Dogs roll over when they want a tummy rub. So when people see cats roll over, they often assume the same is true—only to get scratched and maybe even bitten for their trouble. While cats do sometimes roll over for affection, there are other, less charming reasons for this behavior.
Unlike dogs, cats sometimes roll onto their backs to get into a defensive position. This way they can attack whomever or whatever threatens them with both teeth and the claws of all four paws. Cats who are in defense mode when on their backs will also display other signs of aggression, such as holding their ears back against their heads, hissing and even growling.
Females in Heat
If your kitty is a girl who is not spayed, rolling over could be an instinctive mating behavior. Unspayed females who are ready to mate will often roll from "affection" or frustration. If this is the case, exposing her tummy may also be accompanied by rubbing her back against the floor, carpet or any other horizontal surface.
Trust and Love
In some cases cats lie down and roll over on their backs to display trust and love. This behavior is typically accompanied by ears held up and forward. In the wild, animals instinctively protect the undersides of their bodies because vulnerable vital organs are there. So when any animal, including your cat, exposes this area to you, it can be a way of telling you that he trusts you unconditionally and loves you.
Sometimes cats rolling onto their backs are communicating a playful mood. They may be trying to get you or another cat to play with them. This behavior is often seen in kittens and young cats, who will "play-fight" with their littermates or roommates this way.
Relaxed and Content
Chilled-out kitties roll over as well. Exposing their tummies is their way of saying that they are relaxed and content. Some cats even sleep on their backs, with their stomachs exposed, like little humans. If your cat does this, it is a sign of how comfortable he is in his territory, and with the people in his territory.
Leslie Carver has been a professional author since 2009. Her work appears on multiple websites. She has an associate's degree in English with progress toward her bachelor's at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville. She has been awarded an Outstanding Student Award in English and twice nominated for creative writing awards.