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Why Does My Cat Love Belly Rubs?

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Some of you may find this question baffling. You might look at the sleeping kitty on your lap, tempted to touch their belly only to be met with the usual claw and bitemarks.

Naturally, questions might flood your mind like, are there cats that like belly rubs? Am I doing it wrong, or is my kitty “broken?”

Then again those of you that have had the privilege to rub your cat’s belly, will simply want to find out why your cat allows this while so many other felines fight belly rubs tooth and nail.

So what’s going on here and why do some cats love belly rubs? While it’s certainly true that not all cats like belly rubs, the cats that do simply enjoy being pet there just like they would anywhere else. Additionally, some cats may like a belly rub because it leads to playing! However, always be careful with belly rubs and respect your cat’s boundaries. 

But let’s look a little closer at those rare felines that love a belly rub!

The Anatomy Of Your Cat’s Belly

The belly is a very important part of our cats since it protects vital organs. Just like us, cats have ribs and other bones protecting most organs but the belly is distinctly soft and quite vulnerable.

But cats aren’t completely without protection in the tummy! If you’ve ever looked at a cat’s belly as they walk by, you may have noticed their belly jiggle, that loose skin is called the primordial pouch.

Some may confuse this with fat, but it can appear on all cats regardless of their weight. Some theories suggest that the primordial pouch protects the cat during fights and even if they get attacked around their belly, their vitals should be safe thanks to this extra layer.

Another theory tells us that this loose skin helps cats stretch their bodies as they run and jump. Whatever the reason might be it’s important to keep in mind that cats are not only hunters, but they are also small enough to become prey to larger predators. Because of this, some cats just aren’t comfortable exposing such a vulnerable part of themselves to the world! We’ll talk more about that later but first, let’s focus on our feline friends that love belly rubs.

Why Does My Cat Like Belly Rubs?

I know this might come as a surprise to a lot of you, but there are cats that do enjoy belly rubs. The degree of enjoyment may vary from cat to cat, as well as their tolerance on how much and how often they accept such petting.

We’ve been led to believe that a cat’s belly is better left alone, and while it’s true for most cats, how come some of them love it?

Just look at this fluffball showing of a belly that’s ready to be petted!

So let’s take a look at the most likely explanations for why some cats love the tummy rubs!

1. It Feels Good

One study examined where cats prefer to be stroked revealed that they predominantly enjoyed strokes along the cheeks and chin or between the eyes and ears. This seems true for most cats, but there are cat parents that believe that their kitties also have additional areas, like the belly for example, or the base of their tail.

If your cat is comfortable and in a mental state to accept your loving strokes (aka not in full zoomies mode), then belly rubs can be quite pleasurable. Talking from a personal experience, both of my male cats will flop down in front of me, waiting to be petted in this controversial area.

Of course, every kitty has their limits, so it’s important to pay attention to your cat’s body language. Many cat parents will get overwhelmed by how cute their fluffball looks and go overboard on the petting, turning a moment of pleasure into a painful experience.

To keep your kitty happy with the belly massages, make sure you’re also on the lookout for signs that tell you they’ve had enough.

Take a look at our cat petting chart for more information.

2. They Want To Play

I’m sure you’ve noticed that when your kitty is playing with their toys the act looks more like hunting than a simple game and in a sense that’s true. When they’re kittens, they learn basic survival skills like hunting through play and when they grow up, even if they’re strictly an indoor pet they still have the same hunting instinct.

Playing or hunting is vital for a cat’s happiness because it releases their energy and keeps their mind stimulated. So, when you find your kitty exposing their belly to you, it doesn’t mean that they want you to rub it.

For example, when dogs roll over on their backs, it can be a signal of submission, with cats it usually is a defensive stance and puts cats in a perfect position to use all four claws and their mouth!

If that’s the case for your kitty, the grabbing and biting during such belly rubs are usually tender and don’t feel as painful. Of course, if you overstay your welcome, or ignore your cat’s signs to stop they might use more force, become aggressive, or simply run away from you.

3. It’s A Sign Of Trust

“If your cat does ever allow you to touch her belly, it’s truly a compliment,” Dr. Cindy Houlihan, DVM, owner of The Cat Practice in Birmingham, Mich states. Because it’s in their nature to be wary of other animals and humans cats can be overprotective, especially when it comes to vulnerable areas, like their tail and belly, and they will not let just anybody touch them.

To keep this kind of sweet relationship with your kitty alive make sure to respect whatever boundaries they have. Just because they trust to reveal their belly to you doesn’t mean they always want to be petted, so keep an eye on their reaction and as always be gentle!

4. Your Cat Is Itchy

While it’s probably the least likely scenario, it’s possible that your feline friend is just plain itchy. However, it’s not entirely normal for cats to be especially itchy on their belly so there may be something else going on and most common is likely allergies.

