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Questions About Cats

Why Do Cats Roll Over When They See You?

The reason for a cat rolling onto its back when it sees you is often misinterpreted. Your feline friend is very unlikely to be requesting a tummy tickle. It will usually be rolling over to demonstrate an emotional response.

A cat rolls over to denote excitement or contentment. It is happy to see you, especially if you’ve been out. The cat may also be looking for attention. Consider whether the cat wants to play or is feeling neglected. Just ensure it is not being aggressive. When a cat rolls onto its back, attacking with all four claws become a lot easier.

Cats roll onto their backs for a number of reasons. Unfortunately, these explanations can vary wildly. It’s critical that you understand why your cat has rolled over. This way, you can react to its behavior appropriately.

Why Do Cats Roll Over When You Approach Them?

When you understand why your cat rolls on its back, you can respond in kind. Obviously, there is a world of difference between excitement and aggression. Avoid touching your cat until your sure of its intentions.

Excitement

If you have been out of the house for hours, your cat will notice. Cell explains how cats forge complex bonds with humans, comparable to that of dogs. If you have a good relationship with your cat, you are important to it.

Naturally, this means a cat will be excited upon your return. This excitement can manifest in a variety of ways. Oftentimes, the cat will simply approach you. If the cat’s tail is curled upward and it begins bunting you, this is a cheerful hello.

If the cat is particularly excited, it will roll onto its back and show its belly. This behavior is more common in kittens, but some senior cats retain the habit. The cat will also likely wriggle around in pleasure.

Give the cat attention at this juncture. Cats do not always find affection easy to offer. If you ignore your cat and go about your day, you risk harming your bond. How you provide attention is equally important.

If you attempt a tummy rub, you may be scratched and clawed. Many cats loathe being touched on the stomach.

The skin on a cat’s belly is delicate. If your cat allows you to touch it, you’ll see this for yourself. The skin feels as thin as tissue paper. Naturally, this makes the cat sensitive and protective. Touching this skin without an invitation is considered a violation of trust.

If your cat enjoys belly rubs, you can offer a gentle tickle. This may even be what the cat wants. Unfortunately, trial and error is the only way to learn how your cat feels about tummy tickles.

Relaxation

If your cat has been waiting for you, it will obviously be pleased to see you. What’s more, it may mean the cat can finally relax. A cat rolling onto its back is a sign that it feels completely calm and comfortable.

This is also a sign of great faith in a human. The cat is saying that it trusts you implicitly. That cat can expose its soft underbelly, knowing that you’re around. This trust is hard to gain from a cat and will take time.

A cat will often sleep in this position if it feels secure enough. A cat may also request petting while in such a state of tranquility. Tread carefully in this instance because cats can quickly become overstimulated. If pleasure turns to pain, you may be scratched or get bitten.

Watch carefully for body language cues in your cat. If purring becomes louder, or the cat’s tail starts swishing, move your hand away. The cat has had enough physical contact for now. Continuing with petting will make your cat think twice about rolling over again in the future.

cats roll on back and show belly

Attention Seeking

Cats are independent, but still like to get attention from their owners. It just has to be on the cat’s terms.

Cats will tell you when they want to be acknowledged. Oftentimes, a cat will meow. Less verbal cats will roll over instead of, or in addition to, vocalizing.

Cats are intelligent. They know that humans consider this behavior to be cute. Your cat will also have acknowledged that endearing behaviors earn treats and attention. We may consider ourselves the owners of our cats, but they subtly manipulate humans constantly.

There are reasons why a cat may want your attention. Sometimes, it’s just because your cat wants a treat or petting. Other explanations include:

  • You missed a scheduled meal or playtime
  • The cat is feeling playful
  • The cat feels anxious or insecure
  • The cat is bored

Providing a cat with attention on cue is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, you will strengthen your bond. On the other, cats do not understand limits. A cat used to getting whatever it wants on demand can become difficult to live with.

Getting your cat into a routine is advisable to manage this behavior. A cat that knows it will receive food and attention at particular times will display patience. The cat may still look for ad hoc attention, though.

Reminders

Sometimes, the simplest explanation is also the likeliest. If your cat walks up to you and rolls over, check the time. Are you running behind schedule with dinner, grooming, or playtime?

Cats live for routine. If you usually get home, change clothes and feed your cat, stick to this. If you have changed but not made dinner, the cat will remind you. Rolling over is the most subtle method a cat will employ.

