Why do cats roll over?

There is nothing like a good roll if you are a cat.
Zelda dashes outside and makes a beeline to one of her favorite rolling spots. She flops down and wriggles back and forth over on to her back with her legs in the air. Her chosen spots have very fine dirt and her dark brown coat changes to a sandy color when she is done.

Zelda’s housemates also indulge in rolling these spots with the fine powdery dirt. It does not matter to Gus that he is wearing his harness – that gets coated with a fine layer of dust too!

cat rolling over with toy




Rolling requires that a cat feels safe and secure, after all, the full body roll exposes the vulnerable belly.

When do cats roll over?

  • when playing with toys, especially those catnip toys
  • greeting friendly cats and humans
  • when inviting another cat, human, or dog to play
  • female cats in heat roll over in front of prospective mates
  • female cats also roll vigorously after mating
  • cats roll when they are feeling good and find a good spot!

Other thoughts on why cats roll over

  • Some folks think that cats of a lower social rank roll in front of higher ranking cats. It would seem risky to expose your belly to a cat who may not respond in a friendly way. Why not just try the tail up signal – at least, you would be on your feet ready to run if the other cat is aggressive.
  • Another idea is that cats are spreading scent on the ground from glands in their skin. You would think if this were the case, cats would be sniffing the ground carefully before or after they roll. I have not seen my cats do this.

The feline purrspective…

If your cat flops down in front of you and rolls over on his back, it is a friendly greeting. He may be feeling playful and is up for a few rounds of laser tag or a session with that wand toy with the feathers at the end. He is feeling good, and feels safe and secure.
Greet him and allow him to sniff your hand, before giving him a head rub and perhaps, some playtime.

Although it may seem that he is begging you to rub his belly, most cats are just letting you know that they feel playful, safe and secure. Your cat may view rubbing his tummy as aggressive and respond with teeth and claws!  Of course, there are cats who seem to enjoy a belly rub. Make sure that you know the cat before putting your hand into the “bear trap”.
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