Layla Morgan Wilde/ February 11, 2016/ Cat Behavior 101, cat photo quotes, Cats, Holidays, Shelter Cats/ 41 comments

Cat Behavior 101: Why Cats Do The Social Roll.

We’ve all seen it. Cats walking nearby and suddenly flopping over on their back with a wriggle called the social roll, but why do they do it? Like all cat postures, there are subtle variations of meaning but whether it’s a human or animal watching them, it’s a friendly, non-aggressive stance demonstrating comfort. Comfort is a key point. I’ve seen my cats gallivant happily in the rain and snow but not once have they rolled on their back in cold weather. Also, if they are all alone having a dirt bath, I wouldn’t call it a social role since they might be simply scratching an itch. I’ve added other details courtesy of Merlin and Odin.

Please note: The cats featured in the video/TV series live in on the same quiet street in a small U.K. town and are participating in a cat behavior study. Many Americans object to the cats being free to roam but they are spayed/neutered and an indoor/outdoor lifestyle is the norm in the U.K.  There are always risks allowing a cat outdoors but the owners weigh the risks versus the benefits in each case. The cats are highly socialized, living deeply enriched lives and the absence of behavior issues common in the U.S. speaks volumes.

One of the best cat behavior video series that educates as much as it entertains is from the BBC. There are a series of longer one-hour videos but I’m thrilled they recently released a short one on cat communication and the role of the body role. Watch, enjoy and compare what you see with your cat’s behavior.

As Merlin demonstrates his social roll, there is always something else to consider. With cats, any behavior or body language can shift in an instant. And just because a cat shows you their belly doesn’t mean it’s an invite for an “all your can snorgle” belly rub buffet.  Watch for signs of broader tail twitching or lashing as I’ve had enough touching, now let me nap in peace. Whatever cats decide to do, know it’s their decision or in the case of a paw swipe, a defense response. A gentle swipe is a warning. A more threatened defensive response might an extension of claws and other visual cues from the ears flattening, pupil dilating, tail and back bristling and added growl. That should persuade the human or animal to back off but not always. If you didn’t listen to my subtle clues it gets worse. 

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Friendly yawn from Odin after a social roll in the dirt.

And yawn… I know, I know, you probably know all this but until everyone knows, we need to repeat the message.  It’s hard to believe, but it’s the same reason we have to mention the importance of spay/neuter. (p.s. World Spay Day is on Feb. 23, 2016).
Tell us something about your cat’s rolls or any observations from the video. I’m especially interested in cultural differences of opinion.
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41 Comments

  1. One way to get closer to your cat is to do a social role yourself in front of them. My cats love it when I get on the ground and roll around. It’s how you become a part of their clowder.

  2. We are super blessed to have a sweet kitty who loooooves having his belly rubbed! When he does the social roll, he makes the cutest little internal meow, and then we give his belly a pat. He rolls and rolls, and eventually will lift his chin up to ask for a chin scratch. He is such a love and it really is kitty heaven!

  3. My cat does the belly roll when I come home from work. It’s really hard not to rub her belly. I do rub her belly if she does it again later on. I know that she doesn’t like it but her belly is just so soft!! She also does the little tail flip when on her belly. I would love for her to rome around but I don’t trust people that I live by. I wish I had a back yard that she could explore. Maybe one day. I was talking to my co-worker and he told me along time ago there was this Chinese place and that the neighborhood pets started to go missing. He told me that he ate there, I told him I wouldn’t either.

    1. The part about the Chinese restaurant is an offensive, prejudiced urban myth, and not a comment on cat’s social rolling behaviors.

  4. very interesting, i love cats but don’t have one, my BF has one , she does the belly roll thing but i never knew what that meant, just thought it was cute, now i know, thanks for sharing this, helps to understand cat’s better!…..it’s amazing how everything has it’s own language!!……

  5. You mentioned Americans, I’m a Canadian but I live here in the US part of the year. First of all, not sure what behavior problems you’re speaking of in the article. But you’re correct many of us don’t think cats belong outside, and for good reason. Here in Arizona coyotes are always looking for a snack. People are constantly warned about this, but many people lose their pets because a coyote can jump a six foot fence without breaking a sweat. The other reason is the wildlife, mainly little birds, that cats like to kill. Despite being domesticated for a few thousand years, cats are that far removed from their wild ancestors. They are still very good hunters. Since I like songbirds too, my two feline companions are limited to a townhouse backyard, and a balcony.