If you are on schedule, check for other behaviors. If your cat rolls over and then walks away, follow it. The cat may lead you to the litter box, reminding you to scoop it. Your cat may also want to draw your attention to a window or door to be let out. If the cat saw an intruder, it will notify you.

Requesting Play

Cats often roll over in front of each other to initiate play. Cats also see humans as large, non-confrontational fellow felines. This sometimes inspires cats to use the same techniques on their human owners.

Many senior cats grow out of playtime in the name of fun. Play serves a greater purpose than just recreation for cats, though. Play is a way for a cat to temper its hunting instincts. Most cats never lose the desire to hunt.

If your cat rolls over in front of you, reach for a laser pen or piece of string. Acknowledge a senior cat’s request to play, even if it is not scheduled time.

Older cats often become lethargic and arthritic. Movement and exercise will keep the cat supple and manage its weight.

Anxiety

If your cat is nervous or anxious, it will become increasingly clingy. The cat is looking to you as a protector. This means the cat will seek your attention more than usual.

Senior cats showing clingy behaviors should be handled with caution. The cat may have a healthcare concern. Cats do not like expressing any signs of sickness. As pain and disease get harder to hide, it becomes increasingly worrying for the cat. 

Older cats that demand attention constantly may also be display signs of cognitive dysfunction. This disease means that your cat is growing senile. It can affect geriatric cats, usually older than fifteen years. Look out for these additional symptoms:

  • Reversed sleeping-waking cycles
  • Disorientation
  • Eliminating outside the litter box
  • Staring into space for hours
  • Uncharacteristic aggression
  • Constant, increasingly frantic vocalization

As the Journal of Small Animal Practice explains, regular check-ups and appropriate diet reduce the risk of feline dementia. Once the condition takes hold, it cannot be cured. The degradation of a cat’s brain can be slowed slightly with lifestyle changes and medication, though.

If your cat is not senile, check for other sources of anxiety. Oftentimes, this will be due to a change in the cat’s life. A new cat in the home is a major stress trigger. The cat will fear being replaced. Maintain a strict routine and offer one-on-one attention to temper this insecurity.

Boredom

A senior cat will spend more time sleeping than it once did. This does not mean that an older cat doesn’t need any amusement. Boredom is the enemy of cats, no matter what age.

If your cat has not been entertained enough, it will start to act out. Bored cats become destructive, and even aggressive. You can prevent this by acknowledging the boredom early. If a cat rolls over in front of you, it may feel neglected and irked by a lack of stimulation.

Adapt your cat’s entertainment to its age. Your cat may no longer be capable of climbing high trees. It will still enjoy traditional cat behaviors, like watching birds from the window. Provide a ramp to aid your cat’s mobility in hard-to-reach areas.

Consider other ways to keep a senior cat’s mind active, especially while you’re away. Hide treats around the house in a treasure hunt. Get a fish tank, if you’re sure this is safe. The more active an older cat’s mind remains, the less likely it is to demand your attention.

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Submission

Cats are widely regarded as dominant animals. While rare, it is possible for a cat to display submissive behaviors.

Animal Behavior surveyed 175 cat rolls in a study, with 138 directed toward a recipient.

According to the study, it was primarily young male cats that rolled. These cats were demonstrating submissive behavior to an older feline.

Cats are territorial, but they are also hierarchal. Young cats, in particular, will often defer to a senior cat.

Now, this study was based around cats interacting with each other. As discussed, cats see humans as fellow felines.

This means a roll can denote submission to an owner. The cat may roll to acknowledge an owner’s superiority and show that it means no harm.

Aggression

Sometimes, a cat will roll onto its back as a precursor to aggression. When a cat is on its back, it has access to all four claws and teeth. This makes up for the fact that the soft underbelly is exposed.

It’s rare that a cat will lead straight to aggression, especially with an owner. Most cats will warn of an attack first. Typical signs of this include:

  • Hissing and growling
  • Frantic tail movements
  • Arching back
  • Staring intently

It’s always possible that a cat will become aggressive. As cats age, they develop a litany of health problems. These can make a cat act differently. Unprovoked, uncharacteristic aggression is a common symptom of illness.

Your cat may also behave aggressively if it has any reason to fear you. A strong bond should eradicate this risk. If you enter the home with a stranger, the cat may become defensive. Likewise, if you startled the cat with a loud noise upon entering, instinct can take over.

Naturally, if you suspect that your cat is feeling aggressive, do not approach. Certainly do not attempt to touch the cat’s belly. Acknowledge the cat verbally and go about your business. Once it calms down, the cat will approach you with more conventional requests for attention.