The Cat Rollover

The Cat Rollover

by Michael
(London, UK)

A bit of science has been applied to a form of cat behavior that we are all familiar with; our cat rolling over and going belly up for us. Whereas the tail up configuration is a form of greeting in the world of cat body language, rollover is a form of passive submission for the male cat (towards adult males) and when females roll in the presence of males it is a signal that they are ready to mate.

cat rolling over in passive submission

Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles: Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

So what does that tell us about our cat’s behavior towards us when they go belly up?

I had always thought that when I stroke my cats and they roll over to expose their belly to me that it was asking me to stroke their belly. A kind of simple logic. A cat’s underside is normally protected so it takes a cat that is confident with his or her human companion to do this.

But based on a study “Domestic cats and passive submission” by Hilary N. Feldman, Sub-Department of Animal Behaviour, Cambridge University, Cambridge, England (published on Science Direct) it may well be that our boy cats are simply being passively submissive towards us. I suspect that the same can be said of the females. After all they can’t be asking us to mate!

As human cat companions we are their caretakers and surrogate mothers and fathers. In being perpetual mothers (because we are their companions permanently) we keep our cats in a state of kittenhood.

This must translate into a mentality that tells our cats that we are the adults and they are the sub-adults.

Under these circumstances our cats will be passively submissive.

Do we want that? No. We want equality. Well, all good cat caretekers do.

However, it seems to me that some domestic cats have developed a sense of equality and see us not as mothers and fathers because they see themselves as independent adults.

This may develop from our treatment of them and if it does it is the kind of treatment that I would endorse. And of course cats are individuals. Some cats will be confident enough to shrug off permanent kittenhood and see us for what we are, another friendly species who provides.

The study concluded that rolling over “inhibits the development of overt aggression”. In other words the younger cat is rolling to signal to the older adult that he is non-aggressive and to please keep things peaceful.

Something springs to mind. If our cat see us a cat, and if the usual form of aggression in cats (that is directed towards us) is through defensiveness and fear, perhaps we should roll over and go belly up for our cat. That would signal to our cat that we are nothing to be afraid of, that we are submitting to them. This may alleviate a cat’s anxiety.

That, though, is me being wildly speculative again and there is no scientific basis for what I suggest. I guess that is obvious!

Who wants to be the first to give it a try!?

Associated Page:

How To Calm A Cat

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The Cat Rollover to Cat Behavior

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The Cat Rollover

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Feb 14, 2011 my thoughts
by: Kathy W

MY Lia always rolls over and shows me his stomach when Im petting him and hes enjoying it and its usually when Im telling him how great and beautiful he is and how much I love him. Our cat family is our family. We pretty much treat them as equals and its true that mostly our 2 males roll like that but sometimes Midnight rolls her belly to Jeff, but she mostly only likes him too. He has 3 cats and I have 2. Yet we all live in the same house. Due to my work schudule and his snoring we sleep seperatly during the week. Two cats sleep with me always. Lia and Aurora our Savannah. Mariel our 8 pawed rescue sleeps with him. Quanah sleep mostly with him but sometimes with me. Then I cant move. Midnight sleeps whereever she chooses, usually on the cable box where its warm and its by a window and that is a favorite perching spot for everyone. Except Quanah because hes always too busy getting into everything.

Feb 14, 2011 Food for Thought
by: Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

Is equality with your cat possible? There is a lot to think about here. First off, in the animal kingdom it’s all about dominance, so my guess is that as soon we think we are equal with a cat, he thinks he is dominant. There are times we can let our cat be dominant. But there are other times, we just can’t. Just now I had to take a hickory nut away from Monty which he found and was batting around. He was having fun, but I know that it was just the size to choke him! I have to use my more complex brain and think of the things he can’t to keep him safe.
But we are equal in another way, which is not affected by who is leading and who is following at any particular time. I’m continually amazed that such a beautiful, amazing, perfect creature would want to be with me. Sometimes I just don’t feel worthy of him. I think it’s that kind of equality that Michael is talking about– that respect and love for an animal as a valuable living breathing being who is a gift of God. A gift we are responsible to care well for. But to be a good cat caretaker does sometimes mean being in charge and our cats expect it, I’m sure. It’s a normal part of the animal kingdom.
When I was a kid Grandma told me the cows on her farm always had a lead cow. This same cow would lead them out of the barn along the same paths every day. She showed them when and where to graze and lead them back to the barn at the same time each day. I couldn’t believe all that was going on between those docile beasts, but Grandma assured me it was true. I don’t know how the election was held, but the cows weren’t equal– one was in charge and the others weren’t. It wasn’t a bad thing. It allowed for peace, harmony and order.
I also learned that if you are going to run along those paths the cows walk on every day (as only a nine year old can run) it is best to wear shoes.

Feb 12, 2011 It’s equality
by: Michael

I think it’s a case of equality. Nice and what I would expect…Michael

Feb 12, 2011 Don’t need to try it
by: Ruth (Monty’s Mom)

I already know what the result would be if I rolled on the floor in front of Monty to show him my non-aggression toward him. He would pounce on my head. Whenever I try to do exercises on the floor, such as crunches or leg lifts, Monty comes and pounces on me. Usually he pounces on my head, but he will vary his angle of attack as he persistently pounces and retreats, pounces and retreats, having the time of his life. In my house it’s best to avoid sitting or lying on the floor.
Monty does roll around for me showing me his belly though– usually when I first come in the door.

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