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. My cat specifically loves belly rubs. If she's had enough, she will maybe push my hand away. But even if I slightly touch her belly, and then stop, she will look up at me and roll over more for more pets on her belly. She purrs extremely loud while getting belly rubs. She will roll over from a standing position if we pet her belly sometimes.

  2. My partner and I have had three sets of cats between us, each set a pair of siblings. We both have made a point of getting kittens (6-8 mos old) so that they would know us and know our schedules, ie, don't wake us up too early!

    All cat pairs were constantly touched ALL OVER so we can pick them up, grab them from their bellies, cut their nails, give them baths every-so-often, etc. They have all never scratched us for rubbing their bellies, ever; they are just used to having their bellies rubbed. They go limp in our arms whenever we pick them up and she will sit for her mani-pedi while he can only allow us to do two paws at a time before he starts to squirm.

    So if you want to be able to rub your cats bellies, I highly suggest getting them while young and constantly touch them so they get used to it. I can grab and rub their bellies whenever I want and they have no qualms with it. We do feel blessed by this.

  3. Celeste Taylor

    My cat loves belly rubs but also when I hold her belly and chest while she sleeps. I will have my hand on her belly and ribcage and she goes right to sleep! It has taken us a while to get to this level of trust.

  4. One of our current cats loves belly rubs very much, and the other one will tolerate it when she’s in a snuggly mood. But we once had a cat who would lay down next to your arm on the sofa (or in bed) and subtly insinuate itself very slowly, ninja-like, until she placed her upturned jelly-belly underneath your warm hand. She only did it when she was an older kitty, and it was adorable! I’d never seen another cat do this, before or since!

  5. My cat isn’t like that. He shows his belly and I’ll rub it even if he claws and bites me. It’s like a game we play. He will stay on his back and I’ll go in for the rub, I’ll get bit and clawed and then pull away and then I’ll go in again. Sometimes he lets me rub it, and then other times I get the bite and claws. But he will stretch out for me to go again. Ill even pretend I’m going in, and he can’t get me and he will roll side to side like this. I not a cat person, but because this cat isn’t like a normal cat it seems by what I read, he has made one, but just him. There are plenty of times I have done the full out belly rub, and every time I see him from a long day he comes right up and rolls right to his back.

  6. My once feral kitty loves for me to rub her belly. We “groom” every morning and that includes not only rubbing her belly but brushing it as well.

  7. We have three Maine Coon mixes. The two old men (14 years each), love having their bellies rubbed, especially the one we got as a tiny kitten. The rescued boy took awhile, as he'd been badly abused by someone I wish I knew, just for a short time…. Our one year old little girl, hasn't decided yet if her growing self likes them the way she did as a rescued, feral kitten.

    1. Shawna Gutierrez

      My cat loves to have her belly rubbed. I just go to touch her belly and she rolls over so I can keep rubbing it. She's so funny

  8. My cat loves a good old belly rub! Never has he gone for me or anyone in our little family unit. He’s a very trusting cat, and has a part to him that truly belongs to the neighbourhood. He often pops into the hospital grounds for attention from the patients and staff as the hospital is nearby.
    He will always flop onto his back indicating he wants a belly rub, always initiated by him. He stretches his legs out further so that all of his belly is exposed hahaha. He cracks me up so much.

  9. My cats always comes to me ribbing her against me every time I lay on bed and insist of me to rub her belly while I rub her belly she falls asleep and when I remove my hand she wakes up searching for more cuddles. I've read so many articles about this behavior and is so little info of cats that does enjoy belly rubs.

  10. My cat loves belly rubs and will roll over for them at least 10x a day and when he’s done he gets up, he has let 7 people pet his tummy 3 of which he didn’t know too well

  11. My kitty was young when we got her and she is 8 now. She always wants me to rub her belly. And when she has enough she pushes my hand away with her paw ???? and towards her face. She lets me rub her belly quite a few times a day.

    1. My cats are the same sometimes when I pet her she will roll over for me to rub her belly.but when she is done she lets me know by pushing my hand away

  12. My adopted 5-yr-old skittish Maine Coon mix absolutes loves for me to rub his belly for usually 20 min or longer…sometimes 2x or more daily. It’s strange because he was a stray & he’s frightened of any sound & any person whom he hasn’t known for 3 yrs or longer. He’s also often skittish of me, yet exposes his belly to me often. Of my four cats, two love belly rubs. I’m guessing there is no concrete answer to whether or not cats like to have their blues rubbed.

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