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. Yardley Bridges

    My elderly kitty Oscar LOVES early morning tummy rubs. He likes to curl up in my arms while I have coffee. He rolls over and lays back like a little baby in my arms and I scratch his chest and gently rub his belly. He fully splays out. After about 10 minutes he usually indicates he’s done with a single kick of a back leg. And he rolls back over and curls up beside me. He has his eyes closed and purrs the whole time. I feel so lucky my kitty loves and trusts me enough for this to be his daily morning ritual! :)

  2. We have three siblings that we got as kittens and all three like their tummies to be rubbed. One rolls onto his back ALL the time and begs for tummy rubs. One rolls onto her back when she’s sleeping to have her tummy rubbed. The third one likes it on his terms, and as long as he knows you aren’t there to tickle him.

  3. I’m fostering a 4 year old boy and he just loooooves belly rubs – he’ll spread his legs (oh yes) and then trap my arm/hand that’s tickling him. I go very very gently, but he’s purring like mad. He must be the odd one out!

  4. After everyone in my house is asleep, my cat Panda Bear who is lying next to me will tell onto his back while I’m petting him inviting me to rub his tummy. He will guide my hand as I’m doing so to show me just where and how I should do it. I am very gentle and softly follow his lead. When he’s had enough he will roll onto his side so I can rub his back or head or under his ears.

  5. Yes my cat penny will let me pick her up and cradle her in my arm on her back, she will then let me rub her belly. She just lays there in my arms until I put her back on the floor.

  6. Yes my cat penny will let me pick her up and cradle her in my on her back, she will then let me rub her belly. She just lays there in my arms until I put her back on the floor.

  7. Not my cat but she’s taken to me as I live here. She follows me everywhere she will let me touch her stomach and even hold my arm there so I dont move it she watches to see if the owner which is male is near but she will lick my hand or fingers so like I’m mummy cat she is so sweet then when I go she meows at my door but I do make time when I see her that cat trust me fully.

  8. Oh yes! My cat: Maronita loves a belly rub! She also allows me to brush her there if the fur is starting to get stuck together.

    1. I’ve had six resues. Eventually they have all exposed their tummies, sometimes it’s taken years. I’ve never attempted to rub a tummy until exposed, but they all love it. In my experience, once they expose their tummy, it’s an invitation.

  9. One of my cats that sleeps with me every nite expects his belly scratched. He tucks in next to me rolls on his back, then it starts usually till I fall asleep, I sometimes rub it for hours. He never once got mad at me. I am the only one that can do the rub.

  10. My cat is almost 17 and sleeps most of the day up on the landing in her bed under the radiator (only on some of the time in winter)
    Early evening, she will come and sit at my side on her furry cushion as I watch tv, so I can stroke her occasionally as she dozes intermittently.
    Then as soon as I switch tv off and tell her it’s bedtime, she jumps down and promptly flops onto the floor, waiting for a tummy rub before we go upstairs! She absolutely adores this and will gently catch hold of the finger of one hand in the middle of her pad and squeeze it, like she’s holding my hand, whilst my other hand is stroking up and down her tummy! She purrs loudly throughout, so I guess she enjoys this evening ritual very much!

  11. Different with all the cats in my home. All trust me implicitly, all show their tummy’s and how long they are all the time. 3/4 love belly rubs, one sleeps beside me every night with my hand fully on his tum (he lies with his back against me on his side, usually fully straddles my arm with his legs. Usually rest my hand in his front armpits, or he does the 4×4 straddle with my hand on his throat. He sleeps like this through the entire night. Needless to say he loves his dad XD A rescued adolescent street kitten, definitely wasn’t weaned properly and didn’t receive enough affection from momma judging by his kneading habits which mimic breastfeeding kittens and his need to be with me. Also jealous of the other cats receiving my affection/attention hahah)

  12. My cat is 3 and she loves having her tummy rubbed. She sometimes fall asleep with me rubbing her tummy and wakes up when I stop, looking at me like I failed at my one job.

    1. Haha, mine likes its tummy rubbed occasionally, and she falls asleep too! :D Her name is lily and we found her in a dogs mouth O.O

  13. I have had 5 cats over the years and every one of them LOVED their tummies rubbed. Jumped on the bed, rolled over and said “Here I am”…so to read that you say cats don’t like it and we shouldn’t do it just flabbergasted me. I feel like do you.REALLY know what you are talking about?

    1. Hahha seriously, I’m not sure this writer knows either, my cat loves, that’s actually the only time she likes to be handled and touched.

    2. Monique Richardson

      Yeah, I don’t think this person knows what they’re talking about. My 8 month old Calico, Boy, loves his belly rubbed! I was reading this article while I was rubbing his tum tum! His sister, California, loves it too! I agree, all cats are different but my babies appreciate a good tummy rub.

