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Why does my cat show me her belly?

Why does my cat show me her belly?


cat rolling on back

Don’t be fooled. A cat who rolls over on her back and shows you her tummy is probably not asking for a belly rub.


I know, I know. If she didn’t want you to touch her belly, why is she showing you all that fluffy goodness? It’s like a tease.


Believe me: she’s just as surprised by your reaction to her rolling over on her back as you are by that set of claws she just sunk into your hand.


The funny thing is, your cat just paid you a compliment when she rolled over on her back. But it sure doesn’t seem like it when you’re checking your fingers for blood.


This post is about learning to speak “cat” when it comes to this one particular cat behavior.


Oh, and if your cat has punctured the skin, read this post. Even the smallest cat bites and scratches can be very dangerous.


Exposing the belly is how cats show trust…dare I say, love?


Some behaviorists call rolling on the back a “social roll.”


That is because when a cat is rolling over on his back, he’s in a friendly, sociable, gregarious, pleasant mood. Probably. (More on this in a minute.)


If she’s on her back, with her tummy exposed for all the world to see, she probably feels comfortable with you. She trusts you. This behavior is among the highest honors a cat can bestow.


(Read: How do I know if my cat loves me?)


How do we know that’s true?


An exposed belly is a risk


A cat’s life depends upon everything that is immediately beneath the tummy fluff. All of her vital organs are right there, just beneath the skin. There’s no armor, no skeleton to protect her life-sustaining liver, kidneys, bladder, stomach, and intestines.


A cat who is rolling over on his back and showing you his tummy is completely vulnerable. He would only do this behavior with people he knows, trusts, and feels completely safe with.


The primordial pouch might exist to protect a cat’s belly


The primordial pouch is an extra flap of skin that all felines, including wild cats, have that stretches along a cat’s underside. It’s more noticeable on some cats than other cats. On some cats, the extra skin sways and jiggles with every step.


Although we don’t know exactly why cats evolved to have saggy bellies, one of the prevailing (and most believable) theories is that it protects a cat’s guts in a fight.


Read about the primordial pouch in this post.


The primordial pouch could be a lifesaver in a fight


If you’ve ever watched a pair of cats fighting or play-fighting, they almost always go for the bunny-kick maneuver.


In a bunny kick, a cat will roll over on her back or sides, wrap her front legs around a toy or an opponent, and kick vigorously with both legs. Raking an exposed tummy is the goal of bunny kick.


This is because cats know that mammals are most vulnerable on their bellies. So, having a primordial pouch can be lifesaving for a cat in battle with another cat.


That’s how amazing it is when a cat rolls over and shows you her belly. She is really saying, “I’m allowing myself to be completely defenseless before you.”


If you’ve ever been paid a higher compliment, let me know.


Read about the bunny kick in this post.


Isn’t a cat who exposes her belly just being submissive?


submissive dog

No. Cat’s don’t really do submission. Submission is a dog thing.


Dog society is very different from cat society. Dogs have a very complex social structure that relies on precise communication to foster and maintain harmony within the group.


Rolling over on the back is a very specific behavior that is used by one dog to acknowledge the higher position of another individual in the group.[1]


But aren’t cats social, too?


Yes, cats are very social, but they’re not dogs. For cats, group living is not a survival strategy, the way it is with dogs. Consequently, cats don’t have a dog’s pack mentality.[2]


Cats do often live in groups, such as feral cat colonies. Relationships within a colony can be very complex with connections between certain cats being stronger than others. But it’s more of a soap opera than a system.


Dog packs, on the other hand, are very organized. Dog social structure is a true linear hierarchy, meaning that each animal is dominant to the dogs below him or her, and submissive to the dogs above him or her.[3]


Why are groups of cats so different from groups of dogs?


Cat society is different from dog society because cats hunt alone. Even if a large number of cats live together, sleep together, and enjoy the company of their colony, they still go off hunting by themselves.


