say that because I believe I have conditioned them to love belly rubs and to feel safe on their back. They sleep on their backs almost all the time and when we hold them they even try to roll to their back if they aren’t laying like a baby in your arms. I know this is unusual but I really believe it’s because of how I’ve always held them. They’re inside cats so they have no reason to fear having their belly exposed and have never had a bad experience with laying that way. My mom bred cats for years and we never had any that were quite so comfortable on their back. My mom has even commented on how strange it is that they sleep on their backs all the time and want their belly rubbed! lol

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