4 Reasons Why Cats Show You Their Stomach

Most people would interpret a cat rolling over and showing their belly as an open invitation to give a belly rub and cuddle. It is not!

A cat can show you their belly for a few reasons:

  • As a sign of trust.
  • As an act of defence.
  • To relax or while stretching.
  • As an act of mating when they are in heat.

1) As a sign of trust

Like dogs, cats can show you their bellies as a sign of trust. The cat is both a predator and prey in nature. The stomach is a vulnerable area to attacks from other predators. Cats will instinctively avoid showing you their belly, especially if they don’t feel 100% safe or secure.

This means that you should be even more honored if they show you their belly. Your cat is, in essence, saying “I trust you with my life” when they do so. This also means that if your cat never shows you their belly you should not take it as an insult. You should respect their boundaries and know they are acting on evolutionary instinct.

Our two cats Freja & Thor happen to be the perfect examples for this blog post. Freja shows her belly as a sign of trust quite regularly when she feels safe and happy. Thor does it very sparingly, although it does happen, as documented in the photo below!

Thor showing his belly. No cuddling allowed!
Freja showing her stomach in front of the fireplace.

2) As an act of defense

Rolling on their back may actually be a defensive measure, especially in a fight. You may have noticed this if you have ever observed cats fight or play-fight. If your cat is flattening its ears, making agitated sounds and looks like it is under stress it is better to back off and give them space. The photo below is of Freja & Thor when they were play-fighting, and Thor used this technique to defend himself and attack off of his back. Since they were play-fighting they weren’t making any agitated sounds like a cat would in a real “combat” situation.

3) To Relax or When Stretching

This one is rather self-explanatory. While stretching, many cats may roll onto their back while stretching or when they just want to relax a bit. As mentioned before, this is not an open invitation to touch their belly and you should proceed carefully and with respect for their boundaries (see further down for how to rub your cat’s belly in a way that does not annoy your cat). Freja gladly demonstrated the Stretch/Relax with the picture below 🙂

4) As an Act of Mating When They Are In Heat

Here neither Freja nor Thor can demonstrate for you as they are both spayed and neutered. When female cats are in heat they may show their bellies, especially when they roll around on the ground (which is a symptom of a female cat in heat).

Why does my cat still bite me when I rub their tummy?

Just because your cat is telling you they trust you, does not mean they are telling you to rub their belly. Cats generally do not like to get a belly rub for reasons mentioned above, so do not get surprised if your cat bites you.

Again, our two cats are the perfect examples of individual differences. Freja enjoys a belly rub from time to time – on her terms, whilst Thor will never let you pet his belly under any circumstance.

How Should I Rub My Cat’s Belly? (If They Like It)

With Freja, I always ask for permission first and follow her lead. Your cat is showing you an incredible amount of trust, so you should respect their boundaries! I ask for permission by slowly sitting down next to her or bending down close to her. If she stays on her stomach, I try to carefully place my hand on her stomach, and if her body language is positive I will begin to gently rub her belly.

Always Watch Your Cat’s Body Language

If she wags her tail, that is a sign that she is feeling uncomfortable and would rather have me stop, and of course, if she bites me it means “hands off right now!”. As soon as she wags her tail, even slightly, I respect her wishes and live her alone, and so should you if your cat does the same. Unlike dogs, cats wag their tails when they get annoyed, stressed or uncomfortable and this is a certain sign that you should stop.
Sometimes, she enjoys it though. Signs of this include purring, kneading with her paws in the air while the tail remains completely still. As long as your cat displays positive body language like this, you can continue to rub their belly. Remember to stop the moment the body language changes and they want you to stop. Another way for me to know that she wants to cuddle is by looking at her a bit and make eye contact. If she wants cuddles she usually lets out a “meow” to let me know she wants attention.

Should I Rub My Cat’s Belly?

In general, my advice would be resisting the urge to rub your cat’s belly. Be happy that they show you such a sign of trust and love and try not to violate it. If you want to try to see if your cat is one of those that like to have their belly rubbed, always look at their body language.

How to Entertain a Cat in a Small Apartment

Cats are adaptable animals and can adapt to their living spaces and a variety of situations fairly well. That being said, living in a small apartment together with your cat or cats can present some challenges for both you and your feline friend(s). If your cats´ living space is limited, that also means you get in each other’s way more often. It can also mean your cat does not get enough stimulation and ends up using you or your furniture as a scratching pole or prey to stave off boredom.