  14. I have one cat, Butters, an eight year old, 14 pound, apricot point Siamese, who loves belly rubs. I rescued her from the Humane Society when she was three years old. The cage sign said she couldn’t be handled, but she ran right right up to me to rub on my fingers I stuck through the bars. She loves to sleep belly up – even in the middle of the room on the carpet. I had the urge to pet her ivory colored plush belly. She did not flinch, and then began to purr. She likes to sleep on the couch next to me, and I could always pet her belly, or just rest my hand on it, with my arm around her, from any angle. I know this is unusual, but she is one of the most affectionate cats I have had. Maybe she knows I rescued her, and trusts me completely!

  15. My purebred Maine Coon Maxwell loved his belly rubbed. He would lie on his back and put his front legs over his head and let you rub away. He loved his pits rubbed especially. He would even let strangers rub his belly. He was a special cat and loved to flush the toilet to watch the water swirl around.

  16. I have two cats , One male one female . The male I’ve had 3 1/2 years and he will occasionally let me give a rub or two to his belly . If he rolls over and exposes it to me he’s giving me the ok . My female is 4 and no matter where I pet her she will squirm around so that I’m petting her belly . Gentle rubs or scritches . She loves being petted any where on her body , but is especially fond of me rubbing her belly and her head at the same time . I see so many articles about cat behavior that don’t match m,y cats behavior at all .

  17. I have two tabby, the oldest of them is my first. He is the alpha male my chocolate is smaller and loves to sleep next to me belly up with my hand on his belly .he all ways wants me to pet him and give him attention. He will tap my arm couple of times and if I don’t give him attention he will gently dig into my arm with his nails. My yellow tabby is a raskel all ways in to every thing the more aggressive of them but will follow me any time I go out of the house but only in the building. They are both inside cats devoted to me and each other.

    1. My luna is 5 years old and hates anything or anyone touching her belly she lives being brushed everywhere except her belly i do try now and again but have scars on hands when i tried

  18. My cat loves belly rubs. He’ll often lay down on the floor, belly exposed, and look at the nearest human expectantly. You can tell he’s really enjoying himself, he’ll close his eyes and purr.

    I think the trick to to not play with your cat with your hands. Don’t let him bite your hands. If you don’t, he won’t see your hands as play things.

  19. My son has a Tuxedo cat and I’ve been taking care of him since Dec so I now feel like he’s my cat haha. Anyways, Ash will jump up on the couch next to me and start purring and plop down wanting me to pet him, within a few seconds he’s on his side waiting for me to pet his belly. I had no idea cats didn’t like their stomach petted because Ash will lay beside me and let me pet him for hours if I could sit still that long.
    My tabby cat is the complete opposite he’s 4 months old and and the only time I can love on him is at bedtime. He jumps in bed beside me purring up a storm and starts kneading and sucking on my blanket then lays his head on my arm or chest and falls asleep while I’m petting him. Makes my heart melt. I wish he would let me love on him during the day too but I’ll take what I can get from him haha I’ve had my kitten since he was 5 weeks old, he was a stray and I made sure I gave him a lot of attention and petted him and held him as often and as much as he would allow me. I’m hoping at some point he’ll trust me enough to show him affection during the day as well as at night. I think I’m going to have to get a king size bed with having 2 cats that want to sleep by me at night and I think my husband is getting a bit jealous over the attention my fur babies are getting at night ????.

  20. I’ve had my male cat since he was a month old. He must be a rare one because he loves having his belly scratched. He especially likes having me scratch in the pits of his fore and rear legs. We jokingly say he is a cat-dog. He often races me up the stairs. By the time I get upstairs he has flopped down on his back and patiently waits for me to scratch his belly.

  21. I have had all my cats from tiny kittens. So from the very beginning I have felt it important for them to feel ok with my touching them anywhere: clipping toe nails, brushing teeth, giving medicine, checking ears

  22. We adopted two kittens at 12 weeks. My wife spent a lot of time with them when they arrived, and was insistent they let her rub their bellies. They’re long hairs, and if we need to work out fur clumps, many are under the arms.

    They now both expect their tummies rubbed when they turn over, which is a lot.

  23. Andrea Stanley

    My Tabby cat Kaya does the long stretch and she’s very long,she lovely her tummy being tickled all over and all ways like you would tickle a dog. Her fur is so soft like kitten fit ????

  24. My brown tabby cat loves having her tummy scratched, but only gently, and if she gets tired of it she will go somewhere else. My little black-and-white kitty, however, only lets you do it up to five times (and a gentle stroke, not a scritchy motion) before she uses her claws, and only when she’s sleepy.

