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.
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!?
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