If you are a dog, then you would probably answer by saying that belly rubs are only beaten by treats and walkies. However, if you are a cat then the answer is a bit more complicated.
If you own a cat, you will no doubt have had the experience of seeing your cat expose their belly to you and pet only for them to attack your hand with all four paws leaving you with bleeding scratches!
Why Do Cats Expose Their Bellies If They Don’t Like Belly Rubs?
A cat will only expose their underside to someone they know well, extremely well. If your cat shows you their belly, this means that your feline friend trusts you with their life, literally, because the belly is the most vulnerable part.
Showing their belly to you is your cat’s way of saying that they completely trust you as they feel comfortable enough in your presence to make themselves vulnerable in front of you.
An exposed belly shouldn’t be perceived as being a green light for a belly rub. If you immediately rub the belly of your cat every time he exposes his belly to you may even erode some of the trust that they have in you.
Don’t Stroke Their Stomach Because It Makes Them Feel Vulnerable
Fun fact: Cats are fierce predators and are so effective that Disney employs over 200 of them to keep their rodent population under control!
However, because of their small size, they can also be prey for some larger mammals for example foxes.
This combination of being both predator and prey means that cats are aware of their vulnerabilities and have the means and ability to defend themselves if they feel the need to.
The most vulnerable area on a cat is the soft wall of his stomach. This is where all of their organs are most easy access to all their organs. This is the exact same area they seem to invite you to rub openly!
If a predator gets access to a cat’s abdomen, then it knows that it is in grave danger and will instinctively do all it can to defend itself.
Sometimes (most times!) your cat’s instincts will kick in when you are giving a belly rub. Now your cat is launching an all-out assault on your hand to protect their vulnerable area.
This may happen even if your cat knows you and completely trusts you, it’s not personal, it’s just their natural survival instinct kicking in!
Sometimes Cats Just Want To Play
Another reason why a cat may suddenly attack you mid-belly scratching is that your hand is positioned between all four of their legs. When a cat catches small prey or is playing with a toy, he will roll onto its back and use all four legs to play with their catch vigorously. Putting your hand in the middle of all four of their legs will trigger their play fighting reflex and cause them to treat your hand like a small rodent or bird that they have caught.
This kind of behavior is called petting-induced aggression. Some cats are more prone to pet-induced aggression than others.
It is important to pay close attention to his body language if your cat is prone to this sort of behavior.
Belly Rubs Are Just Uncomfortable For Some Cats
All cats are different and some have a lower petting tolerance than others. Some cats will allow you to rub their belly for 15 minutes or more before they have had enough. Petting other cats’ underbelly with even the lightest touch will result in immediate scratches!
Cats may initially enjoy having their belly rubbed but when the rubbing action is repeated a few times it can become uncomfortable for them.
If somebody rubbed your belly over and over again after some time, it would become uncomfortable…especially if your belly is covered in fur which may get pulled.
Tips For The Most Comfortable Petting for Your Cat
First of all, it is generally a good idea to avoid rubbing your cat’s belly altogether!
However, if your cat is particularly tolerant of them and you know that they will happily go two minutes without reacting aggressively then give them a belly rub that lasts for no more than one minute to be safe.
Get familiar with your cat’s tolerance levels to help get your cat more comfortable with petting. Ensure you stop petting them before they make sure you stop stroking them before their tolerance runs out.
Warning signs that your cat is about to attack:
- Stops purring
- Starts wagging or flicking their tail
- Puts their ears back
- Dilated pupils or stares at your hand
The one golden rule to observe is to make sure that you don’t shout at or punish your cat in any way. Even if your cat does give you a nasty scratch. Punishing your cat will only cause them to be scared of you and trust you less.
What To Do When Your Cat Does Show You Their Belly
Even if you are aware of why it is a bad idea to rub your cat’s stomach, it can still be an almost irresistible temptation when your cat rolls over.
- Make sure you don’t make any fast movements that may startle your cat.
- Observe your cat for a couple of minutes and exchange glances. This with them to help further build and strengthen the trust in your relationship.
- Slowly and surely (remember no sudden movements) reach towards your cat’s front paws and give them a gentle stroke.
- Now try stroking its back paws and legs. Is your cat still calm and willing not pulling away? Move to step 5.
- Go ahead and give your cat’s tummy a light stroke.
Remember: Don’t rub your cat’s belly for long. Keep it short and gentle while paying close attention to any warning signs. You should stop long before your cat even begins to think about attacking.
Hopefully, this guide to feline belly massages has given you enough knowledge to prevent the dreaded cat scratch! Have you been scratched by your cat because of an ill-advised belly rub? Did we miss any tips that can other cat owners? Let us know in the comments below!
About the Author
Daniel is a cat blogger and he has a 4-year old black and white rescue cat named Whisky. Daniel also has a lively young six-month-old Beagle who is slowly learning (the hard way) that cats are superior to dogs!