BEHAVIOR & TRAINING

Why Do Cats Roll on Their Backs: 8 Explanations to This Common Feline Behavior

cat rolling on her back
Steve Corelli
Written by Steve Corelli

There are few cat movements that are as familiar even to non-cat lovers as a feline rolling on her back. It’s something that you have likely seen in cat videos if not in real life. It tends to make us go all ‘awww,’ so we go ahead and try to pet that round belly…only to be bitten and kicked at. It makes us wonder why do cats roll on their backs.

Dogs roll on their backs to get their bellies petted, but the same theory may not hold true for cats. So why do they do it? And how should we react to it? The truth is that there is no single reason to explain cats rolling on their backs. It is a behavior that is triggered by various stimuli, which we will explain below.

In this article, we present and discuss the eight most likely triggers to cats rolling on their backs. By the time you are through with this article, you will be more familiar with the reasons why your cat performs this cute movement. And perhaps more importantly, you will know how to react when you see her do this so as to not get bitten or kicked at.

Top 8 Reasons Why Cats Roll on Their Backs

There are many possible explanations for why cats like to roll on their backs, but it mainly comes down to eight main reasons.

#1: She Feels Relaxed and Secure

relaxed cat on her back

One of the more common postures that relaxed cats take is rolling on their backs.   When your cat does this, it could mean that she is in a secure and relaxed state.  Think of rolling on her back as your cat’s way of loosening up.

In fact, she’s so comfortable that she is letting you see her belly, which is one of the most vulnerable parts of her body. When she exposes her belly to you, it’s one way of expressing her trust.

Keep in mind that generally speaking, cats are not fond of exposing their bellies. The abdomen is host to vital organs and exposure of that part can risk damage to those organs.

In fact, cats in the wild roll over their backs to assume a last resort defensive position. When they are on their backs, they can better use their claws and teeth to fight back their enemies.

But since you are not her enemy, your cat is showing complete trust and confidence in you. It may indicate that she is relaxed and comfortable being around you.

Some cat parents would tell you that it’s okay to bond with your pet by touching her exposed belly. Should you do it?

It’s not advisable to immediately touch your cat’s belly once she rolls on her back. Your cat may scratch you with her claws. Instead, wait for a few minutes before you gently stroke one of her front paws. Avoid any jerky movements, too, as she may become suspicious and defensive.

Once you’ve grabbed one of her paws and she doesn’t react negatively like kicking, you can try to pet the back of her paws. Repeat this multiple times. If she still doesn’t show any resistance, you can then try to pet her tummy.

#2: She Wants to Play with You

gray kitten on back wanting to play

Does your cat roll on her back after seeing you arrive home from work? Then make no mistake about it—your cat is excited to see you and rolling on her back is her way of saying ‘welcome home!’

Your cat isn’t only greeting you upon your arrival. She’s also giving you the impression that she wants to play with you. This is very much true if you have been away for a long time. Your cat’s movements may suggest that she wants to bond with you through play.

So what should you do? Try to bring a toy closer to her. Or you can use a flashlight to create a pinpoint for your cat to chase around. There are plenty of ways for you to engage your cat in play and keep her happy.

See Also: DIY Cat Toys

#3: She Wants Your Attention

cat asking for attention

Cats have different ways of trying to win their parents’ attention. Some vocalize it; others perform cute movements like rolling on their backs.

Let’s keep in mind that most indoor cats entertain themselves by following their humans around the house. And when cats see that their masters are not paying them any attention, they tend to resort to tricks like rolling on their backs in hopes of getting the attention of humans. Rolling on the back and wiggling is one way of saying: ‘give me some attention!’

So what should you do the next time you see your cat roll on her back? Give her the attention she covets. Play with her. Pet her on the head and start a conversation. Or perhaps you need to give her some treats. Whatever you do, the important thing is to give your pet the attention she craves and deserves.

#4: She Needs to Cool Off

cat is hot

You might know that cats cope quite well with the heat. Their ancestors, after all, came from the desert. Moreover, they are biologically equipped to handle high temperatures because they have sweat glands located in various parts of the body such as the anus, the mammary ridge, the ears, and the paw pads.

But they also need to cool off especially during the summer months. If you notice your cat rolling her back on the ground and drinking large amounts of water, then it’s likely she’s feeling the heat.

During summer, cats roll over to rub their backs against flooring made of materials like granite or marble. These materials are cool to the touch and can help a feline cool off on a hot summer day.

See Also: How Hot is Too Hot for Cats

It’s critical to ensure that your cat has sufficient access to clean water. You should also provide her with clean and easily accessible toilet facilities.

#5: She is Marking Her Territory

cat marking her territory

Indoor cats are not the only ones who like to roll on their backs. Even larger cats like tigers have been observed to do this in the wild. Scientists believe that large cats do this to mark their territory.

You are probably aware of how important sense of smell is to cats. In a nutshell, the scent is an important communication tool for our feline friends. Pheromones are chemicals that our whiskered friends utilize to mark their territories, and these are released through various scent glands located around their bodies.

