Why Do Some Cats Not Like Belly Rubs?

by VetDepot on March 14, 2014

cat on back blogFor many dogs, there’s nothing better in life than a good belly rub. It’s no wonder why so many pet parents make the mistake of assuming their cat would enjoy the same experience. It’s fairly common for cats to latch on with their claws out when someone attempts to rub their belly.

So, why do cats roll over on their backs if they don’t want their tummies rubbed? Unlike their canine counterparts, rolling over isn’t a submissive behavior for cats, it’s actually a defensive posture. Wild felines roll over on their backs when they can’t flee, allowing them better use of their claws and teeth against their predators. So, don’t be too surprised when your sweet kitty bites or scratches when you go in for the belly rub, because their reaction is instinctive.

However, domesticated cats don’t always roll over on their backs in defense. Cats sometimes roll over on their backs around people they’re comfortable with. This doesn’t mean they’re asking for a tummy scratch, it just means that they feel at-home enough to feel safe exposing their vital organs. If your cat seems relaxed and displays this behavior, you’re probably better off accepting it as a complement and keeping your hands to yourself.

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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Rose McIntire March 14, 2014 at 8:24 pm

We have a really sweet female cat who I’d about three yrs old absolutely loves to have her belly rubbed.She never scratches bites us either

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JWheels March 18, 2014 at 4:27 am

We have a former feral cat at our barn who is very happy when you rub her belly. Took her a few months to get comfortable with us, but we can now pet her, pick her up and rub that cute belly!

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Fredda March 18, 2014 at 5:55 am

Both of my cats LOVE to have their bellies rubbed (& that’s an understatement)!!! They lay on either side of me & I rub their bellies for hours. And when I stop, they only want more!

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Marian March 18, 2014 at 7:41 am

We’ve had 14 cats over some 25 years (in these last years we normally have six at any given time). I can think of only two of them who did NOT like belly rubs. And they both had obvious “reasons”: one took a long time to get over fear aggression — in his first seven months he grew up in isolation from people and cats, except being periodically terrorized by a huge former stray. He couldn’t be petted at all at first, and would bite, drawing blood. The other came to us lame in one leg, probably from being seriously kicked or stepped on as a kitten. He’s a sweet, gentle boy but is naturally protective of his lower belly.

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Carolyn March 18, 2014 at 7:46 am

True,
Both of our cats seem to enjoy it, as well. I never attempt it with other’s cats, after learning my lesson!

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David piel March 18, 2014 at 7:52 am

Same here. Max, our 8 yr old male cat can’t get enough belly rubs. He loves them

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libby March 18, 2014 at 8:19 am

I have a 10 year old cat who loves her belly rubbed. When she’s lying down on her side she even lifts her leg to invite a belly rub!

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Karen March 18, 2014 at 10:18 am

I believe you are wrong. Most domesticated cats LOVE to have their bellies rubbed by their guardians. As long as it’s somebody they know and trust, the biting and clawing is play, not fight. And of course you can teach them not to do that.

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ed m March 18, 2014 at 11:39 am

my cat arthur luvs to have his belly rubbed so much that i actually start to get tired of doing it after a while. im starting to think he luvs it even more than he luvs food. but not quite.

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harriet g March 18, 2014 at 3:38 pm

in the 30 yrs i’ve been rescuing kitties, very few have liked to have their bellies rubbed and most of them do exactly as the article says-they seem to think the hand is a mouse they should bunny kick and bite. of my eight current kitties, not one likes belly scratching/petting. mine like ear petting, a few like chin rubbing, and a few like rump pettings.

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Dorothy Dunning March 18, 2014 at 7:19 pm

I have a new-to-me, young Maine Coon cat. She is learning to appreciate having her tummy rubbed, so she will tolerate being groomed all over, including her tum. She’s a long-haired cat and her coat will need to be groomed to prevent hair balls. She now knows not to expose her claws when I rub her tum, and she tolerates the brush stroking her anywhere. I’m very gentle with it. Thus far she has no mats.

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Jennifer March 21, 2014 at 8:14 pm

My daughter’s cat, Jack, insists we rub his belly and chest. In fact, he always greets me this way when I get home. It doesn’t matter if I’ve been gone 2 minutes or 2 days, as soon as I park he rolls on his back and wiggles like a dog with his paws pulled up and waits. A few times he’s fallen asleep in the middle of the driveway when I was done with the belly rubs and he wasn’t. He also follows me out to get the mail so I can get his belly with the envelopes.

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