Because cats don’t rely on their friends for survival, there is no need for certain kinds of precise communication, and submissive gestures like rolling on the back.


Careful: not every cat who rolls over is saying, “I love you”


cat on back

Nothing with cats is ever simple. I just finished saying that a cat who rolls over on his back in front of you is trying to say something nice.


But not always. Sometimes you’ve got to read the room.


A cat who flops over on her side may not be exposing her tummy in a trusting way. She might just not want to be standing on all four of her best weapons.


Look at the whole cat before deciding what a cat is trying to say to you. What are the ears doing? What is the tail doing?


If the ears are flattened against the head, and the tail is lashing back and forth, beware. This could be a highly agitated cat who is about to demonstrate exactly what those four sets of claws and a mouth full of pointy teeth are for.


If you need more help understanding the language of cat ears and tails, read these two posts:


Why do cats put their ears back?

Why does my cat swish or wag her tail?


Why you shouldn’t pet the belly of an agitated cat


cat on back

Aside from getting a nasty bite or scratch, there are good reasons not to mess with a cat who is in no mood for it.


The first reason is, of course, that the only relationships really worth having are those built on mutual trust and respect. Yes, you feed the cat, and pay the vet bills, but, in my view, the only way to have a real connection with anyone, animal or human, is to first be worthy of one.


If your cat is communicating a boundary to you, in the only way a cat knows how, honor that boundary. Period.


The second reason is that cats can learn aggression. You may find it entertaining to mess around with a little kitten, for example, who is acting like a ferocious tiger, biting and clawing your fingers. But cats who learn that they can bite and claw human hands can become very difficult to live with.


Learned aggression can be a very difficult behavioral problem to solve.[4]


Why am I so tempted by a fluffy cat belly?


cat on back

I’ve just told you that most cats who roll over on their backs, showing you’re their adorable tummies, are not looking to be petted there.


But why, why, why do we humans feel so compelled to reach out and stroke the belly anyway?


Well, you can blame your brain. Petting an animal causes the frontal cortex of your brain to light up like a Christmas tree. The frontal cortex is in charge of thinking and feeling, and petting an animal appears to boost cognitive and emotional activity in the brain.


Researchers studied this animal-petting phenomenon. Using a portable brain scanner, scientists asked study participants to do one of three things: watch a dog, sit next to a dog, or pet a dog.


They also asked study participants to do the same thing with a plush stuffed lion that was fitted with a hot-water bottle to mimic the warmth of a living body.


Brain activity in the human study participants increased the closer the study participants got to the dog or plush lion, but peaked when participants got to touch the real live dog.


Other research, conducted with live rabbits, guinea pigs, cats, and horses, have shown similar results.[5]


We may just be hardwired to reach out and touch something fluffy.


But try to control the urge around your cat’s belly.


But my cat loves belly rubs!



Wonderful! Lucky you!


Just like people, every cat is an individual, with his or her own preferences and personality. If you like giving tummy rubs, and your cat enjoys receiving tummy rubs, you’re a match made in heaven. By all means, indulge.


Here is a chart that could help you decide if the cat in front of you, with a belly exposed for all the world to see, would welcome a tummy rub:

signs your cat wants/doesn't want a belly rub


Love Pinterest? Here's a Pinterest-friendly pin for your boards!
why does my cat show me her belly? 


DAwn and Timmy
Dawn LaFontaine

Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.




[1] “Submissive Behavior in Dogs: Understanding Key Patterns.” Rogue Pet Science, Accessed 16 May 2024.


[2] International Cat Care. International Cat Care, 6 Oct. 2019,


[3] Wageningen University and Research Centre. "Dominance in a group of dogs expressed in hard figures." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 August 2015. <>.


[4] Blmartin. “Those Perplexing Feline Body Postures: What Do They Mean?” Fundamentally Feline, 26 Sept. 2015,


[5] LaMotte, Sandee. “What Petting a Dog Can Do for Your Brain.” CNN, Cable News Network, 6 Oct. 2022,


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