Tummy Attacks, According to Your Cat

Cats stretched out on their backs might look like they want to be petted, but when cats expose their bellies they gain quick access to claws and teeth.

I’ve always dealt with cat problems by looking at them from the cat’s perspective. This solves a surprising amount of issues, both big and small. Take one, for example, that every cat lover has faced: your cat attacks your hand when you reach out to rub her tummy.

Most people see it solely from a human point of view: “He was so cute, lying there on his back and looking up at me!” “I only wanted to do something to make him feel good, and he clawed me!” But let’s look at it from the cat’s perspective. What is he saying to himself when you reach over to touch that tempting tummy?

In spite of what we humans are assuming, a cat hasn’t rolled onto her back because she is in the mood for a belly rub. It’s an indication of trust – she is exposing a very vulnerable part of her because she knows she is safe with you. It’s a friendly greeting, like a good pal waving hello. Do you run over and tickle the tummy of every friend who waves at you? Of course not – it’s inappropriate. You might even get pushed away. Are you beginning to understand now?

Here is the scenario from the cat’s perspective: “I’m lying here all comfortable – why does my human have to ruin it all by touching me like that? She totally invaded my space and destroyed my happy moment!” Although a cat feels safe when he is exposing his belly to you, actually touching it is violating that trust.

What’s more, sometimes cats aren’t showing trust when they expose their bellies – they are getting ready to attack. When a cat has rolled onto her back, all her fighting tools – teeth and claws – are handy and ready to be used. When you see two cats playfully wrestling, the one on her back isn’t being submissive. She is ready to really let her opponent have it. So even if your cat is just being playful, she will latch onto your hand with all she’s got if you reach out to her. She thinks you’re instigating a wrestling session. If she is startled or gets overstimulated while in this position, her protective instincts take over and she can really do some damage.

My cats each react differently to their tummies being rubbed. Our crazy tortie Binga is very protective of her belly and will attack. All I have to do is take two steps toward Boodie while she is lying on her back and she will get up and run away. Sparkle would let me rub her tummy and never bit or clawed (she was well trained by her breeder), but usually would let me know she was merely tolerating what she saw as an unfortunate human quirk. Summer, at a little over a year old, is really still a kitten – she thinks I am trying to play with her. Requests to “be gentle” are generally futile.

Many of you already know you are risking the wellbeing of your hand when you try to touch that kitty belly – so why do so many of us continue to do it? Because every so often this happens, and it makes all your previous claw marks worth it.

Nobody ever said cats were consistent.

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