Why Do Cats Show You Their Belly, Then Get Mad When You Touch It?

Your cat has been letting your snuggle them when they flop down and show off their fuzzy belly. Considering this is too irresistible to resist, you naturally go in hand outstretched ready to give a nice little tummy rub when OUCH! Your cat yelps, bites, scratches or just hops up storming off in a huff. What happened? Weren't they saying "give my tum a scratchy scratch"? Why do cats show off their fluffy underbelly and then get mad when you try and touch it?

Fat Cat Laying On Back
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Cats are complex, with varying wants and needs, so when they roll over and show off their stomach there are a few reasons they might get mad when you touch it.

They're ready to fight off an attack

If you have been around dogs, you know that when they roll over it means one thing: rub my tummy! Dogs showing their belly is a sign of submission, whereas with cats it can be a sign of defense. Your cat has teeth and claws and when they roll over their teeth and claws are ready to come at you! So as much as it might appear they are showing off their belly, they could very well be showing you their weapons. Listen to your cat's body language. If your cat is:

a.) Licking their lips

b.) Flattening their ears

c.) Making annoyed meows or hissing or growling noises

They are ready to let it rip with their claws and teeth! So leave them alone!

They're relaxing

Your cat may being sprawling out on their back because they are feeling very relaxed. Cats tend to do this frequently when they are playing with their favorite toy, lying in a sunny spot, or just getting ready for a nap. When you come in with your large hand that wants to pet their stomach, you are ruining their relaxed mood! Imagine being at a spa, sitting in a hot tub and someone begins giving you a foot massage without even asking! That's what it's like for your cat. Let them chill in peace or they might give you a scratch or a bite to let you know they want their quiet time. RIGHT NOW!

Cat sleeping on her back
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They're in heat

Yep! If your cat is not spayed, she might be showing off their stomach as a sign of affection and sexual frustration for lack of a mate. If your cat is feeling randy don't go in for a belly rub! That is not what they are looking for, and the feeling of being in heat is very uncomfortable for a cat. So the added personal discomfort of having someone rub their belly when it is not what they want can be infuriating. Give your cat some space until she has calmed down.

They're showing you that they trust you

Cats will roll over right in your path and are not necessarily asking for belly rubs. They could simply being showing you they love and trust you not to hurt them, and they want you to know and give them some attention. Again (and this can be confusing) it doesn't necessarily mean they want a tummy scratch. They could simply want you to notice them. Give them a gentle scratch under the chin or a pat behind the ear. It really depends whether your cat enjoys having their stomach touched. However, even if they do sometimes like a belly rub, a belly rub may not be what they want from you at that very second. As well intentioned as it may seem, going for their tender underbelly can feel like an attack and ruin their trust. You don't want to do that!

Cat Showing His Belly
credit: Cyndi Monaghan/Moment/GettyImages

Overall, the best thing to do is pay attention to your cat's body language. Your cat can't tell you they want a tummy rub, so they might be communicating in another way. Be aware and listen. It'll save you and your cat some serious discomfort.