Are you wondering, “Why do cats sleep on their backs?”

Cats often sleep curled up in a ball or on their sides, so you can’t help but feel special when you find your feline asleep with paws in the air.

And as you’re going to find out, this cute cat sleeping position has many possible meanings, helping you understand your feline friend better.

So, just keep reading.

READ MORE: Why Do Cats Sleep in the Bathroom?

12 reasons Why Cats Sleep on Their Backs

Indoor cats spend as much as 16 hours a day napping around the house in various cat positions. So, you’re used to seeing your cat curl on your pillow, snoozing in the loaf position, or sprawl on the bed.

Cute ginger cat sleeping on its back

But humans rarely have the opportunity of catching their feline friend asleep on their back.

So, why do cats lay on their backs with paws us? Usually, cats sleep on their backs because they feel secure and want to relax, but it can also be a sign of an illness. 

Let’s take a detailed look at all the possible meanings of this adorable cat behavior.

#1 I’m Feeling Safe

Whenever a predator attacks, your cat’s first reaction is to protect its belly because it’s the most vulnerable part. A deep scratch or a bite in this area can be deadly.

As such, no cat will ever expose its belly willing when asleep in a “dangerous” spot. Otherwise, your kitty won’t have time to turn and defend itself from a sneak attack.

Cute kitten with gorgeous eyes under title Why Do Cats Sleep on Their Backs?

If your cat is willing to sleep on its back in your house, your kitty says, “I’m feeling safe, and I know that nothing will hurt me here!”

And if they stay asleep around you in this vulnerable position, you should take it as a great compliment and a sign of trust. 

#2 Bring It On!

Most people think that exposing the belly is a sign of submission in cats. However, it’s actually the opposite.

As the animal expert Pam Johnson-Bennett explains, “In this defensive stance, a cat is telling an enemy that the teeth and the claws are ready to be engaged in combat.” (1)

So, sometimes cats pretend to be asleep with their belly exposed because they’re waiting for the other party to make a move. Maybe it’s another rival cat, or your cat is testing what you’ll do.

That’s why it’s not a very smart move to give your cat a belly rub unless you want to get scratched.

#3 It’s Too Hot

While you’ll never see your kitty sweat like a pig, as pet experts say, “cats are born with an efficient cooling system.” (3)

When it gets too hot, the brain sends a message to the sweat glands. And since your cat has sweat glands in their paws, sometimes they sleep on their back to cool down.

Since cats can suffer from heatstrokes, remember to keep an eye for rapid breathing, vomiting, and lethargy.

#4 Can’t You See I’m Relaxing!

Ginger cat in a cat bed

It feels nice when you lie on your back and stretch your muscles after a hard day at work, right?

Well, cats also love relaxing in the belly-up position after a tiring day spent following you around the house. So, don’t disturb your cat’s beauty nap!

#5 My Belly Hurts!

Usually, when my cats have stomach problems, they sleep with their paws tucked close to the body and seem in visible discomfort.

However, some cats prefer to sleep on their back when they have stomach aches because they can’t stand to apply any pressure on their belly.

As such, you should take your cat to the vet if you notice any other warning signs of an illness, such as vomiting, lethargy, and nausea.

#6 I’m Warming Up!

Have you ever found your cat sleeping on its belly next to a fireplace, a radiator, or another heat source?

In such cases, your cat is soaking up the extra heat through its belly and paw pads and enjoying its nap to the fullest.

#7 I’m Too Uncomfortable to Sleep on the Side

Is your cat pregnant? Then, your furry friend is looking for a comfortable position to sleep without putting too much pressure on its big belly.

Elder cats with joint problems also often have issues stretching or curling and may switch to other cat sleeping positions to alleviate their discomfort.

#8 I Want Belly Rubs!

Not all cats like it when you touch their vulnerable belly, so this sleeping position is not always an invitation for a belly rub.

A cat getting belly rubs

However, cats that like belly rubs will often lay on their backs to attract your attention and tempt you to pet them.

#9 I Want Attention

Can you resist paying attention to your cat and its fluffy belly when you see your kitty asleep with paws in the air? Even if you’re busy, it will be impossible to resist.

As such, some felines fake sleeping in this cat position to make you look at them and give them something tasty as a reward.

#10 I’m Still a Kitten!

Kittens can’t go to the bathroom by themselves during the first few weeks of their lives and require their mother to lick their belly and stimulate them to pee/poop.

Here is a video of a cute kitten.

@yikesjewels she rlly said 🧍🏻‍♀️ #fyp #FriendlyFuture #catsoftiktok #fosterkitten #mtl ♬ Monkeys Spinning Monkeys – Kevin MacLeod & Kevin The Monkey

As such, some kittens get used to sleeping on their backs because it’s easier for the mother cat to clean them up without waking them up.

#11 I’m Attracting a Mate

Sometimes when female cats are in heat, they roll all over the ground and stay on their backs with paws in the air.

In these cases, your cat is spreading its scent as far as possible in an attempt to attract a tomcat to come for a rendezvous.

#12 I Like it!

Sometimes there’s no hidden meaning behind your cat’s favorite sleeping position. Some cats enjoy sleeping on their backs and are so spoiled that they don’t fear exposing their vulnerable bodies.