    1. Hi Anne, I’m also a Canadian ex-pat. Cats aren’t fully domesticated and are hard-wired to hunt. As responsible pet owners we need to evaluate what is the best balance of safety and environmental enrichment.

  6. My girl, Winnie, does the social roll when her dad comes home from work. She makes sure to go into a carpeted room and won’t stop rolling until he gets down on the floor with her.

  7. Some of the cats do the roll some dont for belly rubs. One does the roll to invite you over for ear rubs, another to check and see of youre paying attention, one does it just to kick you (he likes to kick its his thing) one does it to show off his fat belly and likes a rub now and again, and thee siamese will social roll back and forth taking it all in she only allows one person to pet her !

    1. That is so cute! I like how you have observed all your cats 🙂 I know we can learn so much from animals.

  8. I can’t resist a tummy even if it means I get scratched.

  9. Ginger my outside cat (who is choosing that life) does the social role. She flops and rolls over and then taps her tail just like Prince. I know it was a very friendly gesture on her part.
    Annabelle also does this, in a different way. She is usually napping and when she spies me coming, she will roll over on her back and curl her paws and she is offering her belly for a rub, which she LOVES. Then she purrs and purrs and purrs and it is addicting for her, and for me.

    1. From what I’ve seen of Ginger, she does look very friendly and social. Annabelle is a social sweetie 🙂

  10. Eric was king of the social roll. He was forever flopping down in front of us nearly sending us flying. When Flynn does it, he goes full stretch and waits for the belly rubs.

    1. Ha, I can imagine Eric doing that!

  11. Well we’s not so much da social rollers round here. When me rolls like dat it’s cuz da nip has me tipsy. MOL It’s most certain;y not an invetation fur mommy to be rubbin’ me;s belly. She can just save up those pets fur another time. MOL You know me be a bit nip furisky. MOL Sissy duz da same fing fur da same reasons, so guess we’s not very social wiff our roll. gweat poty.

    Luv ya’

    Dezi and Lexi

    1. Thanks for reminding of the catnip roll!

  12. We have had a feral cat visiting us for 4 yrs. and in the past year, he has let us pet him and is doing the “social roll”! I love this expression! He talks to us, but, will not come into the house. He waits for us every morning for breakfast. He will not get into the shelter that we made for him He did once or twice and now that it gets down in the 20’s, he still won’t get in. He broke a paw awhile back and maybe he can navigate getting into the hole. We tried to trap him to take him to the vet, but, no luck! He is too wily! So, he is still limping around! The vet said that is not unusual for us not to be able to catch him. We feel so badly for him, but, he does eat good and appears to have a “friend” that follows him around. I think our “Big Boy” might be the dominant cat!

    1. Sally, this sounds so much like Domino and you know it took us 7 years to get our wily boy so there hope. Have you tried a drop trap?

  13. Aww, love this. I never knew what this action was called. I do remember people asking — a generation ago — why does the kitty suddenly lie down in front of my feet and roll over?

    Duh. Because kitty wuvs you and is inviting you to pet her.

    Beautiful cats in the video.

    Merlin and Odin are terrific, too.

    *

    The serum came for Mao today. Not sure what kind of serum. I think it is an herbal. Must ask Kristina. John is going to fill the script for the food. Not sure what the script is. But it’s for CKD.

    Other than the tests, Mao seems fine. he does eat a lot, so hopefully, the serum, prescribed pet food will help stop the weight loss.

    John asked about the sub-q – and I said you do those on Merlin. We just have to start. John is not an action guy.

    1. As to more specific observations about the video…. I think cats do this social roll because they love you and want you to pet them. Or they do it in a place they are comfortable with, like a patch of sun or a nice fuzzy warm blanket or warm grass or hot spot on the driveway in summer.

      Like when you are walking downstairs and the cat, especially a Siamese, decides to walk between your legs, almost tripping you on the stairs.

      She’s spreading her scent on you because she owns you and wuvs you. (Try not to trip over this massive love fest)

    2. Is that the eel serum? Mao may not be anywhere near sub-q time but good for John to ask and get ready. I used to do it with Joe when we needed an extra pair of hands but it’s easy to do alone and there are some great videos by vets for instruction.

      1. oh, such great info. I will ask if it is the eel serum. John did think it might be difficult to give the sub-q alone. He hasn’t got it yet from the vet. I guess they’re closed on some days. We will look for videos, too. I was really worried about the time, because we took Mao about 2 and 1/2 weeks ago ( or maybe it only seems that long)…. so all this is good to know. Thanks muchly from all of us here!

