One of the behaviors that has always fascinated me about my cats is why they lay on their backs.
I say this because as most cat owners have found out the hard way when a cat is laying on their back it can mean anything from they are deliriously happy – to extremely angry.
This is because cats lay on their backs for a number of different reasons. You’ll be happy to hear that you can read their body language before approaching too.
So, if you want to know more about why cats lay on their backs and if it’s safe to approach and lean in for a tummy tickle, here are some tips and things to be aware of:
Reasons Why Cats Lay on Their Backs
They Are Happy and Relaxed
For the most part, when a cat is stretched out on their backs it means they’re happy. A lot of cats will welcome a little tummy rub and will wriggle around reaching out and grabbing at things.
It’s a definite sign that they feel safe and secure where they’re at when they’re on their backs. This is the position where cats are most vulnerable, so it’s a positive sign. It’s rare a cat will sleep like this, but when they do it’s really cool to see.
They Might Be Agitated and Angry
As I mentioned earlier, it can also be a sign that your cat is agitated or angry. This is what causes us to be confused when we reach down to give another tummy rub, only to be met with a back kick and sharp claws.
There are typically a couple of subtle differences to look out for if your cat is angry, however. Such as their ears being flat, closely watching your every move, and displaying their claws. You should get a general sense that they are not relaxed, and you’ll get to know your cat better over time.
If they’re annoyed by something, it might be best to leave them to cool off for a while. If it’s obvious what’s winding them up, do something about it.
They Are Demonstrating Trust
It’s important that our cats trust us and feel completely comfortable in our homes. There are a few signs to look out for that show that they trust you; sleeping on you, sleeping under the covers, and laying on their backs.
When a cat stretches out and shows their stomachs, they are at their most vulnerable. It’s the complete opposite of a position they will get into if they’re squaring up with another cat outdoors or on high alert.
The best thing you can do if you see your cat doing this is to reassure them that they are indeed in a safe place. Slowly extend your hand to their head to give them a little fuss. I bet they have a quick sniff, might rub their cheek on your hand, then move their head so they can receive a stroke.
They Want to Play
One of my cats I had while growing up, Rolo, used to roll over on to his back when he wanted to play. He’d do it by me and stretch his front legs out to try and reach me and give me a nudge.
He’d be happy for some belly rubs and would curl up into a ball around my hand and playfully kick me. Or, I’d use one of those sticks with a feather on to make him wriggle around chasing it.
I’m not sure how or who started it, but this became a behavior he became conditioned to. He knew that if he lay on his back and nudged me, he’d get some fussing and playtime.
They’re Just Chilling and Stretching
We all enjoy a good stretch from time to time, and cats are no different. If you catch your cat stretched out on their back, they might be doing exactly that – stretching out.
If this is the case, they probably don’t want you coming over and stroking them. They aren’t inviting you to play, rub their tummy, or anything else. If they stretched out and had a yawn, and are now just in a stretched position without paying you any attention, this is most likely the case.
I would only go over and give my cat some attention if he made eye contact with me. If he’s totally oblivious that I’m in the room I just leave him to it. No one really wants to be disturbed when they’re stretching out and relaxing.
The Differences Between Male and Female Cats Laying on Their Backs
There are a lot of differences between how male and female cats behave. There are some subtle differences when it comes to laying on their backs too.
The main difference is that female cats will often lay on their backs and be a lot more affectionate when they are in heat and ready to mate. This isn’t the case with male cats.
Female cats are more likely to roll on to their backs in a defensive position when they feel threatened too. Male cats prefer a more upright position and will try to fight another Tom and wrestle them to the ground to establish a dominant position.
Two instances you shouldn’t come across around the home, but interesting and something to be aware of.
In Summary – Why Do Cats Lay on Their Backs?
There are a few reasons why cats lay on their backs, it could mean:
- They are happy and welcome some fussing
- They are agitated and might be aggressive if approached
- They are just stretching out and relaxing
- They are trying to get your attention to play
- They are feeling nice and relaxed and secure
If you see your cat sprawled out and can’t resist going over and giving their fluffy tummy a rub, here are some signs to look out for that they might not be in the mood:
- Their ears are pulled back or flat to their head
- Their tail is flicking around and hitting the floor
- Their pupils are dilated and they are keeping a close eye on you
- They extend their claws and go for your hand as you reach in
- They make hissing, growling, or other agitating noises
I’m not trying to scare you. The most likely scenario is that they’re in a good mood and will welcome some fuss or playtime.
You’ll get better at reading your cat’s body language over time and know when or want they want when they’re on their backs. I hope this article has helped you better understand this behavior, and how to better bond with your kitty!