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Why Do Cats Lay on Their Backs? 7 Reasons

Who doesn’t love it when their cat lies on their back? It’s surely a sign of being ultra calm and relaxed around you, right? It’s also extremely cute. Yet, when you decide to try to rub their belly, you often get the wrath and rage of all cats in history. So why do cats lay on their backs?

Believe it or not, a cat lying on its back may indicate a couple of things you might not expect. A lot of how to interpret this involves looking at what other parts of the body are doing. The tail, facial expression, and legs all play a role in expressing your cat’s emotions.

Yes, body language is very much a cat thing and a part of many of the top cat behaviors. Like most of its postures, lying on its back can relate to many moods and intentions. Play, rest, agitation, and even estrus can all play a factor.

So let’s dig into why cats lay on their backs, and perhaps we can demystify these beautiful creatures a little bit more in the process. We’ll also probably be able to prevent you from sustaining an unwanted scratch, bite, or eternal curse.

silver tabby cat on back with paws up

Image by Milada Vigerova from Pixabay 


Why do Cats Lay on their Backs? 7 Reasons

1. Trust

The situation most of us want to feel and believe is that your cat trusts you. Just occasionally, when a cat is on its back, this might be the case. But make sure to observe the other signs. If your cat is looking at you calmly, and its tail is not flicking, take it as a positive.

Now, it’s time to be careful about your approach. A rough, fast, and erratic jump towards its belly is not going to do you any favors. More than likely, it may startle the cat, and it will immediately react accordingly, jumping up, or worse, scratching and biting you.

Instead, approach calmly, and watch for signs of tail-flicking. A cat’s mood can change instantly from trustful to agitated. If your cat does allow for a belly rub, don’t assume it can go on forever. 

black siberian cat lying on its back

2. Play (or Mischief)

A cat who is in the mood for play or mischief is as hard to resist as any other. Suddenly it flops down in front of you, eyes locked on yours, tail twitching, and soft meows or purrs emanating from its mouth.

The temptation is to approach with your hands. And that would be a mistake. Your cat is looking to play, and it always plays with claws and teeth. Save your hands and invest in a wand toy or something similar. 

Your cat will be happy to expend its energy on trying to catch the “mouse” or “fish” at the end of the string. As an alternative, some stuffed soft toys may also be suitable. Usually, a catnip-infused stuffed toy item of some sort will suffice. 

As a bonus, it will burn off excess energy, allowing for a possible cuddle later on without any restless complications. 


Image by Jim Black from Pixabay 

3. Happiness

From time to time, your cat will be lying or sleeping on its back just because it is content. Take this as a sign that you have created a comfortable and safe space within your home. Cats can sleep a long time — up to 15 hours a day. So why not let it be content in its deepest Z-time?

Occasionally, the cat may sleep in a ray of sunshine, opening its belly for warmth or allowing itself to cool. Even we as humans can appreciate a warm belly or a cooler belly on a hot day. Also, keep in mind that a cat’s paws do assist with cooling, so if its paws are in the air as well, chances are it’s just feeling great!

tabby siberian cat lying on its back on a couch

4. Agitation

In addition to lying on its back so that it can use all four claws, agitated cats will show focused, dilated eyes staring at you and flattened ears. Do not approach, especially if the cat is growling or moaning as well. As hard as it is to train a cat not to bite, it will be even harder if the cat is in a state of anxiety.

Agitation can be read as aggression in some cases. If your cat’s eyes are fixed on you, leave the room, or try to divert its attention towards something else. At the very least, try to indicate that you’re not interested in interacting.

why do cats lay on their backs tortoiseshell cat on back

Image by ivabalk from Pixabay 

5. Estrus

Firstly, if your cat has been spayed, this will not be a factor. Unspayed female cats who come into their heat cycle will sometimes show a readiness to mate by falling onto their backs. This is usually accompanied by other signs as well.

The cat will vocalize with loud, long wailing. This will happen especially when male cats are in the vicinity. Your cat will seem to want to leave the house more intently as well. On the other side of the coin, you may find yourself hosting a few male cat visitors.

For your part, it’s worth knowing that your cat will not want to be touched on the stomach (or at all) during this time. With its hormones running rampant, your cat is a little unpredictable and sensitive at this time. More likely than not, trying to interact with her physically will result in a claw and tooth-based reaction.

lynx point siamese on its back

6. Defensive Posture

If you’ve ever seen two cats play, you’ll know how one sometimes lays down on its back while “waiting” for the other to attack. This is a defensive posture that a cat will sometimes employ as a tactic. It may even do so if it has encountered a stranger, cat, or dog.

While it feigns a submissive posture, in reality, it may be tricky to lure an unwitting victim to its doom. Do not fall for it. Once again, the cat will seem alert, and its tail will be twitching (probably). ( It will seem ready to pounce, even though it is on its back.

This posture offers a number of advantages for the cat in question. For one thing, it has access to all its paws’ weapons. It can drag its opponent down by grabbing it. At the same time, its lethal back paws will kick out and scratch. 

On that note, new owners should be aware that a cat’s back paws are extremely dangerous. Traditionally, wild cats would use these to tear open a prey’s chest or belly as it held on with its front legs. 

ginger cat in hammock
ginger cat in hammock

Image by Dorothe from Pixabay 

7. Just Resting

Let’s expand a little on the sleeping cat on its back. Though slightly unusual, it has been known to happen, and it’s adorable. When this happens, film a video with your phone, and watch the YouTube hits roll in. 

Cats do tend to try lots of positions to sleep in. On its back seems as good a posture as any other, and why not? The tail will be still, the eyes closed, and its breathing gentle. 

Whatever you do, do not disrupt the cat nap. No one wants a good sleep to be rudely interrupted. Besides, a defensive instinct will likely kick in if it is startled, and your hands will suffer the consequences. As mentioned, just take the video. And try not to make any noise in the process.

lynx point siamese on back with paws up

Not All Cats Like to Lie on Their Backs

With all of the above being said, it’s worth noting that most cats will not enjoy a long rest on their back for the joy of it. Cats generally find it uncomfortable, and it provides a vulnerability, as its belly is considered a weak point.

Its wild ancestry generally seeks to protect its belly. Moreover, the alert nature of a cat means that it will be less able to react quickly to any alarm or sudden situation. Cats will commonly sleep in a curled position, on their bellies, sitting sphynx-like, and so on. For a full explanation of many of these positions, see this article about sleeping cat positions.

ginger cat lying on its back

Image by Serge Jové from Pixabay 


With the understanding that cats lay on their backs for several reasons, your hands and other body parts may be safer. The key to knowing when it is safe to play with your cat in this position is by looking at all the other signs that accompany the posture.

Usually, a flicking tail, dilated pupils, and eyes fixed on you are bad signs. This means they are ready to pounce, whether through agitation or playfulness. Whichever the case, it’s always safer to err on the side of caution when it comes to your hands and your kitty’s claws and teeth. Invest in some good toys and avoid the question altogether. 

Bengal cat laying down on its back.

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