Research by Finka et al (2022) has demonstrated that many ‘cat people’ tend to pet their cats in areas the cat does not like. Their tummy being one such example. I know a cat’s tummy is soft and it is tempting to give them a tummy rub, but the vast majority of cats do not like this and will scratch you. When they lie on their backs it is a sign of trust, not an invitation to pet them. In fact, petting the tummy could be perceived as a betrayal of that trust.
From the researchers:
“Tactile interactions with cats are considered to have therapeutic benefits to humans and are increasingly included within interventional contexts to improve human wellbeing. However, cats are not considered an inherently social or highly tactile species and may have specific preferences for the ways in which they like to be touched and interacted with. Despite this, the common occurrence of human-directed aggression during interactions suggests humans’ understanding of cat behaviour and appropriate styles of interactions with cats may be limited. To address this, in a recent study, we incorporated expert understanding of ‘best practice’ styles of interactions with cats into an educational intervention for humans to use during unstructured social interactions with cats. By encouraging humans to engage in styles of interactions with cats which provided the cat with greater levels of autonomy and also emphasised focusing on the cat’s behaviour and comfort, cats responded with increased human-directed affiliative and positively-valanced behaviour, in addition to decreased rates of human-directed aggression and signs of negative affect.”