When it comes to canine behavior, one of the most universally understood physical signals, after a wagging tail, of course, is an exposed belly just asking for a gentle rub or scratch. Most dogs love a good belly rub and expose their stomachs so that we can reach them just that much easier. Sometimes, our feline friends will plop down into a position that seemingly suggests their own desire for a belly rub, but reaching down only to pull away a scratched or bitten hand is a common occurrence for many cat owners. So, if they show us their bellies, do cats want, or even like, belly rubs? The answer will depend on your cat, the situation, and their body language.
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Cat body language
In order to know what your cat is asking for, it's important to understand a little about feline body language signals. Cats use these cues to communicate with one another, along with us, and relies on various parts of their bodies to express their moods, wants, and needs. These parts include their vocal cords, ears, fur, bodies, eyes, and tails, according to The Humane Society.
Typically, ears perched forward indicate happiness, while ears that are laid back flat against their heads signify irritability or fear, which can result in aggression. The opposite is true of feline fur — fur sticking straight up usually means that your cat is stressed, while a flat coat often means that your cat is relaxed. An erect, flat-furred tail is often inviting, while a tucked tail could measure anxiety, much as it would in a dog. If your cat's tail is batting or twitching back and forth, it may be a sign of anger.
All of these body language signals can be used to read your cat in any setting and may be especially helpful when gauging whether or not your cat may want his belly petted. Of course, an exposed belly can mean a number of different things, each resulting in a different outcome should you reach your hand down to offer a friendly rub.
Exposed belly meanings
Cats, like most mammals, are complex creatures, with individual wants and needs that are subject to change at a moment's notice. Usually, an animal's body language can be read to attempt to understand what they're communicating, but sometimes, signals can become mixed. When it comes to identifying the possible meanings of your cat's exposed belly, South Boston Animal Hospital breaks it down to five reasons why your feline may be on her back.
This will, of course, depend on your cat, but oftentimes, an exposed belly is a sign of deep trust, relaxation, and all-around happiness. A quick flop onto his back which exposes your cat's tummy when you walk through the door can signify excitement to see you or might be a message that he is happy to have you back at home. On the other hand, a cat belly-up can represent a defensive feline, as the supine position is one that cats will often find themselves when warding off predators or other cats. This is done so that a cat's primary defenses — the claws and teeth, are readily available for use, and can help protect his organs from potential harm.
Do they want belly rubs?
The answer to that question will depend on your cat, and the best way to figure out her specific wants and needs is to consider the situation at hand and note her overall body language. An exposed belly accompanied by a deep stretch or gentle purr may be a better indicator of a wanted belly rub than say, a cat on her back who is growling and licking her lips. If you know from experience that your cat doesn't like belly rubs, and have the scratches to prove it, but see that she is still lying on her back for attention or affection, try offering her her gentle pet under her chin or on her forehead, which may be more welcome than a hand on the belly.