Why You Shouldn’t Pet Your Cat’s Belly

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With a dog, a popular position for petting is often the belly rub. To most dogs, nothing feels as enjoyable as when you endlessly scratch and rub that tender tummy. Try that with a cat, however, and you’ll most likely end up with a scratched hand. Why is it that a cat doesn’t enjoy a good belly rub?

Predator and Prey

A cat is an incredible predator but she’s small enough that she’s also prey. That’s a heck of a lot of pressure on her. As prey, the last thing a cat wants is for a larger predator to have access to her most vulnerable area where vital organs are located. The typical response for a cat who has her stomach touched, is to spring into defensive mode. She may grab your hands with her paws (if you’re unlucky, her claws will also be extended and ready to protect herself) and then maybe even bite. She isn’t being mean to you – it’s a natural protection reflex.

Exposing the Belly

Why a cat would expose her belly depends on the immediate circumstances in which she finds herself. If she’s in a face-off with another cat, rolling over onto her side to expose her belly isn’t a sign of submission, but rather, the ultimate defensive reaction which communicates to the opponent that all weapons (teeth and all claws) will be engaged if a fight is to become physical.

If a cat is stretched out on her back in a sunny spot in a room of your house and looking very peaceful and relaxed, it means she feels very comfortable and not threatened. She’s secure enough in her immediate environment to enjoy the warmth of the sun on her tender tummy. Just don’t ruin that moment by thinking it’s ok to pet her in such a vulnerable spot.

Triggering an Unwanted Response

For many cats, having their bellies rubbed automatically triggers that defensive reaction. Don’t take it personally or think your cat has suddenly taken to viewing you as the enemy. It’s a reflex and your cat is just reacting in a normal way.

Need More Information?

For more specifics on how to establish a good bond with your cat, refer to the book Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett.

Think Like a Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett


Due to Pam’s scheduling demands, we’re sorry but she is unable to respond to questions or remarks posted in the comment section. If you have a question about cat behavior, you can find many answers in the articles Pam writes for the website as well as in her best-selling books.

About Pam Johnson-Bennett

Pam Johnson-Bennett is the host of Animal Planet UK's PSYCHO KITTY, She is a best-selling author of nine books, including Think Like a Cat: how to raise a well-adjusted cat – not a sour puss. For over 25 years, her books have been called cat bibles by veterinarians, behavior experts, shelters and cat parents worldwide. Pam is considered a pioneer in the field of cat behavior consulting. Pam owns Cat Behavior Associates, a private veterinarian-referred behavior company in Nashville, TN.

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