Seeing your cat falling on their back for you is one of the cutest things in the world, especially when you see them turn left and right while still maintaining eye contact.
There’s something mischievous as they toss and turn with their fluffy belly jiggling teasingly.
This behavior can surprise new cat owners or people that have never imagined that cats can be anything but aloof and mysterious.
So, why do cats roll on their backs when they see you?
Cats can roll on their back to greet you. It’s a sign of deep trust, and they’ll only do it when they feel safe. Some cats will also roll on their back to be petted, and for attention like play and food.
If you want to learn the many meanings behind this behavior and whether rolling on their back is a sign of submission then keep on reading!
Why Do Cats Roll On Their Backs When They See You?
Our feline companions have their own unique traits, but there are certain behaviors that can be universal in most cats.
But even though each kitty can behave similarly there might be different reasoning behind the same action.
Reason 1: They’re Greeting You
Different cats have different ways of greeting their owner when they return home or even when they wake up.
Some of you may feel your cat’s gentle touch as they rub against your leg, there are those who will simply meow to greet you while others will roll on their backs the moment they see you open your eyes, or walk through the door.
Both of my cats tend to greet me by the door when I return from the outside world usually, partly because they can’t wait to sniff my shoes (I know gross!)
I think we can all agree that it’s a lovely experience knowing that your kitty is the first creature that’s excited to see you come through the door.
However, if you notice that they act clingy and they start following you around, even to the toilet then they might be suffering from separation anxiety.
You see cats form attachments with their owners, and according to studies, these attachment bonds mirror the attachment styles seen among human infants and other animals like dogs.
More independent cats tend to be more secure in their owners, and while they’ll show their love by rolling on their back when they see you, they won’t turn into your own personal tail, as an insecure kitty would.
Reason 2: They Want To Be Petted
While my cats don’t tend to flop down in front of me to greet me, they will roll on their back whenever they want to get lots of pets and belly rubs.
I think most cat owners have seen this adorable behavior during petting hours, and since it’s so difficult to resist we tend to only reinforce this belly reveal.
I do want to note that not all cats enjoy belly rubs, and just because your cat is exposing their belly to you by rolling on their back this doesn’t mean they want to be touched there.
As cat behaviorist Pam Johnson-Bennett points out, while cats are skilled predators they’re also prey, and having someone else touch the most vulnerable area on their body can trigger their flight or fight response.
Some cats may let your rub their belly for a few seconds before they plunge their claws and teeth and your arm and that’s because they feel overstimulated by the petting.
If you want to be sure your kitty is rolling on their back when they see you because they want to be petted, you need to look at their body language as a whole.
If they feel uncomfortable, they’ll point their ears backward and they’ll look at you with eyes wide open. This means it’s time to take a step back and give them some space.
It’s also possible that your kitty rolls on their back to be petted in other areas and not their belly, like their back, or under the chin.
All you have to do is be observant, or you’ll get trapped!
Reason 3: They Want Attention
Another possible reason your cat rolls on their back when they see you is for your attention and not because they want to be touched.
In fact, cats have found different ways to get us to do things for them. One of them is the infamous “solicitation purr”.
It’s a low-pitched sound and embedded within them is a high-pitched signal that sounds like a cry or meow.
According to Karen McComb, “It’s this hidden signal that makes the purr of a hungry cat so irresistible to humans.”
So, if your kitty is rolling on the ground while recreating a solicitation purr then they’re definitely trying to get your attention in the form of treats!
This level of cuteness is often difficult to ignore and the more you give in and reward your cat whenever they’re rolling on their back the more, they’ll keep on doing it!
Reason 4: They Want To Play
Just like your cat enjoys rolling on his back because they can get all sorts of tasty treats, or a good ear scratch, similarly this behavior can be an invitation to play.
I’m sure most people imagine dogs as the most playful pets, but in my experience, my cats enjoy playing with toys or with me and they’ll demand to be played with at least once a day.
Some cats might point at the toy to show you they want to play, others will meow in another room and run away playfully the moment you come to them.
But there are cats that are used to a different kind of interaction, and they’ll roll on their back when they see you because they expect to play with your hand.
But using your hand to play with your kitty is not always a good choice. According to the cat behavior associates if your cat is used to wrestling with your hand then “in addition to the danger of you ending up injured, it changes the tone from play to battle where the cat views you as an opponent.”
Of course, we all have our moment of weakness, and we can’t simply resist the playful flop of a cat, but instead of your arm, you could use a stuffed sock or a toy to avoid the ultimate rabbit kick!
Reason 5: Your Cat Is In Heat
If you’ve recently adopted a young cat you may have noticed them rolling on their back in front of you and this could be a sign that they’re in heat.