Many of us think that the scent glands are located mainly on their paws and their faces, but there are other areas of the body which have scent glands too like the base of the tail and the outer ear flaps. So, when cats roll on their backs, they are in a way leaving the scent glands on the ground.

When cats spray or leave their scent in an area, they are communicating with each other. In the case of your pet, she may be doing this to say “This is my area!” to other felines or animals in your household.

See Also: How to Stop a Cat from Spraying

Did you just add a new pet or cat to your family? Then don’t be surprised if your old whiskered friend rolls on her back to leave her scent. She’s doing this to define her perimeter to the other cat. And if she’s a bit naughty, she may be doing this as a challenge to her new ‘rival.’

There are other possible reasons so better observe your surroundings to determine the exact reason behind your cat’s behavior.

#6: She’s in Heat

cat in heat

Your cat’s persistent rolling on the ground can mean that she is in heat. You see, felines are tactile animals who love to be stroked. They also have the tendency to rub their whiskers against objects and people.

Rolling on the ground is also a way for female cats in heat to show the state they are in. In fact, cats in heat roll on the ground much more noticeably than usual. It’s a means for them to spread their scent and attract potential mates nearby.

Now, what would you do to put a cat in heat at ease? Many vets agree that the most effective and necessary way is to give enough attention to the feline. Talk to her. Pet or brush her hair. You can even let her sit on your lap. Simply being around your cat would make her feel more at ease.

If possible, play with your furry friend. Playing with her not only gives the attention she covets but also the opportunity to exercise. Use an interactive toy or even a simple twig to play with her. But in the event your cat doesn’t respond to your invite to play, then don’t force the issue.

Give her a secure place. While your cat is begging for attention, giving her a secure location may be best for her as she won’t be bothered by other people and even pets. Find an elevated place for her like a cat tree or a window perch. If she naps on a couch, then don’t bother her at all.

See Also: How to Get a Cat Out of Heat

#7: She has Ear Mites

cat on her back

Mites are small, parasitic creatures that love the warm and moist ear canal of cats. They feed and breed in it by consuming earwax, and in the process, they irritate the ear lining.

Cats who have ear mite infection typically have dark discharge within their ear canals. This discharge often has an unpleasant odor thanks to the infection. Ear infection is irritating to the point that a cat would scratch her ears regularly.

The irritation may be too much for your cat that she could roll around on the ground and rub her ears in order to relieve the itchiness. In some instances, the cat may howl miserably to express how much pain she’s going through.

You can tell if your cat is suffering from this problem by taking a closer look into her ears. Are there small white creatures against the dark background of the discharge? Try utilizing a pair of magnifying glass to see if there are any mites present.

In case you are not sure of what you’re seeing, or if your cat protests it, then you might want to schedule a trip to the veterinarian. The vet may prescribe treatment that is usually applied directly in the ear or on the skin. Gentle cleaning with cotton and ear cleanser will also be required if the ears have a build-up of debris.

See Also: How to Clean Cat Ears

#8: She’s Mad about Catnip

cat on back

Last but not least, your cat may have ingested or gone near catnip, which led her to roll on her back. Catnips are feline magnets which don’t cause any health problems, although catnip can make your cat overly playful and aggressive.

If you haven’t seen one, catnip is a plant that has leaves shaped like a heart. It can grow up to 3 feet tall with blooms of various colors such as white, pink, or lavender.

This plant can quickly populate a garden and attract cats to your yard. A small component of catnip called nepetalactone is the chemical that creates a euphoric feeling in cats. Think of it as the feline equivalent to a hallucinogenic drug or alcohol in humans but sans the harmful effects.

When your cat gets near catnip, she may jump or roll on it. She may also nibble or ingest it. Don’t worry as these actions are normal and totally harmless. The effects won’t last long though, normally up to 15 minutes.

Catnip can even be used for behavior modification. If you want your sedentary cat to engage in playtime, you can rub the herb on a scratching post. It’s also usually recommended by vets for cats who are stressed or depressed.

Wrap Up

cat lying on back

Cats roll on their backs because they are relaxed or comfortable; it is also possible that they simply want to get your attention. In some instances, cats do this movement to indicate their desire to play with their parents, or simply to cool off during a hot day.

Female cats in heat are also known to roll on their backs in hopes of getting a potential partner. Ear mites and catnips are other triggers to this feline behavior.

Now that you have an idea on why cats roll on their backs, you should be more aware on what to do the next time you see your whiskered buddy do this. Are there other reasons that you think could have caused your cat to roll on their back? Share those and your other thoughts with us below! In case you want to understand cat behavior even better, check out our article on why do cats stare at nothing.

About the author
Steve Corelli
Steve Corelli

Steve Corelli is a Pet Nutrition Expert from Allentown, Pennsylvania. He is the author of many nutritional strategies for different breeds and a member of some Pet Food development teams. His Maine Coon Stephan, as you might guess, is always well-fed.

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