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Welcome to Mad About Pets' 10-part series, "Why Does My Cat Do That?" We'll be addressing some common cat behaviors that can be confusing, frustrating, and even mysterious to owners. The first topic we'll be addressing today is "Why does my cat roll over, then bite me when I pet his/her belly?"

When a cat rolls onto its back, it is easy to mistake this for “Please pet my belly!” Unlike dogs, most cats do not like their tummy pet. As much as it would seem that way, a cat rolling on its back is not an open invitation for a belly rub!

In feline body language, a cat rolling onto its back is a sign of submission. The cat is basically saying to you “I am giving you the most vulnerable part of my body. See? I’m not a threat!” It can be a sign of trust, and also a sign that the cat views you as more dominant than him/her. The belly is, however, a very vulnerable area and most cats do not like it rubbed or petted. Petting the tummy can be easily misconstrued as threatening to the cat. You will often find that petting a kitty’s belly ends with the cat grabbing your arm with all four paws, bunny-kicking your forearm with his back claws and sinking his teeth into your hand. Mad About Pets likes to call this "The Tummy Rub Trap"!

Tempting though it may be, steer clear of the kitty tummy!
Common sense would tell us not to pet the cat’s stomach when it reacts so violently most of the time, but some people find this action “cute” and mistake it as playful behavior. If you continue to encourage the behavior, the cat will soon think of grabbing your arm and scratching/biting as a game. They will then try to goad you into petting their belly by laying on their back, and the behavior may eventually escalate into biting or scratching whenever a hand comes anywhere near them. This kind of play behavior is very hard to stop once it becomes a habit, and it can lead to accidental bites to friends and family members. Even with kittens where it doesn’t hurt as much, never ever encourage a cat to playfully bite! Cats have a really hard time telling when is and isn’t playtime, so you can’t expect your cat to know it’s ok to bite sometimes but not other times!

The best course of action when it comes to a cat showing his or her belly is to admire the cute softness, but keep hands clear. Unless you know the cat well and know that this particular animal truly enjoys belly rubs, it’s always safer not to risk it. There are those rare cats that truly enjoy having their tummies rubbed, kissed and nuzzled, but they are certainly not the norm. And even if they let their owner do it, they may not let anyone else. Err on the side of caution, and stick with chin scritches and head pets when meeting a new cat. Your hands and arms will thank you for it!

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