If you are a cat owner, it is understandable that you would take an interest in your cat’s body and the way it works. In particular, many owners become fascinated with the similarities and differences between their pet’s body and the human body. One especially common question is in relation to the belly button, or naval.
So do cats have belly buttons? The answer is a simple ‘yes’. Cats are mammals, much like us, and almost all unborn mammals are connected to their mother via an umbilical cord, in order to receive nutrients. Your cat’s belly button is the area the umbilical cord was once attached to.
Nevertheless, as I will explain in more detail, cats’ belly buttons are different from ours and can be difficult to locate and identify unless you know exactly what you are looking for. This can be even more problematic with female cats, because they also sometimes have a spay scar in the same area. As a result, even vets, cat experts and those working in cat shelters can sometimes struggle to tell the difference between the two.
Does My Cat Have a Belly Button?
The question of whether or not cats have a belly button – or an umbilicus to give it its scientific name – is very common and part of the reason for this is because there is no obvious sign of one. With humans, the belly button is easy to see, because it is typically either a hollow or protruding area (depending on whether it is an ‘innie’ or ‘outie’) in the middle of the much smoother surface of the stomach. Of course, this is not the case for cats.
However, while it may not be as obvious, your cat does indeed have a belly button – or at least something equivalent to one – and much like with humans, it is located on their stomach. To be more specific, a cat’s belly button is situated centrally, around halfway down the abdomen, just underneath its rib cage. It is present on all cats, regardless of whether they are male or female, and it typically resembles a small scar.
The explanation for why your cat has a belly button is simple: cats are mammals and develop in their mother’s womb. Prior to being born, kitten foetuses are attached to their mother via a placenta and an umbilical cord, which connects to the foetus’ stomach. Through this system, the foetus is able to receive nutrients from its mother. This then allows the foetus to develop and grow into a healthy kitten, capable of surviving independently.
Almost all mammals, including cats, dogs and humans, follow this same basic process. Indeed, there are only a small number of exceptions, such as kangaroos, opossums and the extremely small number of egg-laying mammals. All mammals that develop in a womb and are attached via an umbilical cord will have a belly button, but it may not always look like what we are expecting when we think of a belly button.
With cats, the belly button heals very well – especially compared to the human equivalent – and this is one of the key reasons why we are not able to easily spot it. In fact, belly buttons on cats continue to heal over the course of their lifetime, which means that the belly button of an older adult cat will be even harder to find than the belly button of a young kitten. In some cases, at least to the untrained eye, it can be almost impossible to identify.
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How is a Cat’s Belly Button Formed?
At this stage, you may be wondering how cats’ belly buttons are actually formed. This process begins when the cat is a foetus in its mother’s womb. During the pregnancy, the umbilical cord connects the mother to the foetus, via the placenta. Crucially, the number of placentas and umbilical cords will almost always match the number of foetuses, meaning each kitten gets its own placenta and umbilical cord. The exception to this is with twins or triplets.
Over the course of the pregnancy, the umbilical cord and placenta serve to provide the foetus with water and nutrients, while removing waste products. Additionally, they also allow for the provision of oxygen and the removal of carbon dioxide, essentially allowing the foetus to breathe while in the womb. This is achieved by passing blood from the mother, through the placenta and the umbilical cord, into the foetus.
The process described here, which occurs in most mammals, allows the foetus to receive everything it needs to not only survive in the womb but to grow at the right speed and develop all of its normal functions. When the kitten is eventually born, it remains attached to its mother via the umbilical cord. The mother cat then also delivers the placenta and, initially, the kitten still receives oxygen and nutrients via the umbilical cord.
Within a short space of time, the newborn kitten becomes capable of breathing independently and once this occurs, the mother will chew or bite the cord, until it becomes detached from the kitten. It will usually then eat the placenta. Generally, a small amount of the umbilical cord will remain attached to the kitten. However, due to the lack of blood flow to the cord, it will gradually start to shrivel up and will eventually fall off, leaving only the belly button.
Difficulties Finding a Cat’s Belly Button
Cats’ belly buttons can be difficult to locate, even for some experienced professionals, and there are a number of reasons for this. Firstly, as stated, cats do not have either a hollow or protruding naval like we do. Instead, the belly button appears as a flat scar, which heals much more completely than a human belly button. While it may be fairly easy to see this scar on a newborn kitten, it becomes increasingly difficult over the course of a cat’s lifetime.
Aside from this progressive and more complete healing, one of the other challenges is related to fur. While fur coverage ranges quite dramatically between different cat breeds and even individual cats of the same breed, most cats have plenty of fur on their belly. Even if this fur does not fully obscure the belly button itself, it can make it very difficult to distinguish between the belly button scar and the skin around it.
Cats also have more nipples than we do – in fact, both males and females usually have between four and eight nipples. These nipples are also situated fairly close to the belly button and, for a casual observer, this can make it more difficult to differentiate between a nipple and a belly button – especially when combined with the fur problem.
With female cats, there is an additional challenge, which is the possible presence of a spaying scar. This scar tends to be in a very similar place to the belly button and can make it virtually impossible to tell the difference. This presents difficulties for shelters trying to establish whether or not a cat has been spayed and some vets are now using methods like the application of tattoo ink, in order to mark spaying scars more clearly.
Why Do They Look Different From Ours?
Finally, you may be wondering precisely why a cat’s belly button is smooth, resembling a small scar, rather than being either hollow or protruding like the human equivalent. The truth is that a combination of factors lead to a cat’s naval looking significantly different from ours, so it cannot be simply attributed to one thing. For instance, one of the reasons is because we have thicker skin than cats do, which affects the healing process.
With that being said, another reason for the difference is the way in which both the mother cat and the newborn kitten are separated from the umbilical cord, compared to the way a human mother and child are. With humans, the process tends to involve the umbilical cord being tied off, often by an obstetrician. Yet, with cats, this process is handled by the mother, who will typically disconnect the cord through biting and wait for the remnants to fall off.
The end result of these factors is the formation of a flat scar in place of either a hollow or protruding naval. This is actually fairly common among mammals and felines are far from the only example of animals with flat belly buttons. As with cats, however, these belly buttons can be difficult to spot on animals with lots of fur.
In some rare instances, cats actually do have what appears to be a protruding or ‘outie’ belly button, similar to some humans. Unfortunately, this is actually indicative of an umbilical hernia. It is essential that you get this checked out by a vet as soon as possible. While it may not be anything to worry about, if a hernia is severe enough, it can lead to major intestinal issues. In the most extreme cases, untreated umbilical hernias can even be fatal.
Article by Barbara Read
Barbara Read is the heart and soul behind CatBeep.com. From her early love for cats to her current trio of feline companions, Barbara's experiences shape her site's tales and tips. While not a vet, her work with shelters offers a unique perspective on cat care and adoption.