Oh, that belly…that terribly inviting, soft and squishy, hard to look away from, magical and mysterious cat belly. It taunts you, or at least you have been conditioned to believe it is. The mere display of this potentially deadly part of your cats arsenal makes you want to tempt fate, each and every time, like a red button that says, “Don’t push me!” You want to put your hand there. I know you do.
My advice to you: Either don’t do it at all or be prepared to get owned like a house fly. I know….I’ve heard it before. Your cat LOVES to be petted on the tum tum and he never bites. Of course, thresholds will vary, but just know one thing- The big belly reveal is not an invitation for petting. It’s more like a finger waving you closer and closer. Doom awaits and you can’t avert your eyes. This is a trap and you are at a severe disadvantage. Your soft and supple, skin covered hand is no match for this wiggling warrior’s weaponry (Say that three times).
Cat’s will display their bellies for many reasons. Sometimes it’s a show of contentment, arousal (either negative or positive) or a reaction to a catnip toy. Most of the time, a belly display is an invitation for rough play. All positive reasons to squirm and show the belly, but still not an invite to put your hand there.
Sometimes when cat’s are being petted on their back or flanks, they will choose to roll over on their side or back, displaying the gold. This can be confusing to well-intentioned guardians, because instincts will tell you to continue petting, working your way to that golden treasure chest of soft temptations. Be careful…You may be inadvertently arousing your cat into a playful mood, bringing confusion to the purpose of your hand.
One second your hand is petting with compassion, the next….threshold has been reached and you are being bunny kicked, bitten and held down by two very sharp paws. The bottom line is: Don’t take the bait at all or watch your cat’s body language closely. Make sure you aren’t provoking the petting aggression by missing the signals all together. Most of all, don’t take this sudden change in direction personally. It’s not about you. It’s about what you do with your hands.
If you see the following before a belly display…You may be heading into a Venus Hand Trap:
- Flattening, turning or twitching ears
- Tail swish – Slow to Fast
- Cranky meow or drawn-out vocalizations
- Staring or pupilary dilation
- Quick head turn to watch your hand as you pet
- Stillness or tenseness
- Shifting body position repeatedly
- Back feet push against your hand to keep it away
- Front paws grab hold
- Twitching of the back (often described as “skin rolling”)
- Hissing and growling
- Licking of your hand
- Inhibited nipping (soft and gentle)
- High play drive or need for interactive play
- You just got bitten and scratched.
What to do if your hand is stuck in the trap:
- Cease petting
- Make your hand go limp (dead prey)
- Do not react by pulling your hand or fighting back (this can provoke more aggression)
- Redirect the focus to an interactive toy
- Redirect to your cat’s favorite treat (only when the aggression stops)
- Apologize for not noticing your cat’s limits
- Never make the same mistake again
- Tell all your friends how to avoid the trap
Next week: We’re covering ELEVATOR BUTTS!