The cat is one of the most fastidious animals on the planet. They spend countless hours every day cleaning themselves, and if they feel that just one hair is out of place, or sense something on their bodies that they feel shouldn’t be there, they will start all over again. So why would an animal who keeps itself so clean ever want to roll in the dirt, when it gets outside? This is often referred to as a “dust bath.”
We Will Explore the Many Reasons Why Cats Roll in the Dirt Here
To Cool Off
Many cats are trying to cool themselves when they roll in the dirt. Cats have a naturally higher body temperature than humans, and therefore, may be seen laying or rolling in the dirt more on hot sunny days. Dirt feels cool to the touch, and feels cool on your cat’s body.
As a Side Effect from Catnip
That might not be just dirt in which your cat is rolling—there might be some catnip there! Or, if your cat has recently played with a catnip toy, they might still be feeling “high” and happy and just want to take a roll in the dirt. Catnip produces natural feelings of ecstasy in cats, often causing them to rub their faces, roll, and/or purr. It is perfectly safe for cats and, if your cat is rolling in the dirt after being exposed to catnip, this is a natural and expected reaction.
To Show That It Feels Safe
Cats will roll over onto their backs when they feel safe and secure, and are the most relaxed. By rolling on its back, a cat is exposing its most sensitive areas, the belly. This makes the cat vulnerable, and gives you a chance to do some real bonding with your cat while your cat is displaying its trust and affection for you. Rolling on its back when outside in the dirt can just be a sign that your cat is trusting you and feels safe.
When the Cat is In Heat
If you have a female cat, your cat might roll around in the dirt when she’s in heat, or after mating. Males have also been seen rolling in the dirt when around other male cats, to establish dominance. Rolling in the dirt and on the ground, as well as rubbing up against inanimate objects and your legs, releases pheromones that transmits the cat’s odor, attracting potential mates. After mating, female cats will often roll in response to hormones and ovulation. They might also be trying to remove the scent of the male cat on the ground, before moving on to another potential mate.
To Mark Its Territory
Another reason cats will roll around in the dirt is to spread its scent. Scent glands are located on the cat’s paws, sides and cheeks. Your cat will rub up against things and humans, and roll in the dirt, to spread its scent and mark its territory. Such behavior tells other cats, “This is mine!”
To Stay Healthy
When a cat rolls in the dirt, they are picking up bacteria from the soil. The next time the cat grooms itself, it will ingest the bacteria that is now on its coat through licking its fur. By rolling in the dirt, the cat is actually improving its digestive system, in the same way that we take probiotics- by ingesting good bacteria. This helps your cat to digest food more effectively and to stay healthy.
Cats also will roll on their backs to get attention from humans, especially if you are busy doing something else and haven’t noticed your cat for a while. If you give your cat attention when it rolls on its back, it will learn that behavior, and roll on its back again the next time it wants your attention. Paying attention to your cat when it rolls on its back is a type of positive reinforcement, as your attention is the cat’s reward. If you and your cat are outside and your cat is near the dirt, this behavior could carry over and occur outside as well.
To Show Happiness
A happy, contented cat will roll around anywhere, including in the dirt. This is entertaining to your cat. Your cat might be telling you, “I want attention,” or “I want to play.” They could also just be indicating to you that they are comfortable, affectionate, relaxed and happy.
To Scratch Itself
Cats often roll in the dirt to scratch an itch they can’t reach. Moving around in the dirt can help them to reach that itch. You can keep scratching posts or scratch houses in your home to help your cat scratch itches that they have trouble reaching. If your cat seems to be scratching excessively, check them for fleas, mites, ticks or parasites. If the problem persists, take your cat to the vet to be thoroughly checked out.
Rolling around in the dirt is usually not a cat behavior that you need to be concerned about. If your cat is doing it excessively, however, and you can’t pinpoint a cause, it’s a good idea to have your veterinarian check out your cat just to make sure there’s no underlying problem or issue.