  14. I’m the social roller around here. I love rolling and showing my belly and I don’t mind having it rubbed. ~Wally

  15. My family had 5 Siamese, and they never did a social roll. It was a surprise when we got our first regular cat.

    Thunder will flop down, roll to his other side, arc his body as far as it can go and wait for me to pet him. If I am in the other room, he will sometimes do it and meow–holding his position until I see him and come pet him. He does not want his belly rubbed–he wants his head rubbed. He will hold his position until I stop.

    This is how he greets me when I come home, too.

  16. “All your can snorgle” belly rub buffet…it’s a dream buffet for cat lovers! My Goro likes rolling but most of the time, it’s not an invite. But at least, he lets me watch 🙂

    1. Ha, wouldn’t that be a dream come true! Goro shows his love many ways 🙂

  17. guys…thanx for sharin de moovee….tho de volume on de pea sea iz like a vacuum masheen; it sux…sew we couldna heer what was bee in said ~~~~~

    heerz how we roll round heer…

    dai$y…it’s okay to rub my belly, 20 minutes or longer until I’m ready for something else
    boomer…eye haz never been one for a complete roll { spine izzuez } but when eye am on me side; itz oh kay ta massage me back…just be care full
    tuna…..eye will bunnee kick ewe if ya touch ma bellah
    sauce….sure…pleez ta give me a bellah rub N sum chin scritchinz while yur at it
    dude……eye waz de roll overs master……eye wood roll from one end oh de room ta de other N bak again…N yez eye will fite ewe if ewe touch me bellah

    1. Sorry, your device is garbling the sound. It’s okay from our end. What a funny bunch of high rollers your gang is 🙂

  18. I loved the cats in the video… specially the one with the blue eyes and the chap in the ear :o)

  19. With Cody, when he does the “social roll” with us, it IS an invite to “snorgle his belly” but when my Angel Bobo did it, it definitely was NOT!
    Also, when Cody does the “social roll” for Dakota, it is a trick….he will do the roll…..and act all sweet and passive and then Dakota comes over to him and it is WHAM!! The chase is on! But….it is a game with Dakota for sure. Not aggression.

    1. Then again, Dakota is a dog.

  20. The video was so good, when it ended I kept looking to the right edge hoping it would continue! Thank you so much for this. Must make time to watch the longer ones. And I echo some of your other commenters, about cultural differences. Best not to get too doctrinaire in life, I find. And I really enjoyed the idea that Prince apparently concluded, after his person had decamped and left him behind, that Prince needed another more satisfactory person. Discerning cats. Gotta love ’em.

    1. So great to see you here! You’re going to love the longer video.

  21. I have to be careful with Sam’s tummy displays……he is asking for attention but NOT necessarily in the tummy department…..he does enjoy it SOMETIMES and I guess we just learn through trial and error when/what/how with our feline family members!

    Love Odin’s photos……..Hugs, Pam

  22. Our Mum is a no collar for cats lady as she has seen what happened to a cat who got a paw stuck in their collar for several days and because no blood could circulate the vet had to remove that paw as it was dead.
    Luv Hannah and Lucy xx xx

    1. How awful. All the more reason for breakaway safety collars.

  23. Your “Please note” before the video is very adequate, appropriate : blogging in several languages made us aware of cultural differences between cat pawrents from different countries : free roaming or not ? collar or not ? Pixie makes the social roll more than Zorro, but better not to try to touch her belly ! Purrs

  24. We understand the body language but it can sometimes be sooooooooooo hard to make others understand. A coworker got scratched the other day because her cat rolled over and exposed her belly and she immediately tried to rub it. Her first words were the cat is mean. I tried to explain that just because you get a belly up with a cat doesn’t mean you are allowed to touch it. Cats are not dogs and people have a hard time understanding that. We keep trying to educate on all things cat!

    Luvs
    Skeeter and Izzy & the Feral Gang + Twig & Peanut & Romeo & the Angels >^..^^..^<~

    1. How lucky you were there so she could learn to reframe the experience!

  25. My human’s soul cat was an indoor-outdoor cat. This was several decades ago. She was a calico, had mastered the social roll, but was also easily overstimulated. A neighbor who didn’t realize this got her hand attacked and my human had to pay the medical bill!

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