A Cambridge University study found that “females rolled mostly while they were in heat. Adult females rolled almost exclusively for adult males.”
So, since rolling on their back is a mating behavior then your cat is probably not doing it for your attention, but for the attention of her possible suitors.
Female cats also become more affectionate during this period, they may vocalize a bit more and raise their butts up while also rolling around you.
If you suspect that your cat is rolling on their back because they’re in heat then you should talk to your vet about getting them spayed.
For those of you who’re not sure where to ask for help, you can check out Pet Smart’s clinic locator to find a low-cost spay/neuter clinic in your area. Oftentimes you can even get your cat spayed completely for free!
Reason 6: Your Cat Is Marking Their Territory
As you’ve probably figured out already cats can be possessive, and they have a thing for keeping their territories their own.
What’s fascinating is that cats don’t need to wage wars or use aggressive force to claim what they consider their own, instead they can use their subtle charms.
These subtle charms are the scent glands they have on their feet, cheeks, face, and tail.
So, when you see your cat rolling on their back when they see you and they also turn from side to side rubbing their whole body and cheeks on the surface around them then they’re probably marking their territory.
Of course, your kitty might also be greeting you, and asking for attention while still sprinkling their pheromones in the area they’re rolling on to let everyone in the house know that they’re the lord or lady of this land.
Similarly, your kitty might start rubbing against your leg, or headbutt against your hands and face to tell you that you’re part of their pack and that if anyone else is interested they should get in line!
Reason 7: They’re Stretching Their Muscles
If your kitty is happily rolling on their back but they don’t want to be touched and they’re not really asking for anything then they might just be doing the roll to stretch their long and fluffy body and you just happened to be there to see their furry magnificence.
For some cats, this roll can be part of their stretching routine and a great opportunity to get a little back scratch from the textured floor.
This is especially true if you notice your kitty perform this flop in one part or even a specific spot of the house.
This kitty definitely knows how to get a good stretch, and a good scratch without putting too much effort into it!
My cats will roll on the marble floor in the kitchen during the summer and I think this is an ingenious way to cool down.
This roll-on-your-back tactic might be especially common in the morning when you both wake up, and you’ll see your kitty flip over on their back and roll around to stretch every inch of their feline body and possibly get a few verbal compliments on how cute they are.
In some cases, your cat might roll on their back to stretch but to also get that extra scratch from you, after all, you can’t have too much of a good thing, at least that’s what my kitties have taught me!
Reason 8: They’re High On Catnip
This reason might not be relatable to some of you, either because your cat doesn’t have access to catnip, or they simply don’t have catnip sensitivity.
But if your kitty has just returned from an outside excursion, or you gave them a toy that contains catnip then that might explain why your kitty is rolling around like crazy.
According to the Human Society, “most cats react to catnip by rolling, flipping, rubbing, and eventually zoning out. They may meow or growl at the same time. Other cats become hyperactive or downright aggressive, especially if you approach them.”
For some of you seeing your cat rolling on their back because of catnip might be a first and Wendy C. Fries from Pet WebMD explains that “about one cat in two inherits a sensitivity to the herb. But you won’t know if your kitten is one of them until sometime between ages 3 and 6 months.”
It’s also possible that getting some catnip into their system and seeing you nearby will motivate your cat to roll on their back because they know they’ll get double the pleasure of your attention and petting.
If you want to find out more about your cat’s catnip sensitivity, then you could get this set of 10 soft SmartyKat mouse toys from Amazon that are filled with pure and potent catnip.
My cats love them and I have to agree with one of the top customers who said “can’t keep enough of these in my house.”
Is It A Sign Of Submission?
While the world tries to divide cats and dogs, I tend to find plenty of similarities between the two species, but even I have to admit that they have some behavioral differences.
For example, dogs tend to roll on their backs as a sign of submission.
Cats on the other hand are less likely to roll on their back to show submission towards humans, they do it to get attention instead.
However, a Cambridge University study by Hilary Feldman showed that “young males roll near adult males as a form of subordinate or submissive behavior. ”
This study suggests that this “phenomenon of passive submission”, Feldman states, “may have relevance for a similar behavior between pet cats and their owners”.
Dr. Sharon Crowell-Davis, DVM, on the other hand, suggests that “And some cats just seem to enjoy rolling around on their back. It’s a pleasurable thing.”
I’m sure with time you’ll also learn to differentiate between your cat’s different moods when they roll on their back and act accordingly!
Of course, there are many reasons that explain why your kitty rolls on their back, and plenty of them can be valid at the same time.
For me, a cat that’s rolling on their back is a happy cat, and if they do it because they see us pass by then that means so much more, and if I wanted to describe it with one word that would be love!
Why does your kitty roll on their back when they see you and do you get to pet their belly in the process?