Have you ever been interacting with your cat and suddenly she flops down and rolls her belly your way? It seems like a “cat thing”, but there are usually reasons that animals do things. This display is often accompanied by loud purring and obvious contentment. We instinctively know it is a good thing when our cats interact with us in this way, but what is real reason?
Many social animals, like dogs, have a typical interactions and behaviors that they exhibit to others in their family group, but cats are descended from creatures that tend to be more solitary in the wild. Because of this, historically cats have not been thought to be particularly social. However, a study published in the Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery explained that although cats can exist as solitary creatures, in settings with adequate resources, they can also reside serenely in a colony or group. We know this is true because our cats reside peacefully with us.
In these colonies, behaviors can be observed that seem to be intended to maintain social bonds with valuable partners, reduce tension and express social status within a group. Our relationships with our cats is no different. Cats in the colony studies were especially observed to develop individual relationships within the group, called “preferred associates”. These select individuals are the ones that cats interact with the most, mutually grooming one another and showing obvious displays of vulnerability, like the belly flash. In human terms, they seemed to have best friends.
Obviously, your cat would not present herself in such a defenseless way if she did not trust you completely and feel safe with you. This display is probably her way of acknowledging that you are her BFF! Be careful, however, just because she presents her belly, does not mean that she wants you to touch her there! Cats are very specific about how, when, and where they want to be touched.
Cats are not just little dogs and in fact, are not like any other animal that we consider “domesticated”. Cat lovers embrace and understand their CAT-itude. It makes us feel good to know that our cats don’t just love anyone, but that we personally have passed the cat muster!
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- Social organization in the cat: a modern understanding. J Feline Med Surg.2004 Feb;6(1):19-28. Crowell-Davis SL, Curtis TM, Knowles RJ.