Picture this: your cat is lazing on your lap, enjoying a bit of quality time with their favorite human. Presently, your cat decides to roll over onto their back, exposing the belly. How do you react to this ‘gesture’? It is beyond tempting to rub a cat’s belly, but, would it be a wise idea to give in to that temptation?
If you have owned a cat for quite some time, you know that cat’s love being petted on a lot of areas, such as the base of the ears, under the chin, and even around the cheeks.
However, the belly, for the most part, is NOT one of those regions, and, should you pet your cat on the belly, you will almost certainly be thanked with some claws and a few teeth.
In this blog, we will discuss the reason behind a cat showing belly, and why cats react so aggressively upon being petted or even touched in this area.
Why Does a Cat Show Their Belly?
Let us start by talking about the reason that a cat shows their belly. Cats, and even dogs, tend to expose their bellies to people that they know, love, and are comfortable with. So, if your cat is exposing their stomach to you, they are essentially telling you that they feel confident around you and, therefore, are okay with feeling vulnerable.
Therefore, if you perceive this belly exposure as an invitation and go in for a rub, your cat will see this as a violation of their trust.
Why Do Cats React Aggressively when Petted on the Belly?
Like we mentioned, if a cat is showing you its belly, they are essentially telling you that they feel comfortable and safe around you. This is because the belly is an extremely vulnerable region for any cat, as it houses several vital organs – and any damage to any of these organs could lead to serious injuries or even fatality. Unsurprisingly, then, cats are extremely protective of their stomach and the surrounding areas.
Even though dogs love a belly rub every now and then, that is hardly ever the case with cats. Yes, there are a few cats who appreciate belly rubs, but they are certainly the exception rather than the rule.
Building on from the previous point, since protecting the stomach is extremely important for a cat’s survival, they tend to turn defensive whenever that region is touched – they scratch or swat, and might even go for a gentle bite. Do not take this as a sign of meanness, but for what it actually is –a natural, protective reflex. This reflex stems from a cat’s instinct as both a predator and a prey.
We are all aware about the cat’s predatory abilities – feral cats hunting in open terrain enjoy a success rate of approximately 70 percent (to put it into perspective, lions have a less than 30 percent success rate). However, a domestic cat is sufficiently small to also qualify as a prey, and this is something that these cats are very well aware of. They are aware that exposing the belly allows their predators a chance to launch a direct attack on liver, kidneys, and other vital organs.
So, it is this natural protective reflex that causes your cat to react aggressively to a belly pet. Even though you are obviously not attacking your cat, this natural instinct tells them that they should err on the side of caution, especially when it comes to a bodily area as vulnerable as the abdomen. This is also the reason that cats hardly ever lie on their backs, even when they are soundly asleep.
Yet another reason for this aggressive reaction is hypersensitivity. As per a University of Pennsylvania animal behaviorist, Lena Provoost, a cat’s hair follicles present on the tail and belly area, are extremely sensitive to touch. So, if you pet your cat on the belly (or even on and around the tail), the over-stimulation can cause them to feel ticklish and irritated. This irritation, in turn, forces your cat to retaliate.
Being social creatures, cats sometimes expose their bellies as a way of ‘bowing down’ to a higher-ranked cat or apologizing for a faux pas that they might have committed. The ‘superior’ cat will swipe or growl, causing the lower-ranked cat to expose their belly in submission.
So, What to Do if You Simply Cannot Resist Giving Your Cat a Belly Rub?
Now you know why cats show their bellies, and also why they react so strongly to a belly rub, pet, or tickle. You also know that, no matter how tempting it might feel, avoid touching your cat’s belly region in any way.
However, what if you find that you are simply not strong enough to resist the temptation?
Well, honestly, the first piece of advice that we can give you in this regard, is to somehow find the strength to ignore your cat’s exposed belly.
But, if you don’t or cannot implement that advice, you could try employing more unconventional ways to rubbing your cat’s belly. For instance, there are a few cats that will let you rub their bellies, as long as you approach the region from the sides. Very few cats might even be ready to walk the extra mile and allow you to give them a couple of rubs.
However, with most cats, belly-rubs are just a big no-no. If you do decide to go for a belly rub, watch out for subtle signs of flinching or discomfort, such as a stern glance toward your hand or the twitching of your cat’s tail tip. If you detect any such signs, make sure to stop right there and then (or be prepared for a couple of paw-smacks).
To sum up, let us reiterate that we do NOT recommend petting or rubbing a cat’s belly, no matter how close you might be. A belly rub, no matter how brief or harmless, might ruin the sacred bond of trust that you and your feline friend have, and it might take forever for you to gain that trust back (if you do manage to get it back at all, that is).
Be watchful for any signs of defensiveness like the ones that we discussed above, so that you can abort the ‘belly rub’ mission before things get heated. At the end of the day, it is about your cat’s likes and dislikes –every cat has its own preferences, and you should respect those at all times. By and large, the belly exposure is something that should just be adored from afar.
To learn more about cats and their preferences, please feel free to check out some of the other blogs on our website.
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