And as a Quora user comments, “It’s a sign of complete happiness.” (3)

READ MORE: Why Do Cats Lay on Their Side?

Is It Normal for a Cat to Sleep on Their Back?

As I already said, most cats prefer to sleep on the side or curl into a ball next to you because it’s easier to react in cases of a threat.

Still, it’s normal for some felines to sleep on their back with paws up in the air.’ It depends on your cat’s temperament and how safe they feel around you and your family.

And as you can see from this video, some cats are just weird and like sleeping on their back.

But if you’re worried about your cat’s sleeping habits, you should talk to your vet. Cats don’t usually sleep on the back when ill, but it doesn’t hurt to check for a medical issue.

Why My Cats Roll on Its Back When It Sees Me?

Does your cat roll on its back when you come home from work? That’s a very common cat behavior, which has some cute meanings.

#1 I’m Happy to See You!

Usually, cats roll around in your feet because they’re happy you’re home. Your kitty has missed you so much that the only way to express their joy is to roll on its back.

#2 I’m Marking Territory

Cats have scent glands all over their head, so when your kitty rolls around, it spreads its pheromones all over the place to claim territory.

This adorable video of cats sleeping on their backs will cheer you up.

@valeryyiia 🙂 #greenscreen #airpodsJUMP #FYP #foryoupage ♬ SO MANY PEOPLE ARE USING THIS – Mae & Lily

#3 I Want Attention!

Cats have plenty of ways to attract your attention, but they’re most adorable when rolling on their backs when you attempt to walk around them.

#4 I’m in Heat!

When female cats get in heat, they get very affectionate and clingy. They also often roll all over the floor to attract males and show their willingness.

Should I Give My Cats Belly Rubs?

To rub or not to rub, that’s the question, right? The answer isn’t as simple as you think.

But first here is a cute video of a big cat getting a belly rub.

@brittneyandzion No complaining today! #tiger #zion #tlc #bellyrubs #cat #cute #CandyCrushAllStars ♬ original sound – Brittney Olson

Many cat owners will say that your kitty is lying on its back to trick you. And that’s true to an extent.

Some felines expose their vulnerable belly because they want to test your reaction and see if you’re worthy of trust. That’s why they bite and scratch when you touch them.

But many felines also enjoy belly rubs and won’t show their claws and teeth when you attempt to pet them in this vulnerable spot.

It’s a matter of how much your cat trusts you and how close of a relationship you have. As Cindy Houlihan, DMV, says, “If your cat does ever allow you to touch her belly, it’s truly a compliment.” (4)

Why Does My Cat Sleep on Its Back? FAQs

Are Cats Happy When They Lay on Their Back?

Yes, one of the ways cats express happiness and affection is by laying on their back. They’re also checking if they can trust you to resist the temptation of giving them a belly rub. 

Why Does My Cat Sleep on His Back with His Legs Open?

If you happen to see your cat sleeping on his back with legs open, your kitty is probably too hot or relaxing in the sun. 

Do Cats Sleep on Their Backs Normally?

Most cats rarely sleep on their backs because they feel too vulnerable when their bellies are exposed. But some felines do it when they’re feeling content and happy. 

Conclusion

It’s normal for cats to sleep on their backs with paws in the air, especially when they have a strong bond with their human owners and feel secure. 

Since your cat trusts you so much to sleep in this vulnerable position, you should resist the temptation of petting your cat’s belly to avoid startling your pet in its sleep.

And always pay attention to your feline’s body language to determine how open your cat is to receive your attention. You don’t want things to get bloody, after all. 


Resources:

  • 1.Selvaggio L. Why Are Cats So Protective of Their Bellies? Petguide.com. Published March 14, 2018. https://www.petguide.com/blog/cat/cats-protective-bellies/
  • 2. How Do Cats Sweat? www.petmd.com. https://www.petmd.com/cat/general-health/how-do-cats-sweat
  • 3. Why do fat cats have a tendency to sleep on their backs, exposing their tummy? Quora. Accessed March 17, 2022. https://www.quora.com/Why-do-fat-cats-have-a-tendency-to-sleep-on-their-backs-exposing-their-tummy
  • 4. June 28 CO |, 2012. Why Does My Cat . . . Hate Belly Rubs? Vetstreet. Accessed March 17, 2022. http://www.vetstreet.com/our-pet-experts/why-does-my-cat-hate-belly-rubs
Grigorina S
Grigorina S

I’ve grown up surrounded by animals – dogs, cats, cows, goats, sheep, and horses and that has shaped me into what I am today – a crazy cat lady who always has a place for one more cat (or a dog). I’ve got two female cats – Kitty and Roni, and two tomcats – Blacky and Shaggy, but I also feed my neighbors’ cats when they come for a visit. I just can’t say no to them.

I discovered that writing is my vocation early in my school years. Since then I’ve taken part in several literature contests – writing horror and fantasy short stories and novellas.
For the past three years, I’ve been an ELS teacher, pouring my heart into showing children and teenagers how important English is for their future and trying to educate them how to treat their pets with care.

Find her on Instagram. Read her latest articles..

Learn more about Grigorina here