The message a cat is conveying is based on specific circumstances.
• A relaxed cat will often stretch out onto her back and expose her tummy. This is the ultimate in relaxation and also indicates that the cat is totally secure in her surroundings.
• A cat will sometimes expose her stomach to an owner or a higher-ranking cat when confused about which direction the relationship is going. She is not really afraid enough to turn and run, but she's also not sure whether she will need to defend herself.
• A cat will expose her tummy to an owner when she isn't sure whether she wants to play or be affectionate.
• When confronted by an opponent, a cat will expose her belly as an indication that she doesn't want to initiate battle but will fight if the opponent decides to attack. This is an important signal because it gives the offensive cat the opportunity to back off. It isn't a submissive posture the way it is in canines, but it does indicate a reluctance to actively engage in confrontation.
• If a cat is in battle and there is no means of escape, she will roll onto her back in order to fully engage all of her weapons.
Every cat is an individual, and they use their methods of communication in slightly different ways. One cat may expose her belly to her owner or a companion cat when she wants to engage in play but isn't sure if the situation is appropriate. Other cats develop the habit of exposing the tummy after being trained by owners that this gets a positive response. Some cats are just not as sensitive about their tummies and will even allow petting. It's important to keep in mind, though, that when a cat does expose her stomach, it's not a good idea to pet her there because it could trigger the defensive response.
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