If you see your cat scratching themselves more than usual or if the belly rubs result in extra itchiness triggering more scratching, take a look at their skin and fur. Look for any areas of flaky skin or thin patches of hair. If you feel like something isn’t right don’t hesitate to take your kitty to the veterinarian.

Do Cats Like Belly Rubs When They’re Pregnant?

A feline pregnancy won’t necessarily change your cat’s opinion on belly rubs. If they enjoy some tummy love, then they’ll most likely keep on demanding them throughout their pregnancy and the same goes for the opposite.

Nonetheless, there is a chance that you’ll notice an overall change in your cat’s approach to petting when they’re in heat and even during pregnancy. According to VCA Hospitals, “most cats become very affectionate, even demanding; persistently rubbing against their owners and furniture and constantly demanding attention.”

If this is the case with your pregnant cat, then try to be careful with your approach and make sure she’s comfortable. She may be more affectionate, but she’ll still be aware of her vulnerability and if you go for the belly too soon, she might become defensive.

As her belly grows the best thing you can do is gently stroke her belly if that’s what she wants. As always petting a cat shouldn’t be about us feeling good, but about them enjoying the interaction!

Why Don’t Cats Like Belly Rubs?

The reasons why a cat may not like their belly touched are quite similar to why they don’t like their tail touched. As we mentioned before it’s a highly sensitive and vulnerable area on their body. If all your attempts to rub their tummy results in scratches this only means that your fluffball is instinctively protecting themselves.

You might wonder why should your cat be defensive around you, but what I’ve learned as a cat-mother of two cats for 9 years is that you can’t take everything they do too personally. What you can do is reflect on your approach and how you might be triggering such a “negative” response in the first place.

Warning Signs

Lena Provoost, an animal behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine suggests that “hair follicles on the belly and tail area are hypersensitive to touch, so petting there can be overstimulating.” She also adds that “the best advice is to read your cats’ body language.”

Being a new cat parent, you might’ve been missing the warning signs your kitty has been giving you resulting in a negative reaction to your petting. The same might be said about experienced cat owners that had missed the same signs over a long course of time, during which your cats carved a line that should not be crossed.

Positive Reaction

It’s important to observe and study our cats’ reaction to our approach and petting and realize when they’re actually enjoying it. Take a moment to look at their facial expression and posture. A relaxed kitty is a sign that they’re comfortable in your presence, which oftentimes is followed by purring, kneading, and slow blinking.

If they’re walking towards you with a tail held upright it means they’re happy to see you, but if you’re not sure let them approach you and initiate the contact instead, by rubbing against your leg or hand.

Even being playful is a positive reaction, but you might want to withhold the belly rubs when you see such behavior because your cat might see your hand as a toy and not a petting device. Instead, pick up an interactive toy and leave the tummy love for another time.

Negative Reaction

Knowing when to stop will play a major role in your cat’s trust in you and your overall bonding. By respecting their needs and wants you will, in turn, see them open up to you. So, if you see your cat moving and turning their head and body away from you during belly rubs it’s better that you let them go.

Rapid and short bursts of grooming could also be their way of telling you, “that’s enough,” as well as a thumping and swishing tail. Take a moment to observe their ears are they pointing forward or are they flattened to the sides or backward? If it’s the latter, then this is another sign to stop.

Cats won’t usually bite and scratch straight away. They give us warning signs and they ask us to seize our petting with their body language, before using their two last options and that’s fight or flight.

You shouldn’t wait for your cat to become hostile in order to stop. A cat being passive to your touch should be enough of a signal for you to keep your hands to yourself. Not all cats like belly rubs and some don’t like extensive petting in general. If you want to be friends with your kitty find what they like instead and stick to it!

How To Introduce Belly Rubs To Your Cat?

While cats in the wild would never expose their belly to a predator a domestic cat will do it for a very specific reason. According to Dr. Houlihan, “exposing it is a form of communication, they want to see what you might do.”

So, one might say that with this behavior their testing your trust. It can be a puzzling habit especially for new cat parents, but even experienced owners can get confused when it comes to their cat’s belly, and wonder if they should or shouldn’t touch it.

The best approach is to let your cat lead the way. While rubbing a cat tummy is fun, it doesn’t have to happen and you should keep a watchful eye on your cat’s body language. Ears pressed down and pulled behind is a clear sign that your kitty wants you to stop. If their body becomes stiff and they begin to meow and hiss at you should also stop and move away.

Closing Thoughts

I’m sure most of us dream of burying our faces into the voluptuous and fluffy fur located on their belly, but for a lot of owners even touching it might prove fatal. Okay, maybe not fatal but you get the idea.

That’s why I think after all we’ve learned about cats and belly rubs, the biggest lesson is that before we decide to touch the belly of the beast, we need to make sure our beast has given us consent!

Tell us, are you one of those cat parents who were wondering, why does my cat love belly rubs? Have you ever been tempted by the fluffiness of their tummy and did it turn out to be a well-set trap?

See Also: How Do Cats Choose Their Human?