No one wants that to happen, not you, nor that cozy but slightly too expensive chair you got yourself as a present.

To keep both you and your cat happy, it is important that you stimulate your cat actively (by playing with him/her) or passively (by making sure their environment has stimuli like toys, areas to climb, hide or even another cat.

Ways to entertain a cat in a small apartment:

Buying cat trees or toys where your cat can entertain themselves Cat trees, such as the Go Pet Club 62″ Cat Tree is great for a few different reasons. It uses the space efficiently, your cat can climb and jump as if they were in a larger area or outdoors. The different textures are stimulating to your cat. The ability to scratch on the posts, helps your cat be able to fulfill this natural instinct and to maintain the length of their nails. (this is not an excuse not to cut your cats’ nails, however).

You can also create your own cat trees with cardboard or wood + some string. We are planning a complete guide on how to create cat trees yourself, so be on the lookout for that. We have included a picture of one of these being built below. Martina (the beautiful Persian mix) seems to be enjoying it already! 🙂

Make use of vertical space!

Cats love to climb, jump and to survey their territory from a vantage point. If you use your vertical space well, you can make your apartment seem a lot bigger and more exciting for your cat. You can either buy cat furniture for your cat to climb and mount it on the wall like this one on Amazon or you can make them yourself.

Have a set structure in regards to meal time and playtime for your cat.

Cats are creatures of habit, and it is a lot easier to not get them to wake up because they want food if they are used to getting fed during the day and evening. Ideally, you should feed your cat every 6-8 hours. Never free feed them, as this takes away the routine but also makes it much easier for the cat to become overweight since cats usually eat more than they need to if they have access to food since, in their mind, there is no guarantee for the next meal to come. A consistent routine reduces this innate fear.

Similarly, playing with your cat before bedtime (and during the day) is a great way to manage their energy level and make sure that they have healthy ways to expand their energy instead of letting it loose on your furniture or you. By managing their energy and ensuring that your cat’s energy levels are depleted around your bedtime will increase the chance of both you and your feline friend sleeping well through the night.

Getting a second cat:

If you have one cat you might want to consider getting a second cat so that they can keep each other company. However, it is important to consider if your apartment is suitable for one more cat. Do they have enough spaces to hide in, or to have their own spaces? This is especially important when introducing a second cat. You ideally want to keep them separate for the first few days, but this might be difficult if you have a small apartment. If you cannot keep them separated, you need to be monitoring how they interact together. The hiding spaces are important because both the new cat and your old cat may want to retire to a hiding spot or safe place when they feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. A tip is to invest in cat-friendly furniture like furniture with small spaces or shelves where your cats can hide. Make sure your cats have access to “higher ground”, like the top of shelves, closets etc. Cats love to survey their surroundings from a vantage point, and it is also stimulating for them if they can move around their territory on a few different levels. Also having the ability to climb and jump is a great way for your cat to stay fit.

What can happen to an under-stimulated cat?

Getting Bored:

A cat living in a small apartment may find themselves more easily bored because they have less space to explore and to run around in. This boredom can manifest in many different ways and cause unwanted behavior such as the destruction of furniture and other aggressive behavior. Your cat may also start to show signs of depression if they are not receiving enough stimuli during the day.

Your cat can get too inactive.

This is a danger for all indoor cats, but especially if your apartment is on the small side. Long spells of inactivity can lead to problems like obesity, depression etc. An important way to prevent this is to keep you entertained and have scheduled times during the day which is dedicated to playtime with your cat. Make sure you do this daily, even if it is only 15-20 minutes, and stick to it! Your cat will thank you for it! If you have an especially active breed cat, such as the Bengal or the Somali, this is especially important as these cats need even more active stimuli than say a Persian does.

Your Cat Can Disturb Your Sleep

If your apartment is as small as mine, that means that your bedroom is also part of where your cat roams around, also during the night. No one wants to feel like they are shutting out their cat, especially if they have a very small area to stay in if you block them out of your bedroom. Cats are the most active during dusk and dawn, and they can also be quite active during the night. This clash of rhythms can lead to disturbed sleep for you and conflicts and stressful situations with your cat and around sleep.

Using a regular and strict feeding schedule and playtimes before bed as mentioned earlier goes a long way to solve this problem, as well as making sure the cat has ample opportunity to stimulate him or herself with toys and or the environment.