cat sleeping on back stretched out
Behavioral Problems

Why Do Cats Sleep on Their Backs?

Cats spend the vast majority of their day asleep or relaxing in the warmth. The position that a cat adopts for a nap says a lot about how she’s feeling and whether she’s comfortable. Whether your feline is curled into a ball or sleeping on her back, there’s always a reason.

A cat sleeping on her back is showing trust in you and the environment you have created. A cat’s belly is extremely vulnerable. If a feline has any reason to feel unsafe, she will cover every inch of her underside. Lying on her back is comfortable, though. If a cat is confident that she’s not in any danger while asleep, she’s likely to adopt this position.

Your cat is placing her trust in you and expecting you to respect this unwritten agreement. If you touch your cat’s belly, or frighten her in any way, it could damage your bond.

Why Cats Rest on Their Backs

Cats lie on their back for two reasons. Unfortunately, these are at the polar opposite ends of the feline mood spectrum.

A cat that’s lying on their back will usually be wholly content and happy. But there’s always a chance that she’s agitated and plotting an attack.

1) Happy and Contented

A happy cat will lie on her back with her paws in the air. If your cat adopts this position, there are various positive explanations:

  • Your cat is completely relaxed and doesn’t mind you knowing it
  • Your cat feels wholly safe, confident that nothing in her environment will harm her
  • Your cat has found a sunny spot and is absorbing the rays straight into her skin
  • Your cat is looking for playtime. If her ears are alert and facing forward, your pet is inviting you to play with her. Here are some creative ways to play with your cat without toys.

Your cat’s stomach is a vulnerable part of the body with paper-thin skin. By lying on her back, your cat is demonstrating trust in you and her immediate environment

2) Agitated or Defensive

If your cat is agitated, she’ll lie on her back to prepare herself for an attack. This sounds counter-productive because the belly is the most sensitive, delicate part of the feline anatomy.

While on her back, a cat will also have easy access to four sharp claws. She’ll also be able to bite without much warning. Cats have extremely fast reflexes, so it won’t take long to switch from vulnerability to aggressive. Naturally, if a cat is agitated, she won’t sleep and will be ready.

cat shows you stomach

You can tell a lot about how your cat is feeling by sight. While she’s lying on her back, she’ll display several physical tells. If your pet is purring, and has her eyes half-closed, she’s enjoying a moment of bliss. A nap is likely in your cat’s future so leave her to it.

If her ears are pinned against her head, your cat is in defensive mode. Hissing is likely to follow. This means that something has agitated your cat, so she’s best left alone.

3) In Heat

If your cat has started lying on her back, she could be signaling a male cat. This is especially likely if she always moves her tail to expose her genitals. This is not an exact science. There could be other reasons for your cat to act this way, from comfort to medical concerns.

There will be a lot of other warning signs that your cat is in heat. Excessive, increasingly desperate vocalization and attempts to escape the house are the most obvious visual indicators. A cat in heat may even sleep on her back. This is because she wants to be available should a male cat arrive.

4) Wants a Stomach Rub

Never touch a cat’s belly without invitation. Even if your cat looks like she’s encouraging interaction, tread carefully. It may be a test, and failure will earn you a sharp rake with kitty’s claws.

As South Boston Animal Hospital explains, cats show you their belly for various reasons. In some cases, it’s because they want it tickled. The following explanations are more common:

  • Your cat is delighted to see you and has rolled over in excitement
  • Your cat is showing that she trusts you completely.
  • She’s preparing to play.
  • Your cat is demonstrating submission. This could be to you or another household cat.

That isn’t to say that not all cats like having their belly tickled. If you think that your cat may enjoy some belly play, don’t just lunge in. Allow your pet to lie on her back before you get close.

Start by stroking your cat on her cheeks and under their chin, too. These are parts of the body that most cats adore being touched.

If your cat responds positively to this stimulation, gently attempt to touch their belly. Brace yourself as this can sour the moment very quickly. If your cat is not happy about this, she’ll bite or claw. Using a toy, such as a feather on a stick, may provide you with a safe distance.

cats roll on back and show belly

Most Comfortable Sleeping Position for Cats

Lying on their back isn’t necessarily a cat’s most comfortable sleeping position. That title is usually reserved for lying on the side. A cat sleeping on her back has the happiest mindset. It’s also safe to say that a cat that sleeps on her back trusts you completely.

Felines may spend their days dozing, but they’re rarely in a deep sleep. Cats retain a constant state of awareness in case of danger. If your cat sleeps on her back, she isn’t expecting any problems.

Is It Safe for a Cat to Expose Its Belly?

Cats are ruled by their survival instinct and sense of self-preservation. This means that they’ll rarely put themselves in any real danger. This goes double for a sleeping cat as felines understand how vulnerable they are while they doze.

Take the risk of choking on vomit, for example. Cats tend to vomit quite regularly, often with minimal provocation. If they are fast sleep on their back, a cat is at risk of choking.

In reality, a cat would not lie in such a position if she felt any gastric distress or had a hairball. Remember, a cat lying on her back is relaxed and contented.

Can Outdoor Cats Show Their Stomach Safely?

The only time that a cat is in danger on her back is when she’s outside. There is a chance that predators could surprise your cat. Your cat will not doze outside unless she feels safe. The unexpected arrival of a bird of prey could catch her unawares, though.

A snake could be an equally potent threat. Again, this is improbable, even if you live in an area populated by venomous snakes. Snakes are frightened of cats, even when they’re asleep.

The real threat to your cat’s belly while outdoors is the sun. Cats love to bask in the sunshine, allowing the rays to soak directly into their belly. Unfortunately, cats rarely know when they’ve had enough sun. Sunburn, heat stroke, dehydration, and skin cancer are all real risks.

Indulge your pet a little, and let her enjoy some sunshine. Bring her inside if she starts exhibiting any negative symptoms. During the summer, keep your cat out of the sun during peak intensity. Cats would spend all day sunbathing if we allowed this to happen.