  25. My Mo Mo just wants to be touched he doesn’t care where you touch him just as long as it’s got a little umph behind it but not to much

  26. Beth Toczylowski

    I think from reading this article and other’s comments, all cats have different likes and dislikes. I have 3, and they are all different. My matriarch calico, Cali (yes, I know its not very original) likes her tummy rubbed but only by her scar where she was fixed. The other calico, Tara, tolerates a short tummy rub, but not for very long- she has very sharp claws for an old gal. My 8yr old yellow tabby (22lbs) likes to sleep on his back exposing himself in all his glory. Most of the time he will allow my to give him a good tummy rub, but only if I start with his chest and slowly incorporate the belly. Trust and patience has been key.
    Beth

  27. My RAGDOLL loves belly rubs!
    Actually she demands them!
    She will meow until She gets one 3x a day!
    Occasionally I get scratched, but not often!

    1. My O.J. (a full bodied Orange tabby) loves belly rubs…I’m very gentle and he knows it. There is a trust weve established. His claws are large enough to do some damage, but never has. He Kneads his paws straight up in the air while I stroke his belly. He is very shy with strangers so I am certain that I’m the only one he would trust.
      P.K. however (a long haired black and white tabby) prefers I leave her tummy alone!

  28. Just as he calls the slow blink the “cat kiss,” Jackson (Galaxy) calls a cat exposing its belly the “cat hug.” But whether or not a cat likes having its belly rubbed depends on the individual cat. Some like it; most don’t.

  29. Other than a few stays that found their way to our doorstep that my family took in when I was a child, I’ve had many cats as an adult. Some rescues, some not. What I will tell you is, they all had/ have (present cats included) their own unique personalities. ALL have given me the ultimate in trust of rolling over and exposing their bellies. I remember one in particular, an adorable brown spotted tabby, who would roll over and wrap my wrist in his front paws while I scratched under his neck. Didn’t care if I rubbed his belly either. Totally docile and sweet. Some will also grab your wrist while ‘play’ biting all the while jackrabbiting you with their hind feet. From my personal experience, it’s all been play. Rolling over can be submissive or it can also be; ‘come anywhere near me buddy and I’m in a good position to get you with all my claws at once!’ Bottom line, for me!! It’s always been a demonstration of their trust.

  30. I have had all my cats from tiny kittens. So from the very beginning I have felt it important for them to feel ok with my touching them anywhere: clipping toe nails, brushing teeth, giving medicine, checking ears, looking for fleas and yes rubbing bellies. So all my cats have not minded belly rubs. When they have been done with the rubbing they just get up and leave. It is different with brushing. My present kitty does not like tummy brushing so she just leaves if I try. I think it must somehow feel over stimulating. My cats also do not bite or scratch. My present kitty, now 2, has never touched me with claws out. She went through an “I’m jungle cat” stage with biting but with patience and loud owes when she tried to bite she has learned not to. I haven’t been bitten (and even early on more like love bites) for months even when we do rough play. She know she can bite when there is a sheet between her mouth and my hand when she is “fierce jungle cat under sheet”…but even then she doesn’t bite hard, She could hurt me if she wanted to but she knows it isn’t allowed.

  31. My 6 y.o. Calico loves her belly gently brushed w/a small wire brush almost every day after she’s had her whole body brushed as she walks about for about 10 mins. in front of me. She’ll throw herself down, stretch out on her side where I start brushing and then will spread her legs to show her pure white belly for that brush! (At 6 mos. old she was a pure cuddle-bug but when maturity came she no longer w/be held – and she sheds like a Labrador retriever!)

  32. My cat, Buddy. Would maul me if I touched his belly. My little Gabby will jump up on the bed several times a day and flop onto her back and jus wait for the belly rubs. She LOVES it. Both ex ferels.

  33. I had a cat that was 9 years old. He just died this Monday morning. He LOVED his belly rubbed for as long as you would do it. He did think he was a dog though–you could throw his milk ring or a balled up piece of paper and tell him to go get it and he did. He’d drop it at your feet and make a quick noise that sounded like a bark. And up until a month ago when he started not feeling good, he would chase his tail until he couldn’t stand up anymore. Over and over. He was also my best mouser. I miss him.

  34. I have 3 cats…all rescued as kittens. My 8 y.o. cat adores her belly rubbed. Her routine is if she sees me sitting watching TV she will sit next to me and tapps me on the arm. If i ignor her she taps again then quickly flops over on her back for me to rub it. She wants her belly rubbed until my arm is tired out from rubbong it.
    My 2 y.o. cat will sleep like that and wants it rubbed for 30 seconds before i become a blood donor. My 1 y.o. kitten he too loves it for 2-3 minutes until he gives me the gentle bite. Not enough to matter but i know that i am done. 5 minuters later…the same thing over again.

    1. Only my little kitten, who isn’t even 9 months old yet, likes to have his belly rubbed. My two grown cats don’t and flip back over or run away if I try with them.

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