Why Does a Cat Flop Onto Its Side?

Kitty might roll on her side if she's feeling playful, but not aggressive.
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You just walked in the door and you nearly trip over the fluffy ball of Kitty, who's splayed on her side in front of you. You reach down to give her tummy a rub, but she immediately gets up -- she'll be having none of that. Why does Kitty flop down on her side if she's not wanting a belly rub?

Friendly Greeting

Kitty's tummy is one of her most sensitive bits. If she's comfortable enough with you, she might roll onto her side to expose her fluffy stomach. She's not begging for some love. She's simply giving you a sign that she trusts and adores you.

She also might roll onto her side to say hello if she's feeling a little lazy. If you just woke her from a nap, or if she's found a particularly warm place to snuggle, she still wants to tell you hi, but not badly enough to walk across the room. She'll roll on her side to let you know that she cares but she's happy staying where she is.

Feeling Playful

You pull out Kitty's favorite feather on a string and she rolls onto her side, ready to bat away. Although she's excited to attack the plaything, she's not actually feeling aggressive. This is similar to a defensive posture, but in a playful version. She's in the mood to play, and if you scratch at her tummy, you'll probably get a harmless swat or a mock bite.

On the Defensive

If you have more than one cat in the house, one might roll onto her side as a submissive gesture. She'll flop on her side but will keep a paw raised just in case. She'll do this when she recognizes that the aggressor is too big to fight.

It's a sign of submission, but she'll still have a paw full of claws ready to swat if the offensive kitty doesn't back down. A cat on its back still has four paws and teeth that can tear up an enemy pretty badly. Just because she's submissive doesn't mean she's harmless.


If Kitty acts dizzy and falls on her side frequently, it could be a sign of something more serious. Cerebellar hypoplasia is a disease similar to humans' cerebral palsy. It affects the cerebellum, the part of the brain that controls her movement and balance. If her mother was exposed to distemper, poison, or malnourished while pregnant, Kitty's cerebellum might not have developed properly.

Ataxia is a sensory dysfunction that affects her balance, limbs and even her head. She might not have control over her movements, and she might fall over all the time. Ataxia can be caused by a neurological problem, cancer, trauma, or inner-ear infection. An inner-ear infection can be cured by antibiotics, and her movement then should become normal.

If Kitty has trouble staying upright, she should be kept indoors for her own safety. Take her to the vet for diagnosis and treatment.

Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.

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