Why are cats so schizophrenic about belly rubs?

reddit cat in baby crib

Ahh… cat bellies. To pet or not to pet? This eternal question is summed up nicely by one of my favorite cartoonists, The Oatmeal:


cat belly rubs


Truly, there is nothing more intoxicating in this world than the soft flurfy belly of a warm kitty. But why the mauling? Are they really trying to express some sort masochistic love by inflicting as much pain on us as humanly possible?



cat belly1The science

According to Dr. Cindy Houlihan, owner of the Cat Practice in Birmingham, Mich: “Many people think that when cats roll over on their backs, they’re [acting] like dogs — that they’re showing submission. But it’s actually a defensive position.”

If you think about it, it make sense, right? Rolling over allows cats to aim all of their weapons—their teeth and claws—at their “attacker” (ehem… sometimes that’s you).

But that doesn’t mean that every time your cat rolls onto her back, she’s pointing a gun at your face. Cats also roll over when they’re feeling safe and relaxed, or when they want to warm their floof in a patch of sunlight. If she rolls over within arms reach of you, that’s the ultimate sign of trust; she’s exposing her belly, which houses all her vital organs and is the most vulnerable part of her body.

It’s when we misinterpret that trust as an invitation to go frolicking in fields of angelic back hair that we’re met with mauling, which is just kitty’s knee-jerk, instinctive defensive reflex to protect her tender bits.



Breaking the ice
cat belly2

The next time your cat rolls over and she happens to be within arm’s reach, try starting with some soft head scritches first. Gauge her reaction, and maybe ease your way down to her chin and chest. If all goes well, graze her belly gently. And then back off, and let her snooze.

Over time, she’ll learn that you’re not actually a predatory bird, hell bent on consuming her liver for breakfast—but rather a giant, gentle friend, hell bent on burying your face into her downy underbelly and staying there for all of time.

Bear in mind that even the most laid back cats will typically only tolerate having their bellies touched for a few minutes before discomfort sets in. I imagine it’s kind of like having your feet rubbed: feels great at first, but then the tickling sensation becomes unbearable and you end up kicking someone in the face.



Ok pet my belly. Ok now stop. Ok now pet me aga—Ok stop.



Have a burning cat question you’d like to see answered? Or just have a burning cat?

Leave me a comment below!

(Unless you really do have a burning cat. Should probably see to that, pronto)

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