Friday 21 January 2022

Cat body language 101 - exposing the belly is not an invitation to be petted

The video covers a number of domestic cat body language signals. I will let you explore them (Galaxy is good) but one of them is always important. It is when a domestic cat goes 'belly-up' and presents their belly to their human caregiver. How do you interpret it? And I think the answer actually is not a black-and-white one. And it is also difficult to generalise. Different cats respond in different ways.

But you'll find that Jackson Galaxy makes one essential point. He says that when a dog presents their belly to the human caregiver it is a request to be petted in that vulnerable area. This is not the case with domestic cats, however. It is not an invitation to pet their belly but more a signal that they trust you and even love you if you believe that there can be love from a cat to a person.

RELATED: ‘Cat love bites’ – what do they mean and why do they happen?

It is a signal that a cat is relaxed in the company of their human caregiver and in the home. And to take that as an invitation and pet the belly may result in the cat doing what Jackson Galaxy calls the "wraparound". This is when your cat grabs your hand and arm by the hindlegs and forelegs and then bites the hand, all at the same time. And it can be quite difficult to extricate your arm from that sort of clamp! This is due to overstimulation. It can happen when petting too much in any situation.

RELATED: ‘Cat Whisperers’ don’t just read cats’ facial expressions but body language too (plus a quiz).

However, if you pet very gently when your cat does this it may work out okay or even well. It depends on the cat's character, which is why I have to say that, sometimes, domestic cats do invite their human caregiver to rub their belly albeit gently. My cat does this. It seems to be instinctive to them. Perhaps it is a natural extension of the signal that the cat feels reassured. 

Provided you do it very gently and with great respect, I believe a cat can take pleasure from having their belly rubbed. Once again this points to different circumstances and different reactions from different individual cats. 

Jackson Galaxy talks cat behavior
Jackson Galaxy talks cat behavior. Screenshot. In this still image Jackson is talking about cats' pent-up energy like a balloon expanding.

Some people think that when a cat presents their belly to a person or another animal it is an act of submission. I think that you will find this argument no longer holds water. However, you will see cats who are friendly to each other and playing when one rolls over onto their back to invite more play.

However, it cannot be denied that the one sure signal that a domestic cat sends to their caregiver when they lie on their back with their belly up is that they feel confident enough to do it i.e. present a vulnerable part of their body to others. They need to feel reassured in their own home to do it. They need to be sure that the people they are living with won't harm them. This all comes about because of a great relationship between person and cat and a calm, agreeable home.

And it is not too uncommon that domestic cats roll onto their back when they are very warm i.e. on their human caregiver's lap. Or on the bed next to them. This combination of warmth plus being in contact with the owner creates a feeling of great reassurance which sometimes results in the cat having enough confidence to present their belly.

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