A fearful cat may roll over on its back, turning its head to face the aggressor with all four paws ready for protection. This might appear to some observers as a submissive posture, like that of a dog, whose belly-up posture is intended to discourage an attack by signaling Okay, okay: I’m lower ranking. But cats do not have specific dominance or subordinance displays. They convey their relative social status by a combination of offensive and defensive aggressive behaviors, avoidance, immobility, and deference. A cat on her back is a formidable opponent. Her seemingly submissive postures – This is not to say, by the way, that I bow to your authority – are simply attempts to inhibit an attack. She has at her disposal a mouth ringed with knife-tips and all four sets of claws. With her forelegs, she can grab a four-legged aggressor near his mouth while her hind legs rip away at his belly, as cats also do with prey. You have seen cats play with prey toys this way, rolling on their backs and then kicking ferociously at the toy.
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