Why Do Cats Roll in the Dirt?

Keeping cats indoors prevents potential conflicts with wildlife and exposure to parasites and toxins. If you occasionally (and responsibly, of course) venture outside with your cat however, you might have witnessed her dust bathing.

In fact, they have scent glands in their paws, cheeks, and around the tail, says Dr. Sasha Gibbons , an associate veterinarian at Just Cats Veterinary Hospital in Stamford, Connecticut. Catnip contains a chemical called nepetalactone, which can elicit euphoric behavior, including rolling in the dirt.

A female cat may roll on her back, including in the dirt, to show interest to male suitors. It can occur more frequently in multiple cat households where conflicts are present, Krieger says. Fleas or ticks can hop or crawl on board if the cat is rolling or resting in the dirt, says Parthasarathy.

Any type of chemical solution you use on or around your soilincluding pesticides, insecticides, and rodenticideshas the potential to make your cat sick. Weed killers for example, often contain glyphosate , which veterinarians say can cause a variety of symptoms in cats, including vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, respiratory issues, and even death. Even seemingly innocuous flowers like tulips, lilies, and daffodils can be toxic for cats.

If youre concerned about your cat being exposed to toxins, she says gently wiping her down with a towel before she starts grooming can help. If you are with your cat in an enclosed area, or on leash, you can try redirecting their attention with a toy or treat and moving them away from the dirt.

Why do cats roll in dirt when they see you?

Marking their Territory. Cats sometimes mark their territory by spreading their scent by rolling on the ground. They use their scent glands on their cheeks, paws and flanks to leave a personal scent. Marking is their way to keep any potential enemies or rivals away.

Why do cats flop on the ground?

Cats flop to show their trust and affection to the person or animal that they’re around. A cat will only flop in a situation where they are completely relaxed. … When a cat flops (rolls on their side or back), they expose their most vulnerable area (their belly).

Why do cats roll over and expose their stomachs?

A sign of trust.. When a cat lies on its back and shows you its belly, the cat is relaxed, comfortable, and doesn’t feel threatened. It feels safe enough to expose its vulnerable areas without worrying about being attacked. … Cats, like humans, are unique individuals. Some cats might enjoy belly rubs.

Generally, cats roll around in the dirt for the same reason they have for anything else they do: it feels good. The more exact reason behind this could be to cool down, to communicate with other cats, or just to scratch an itch. While this behavior may seem odd to us as cat owners, its a perfectly normal behavior for your cat, and can help them with a host of problems.

That explanation is simply this: its hot out, and your cats thick coat and warm fur make it kind of hard to cool down. Below that, dirt usually stays cool, helped by a layer of moisture that hasnt evaporated due to direct sunlight, and it could be that your cat is taking advantage of that fact.

Especially if you notice them squirming and moving around, your cat may be trying to brush past the top layer of hot dirt and to the cool, dark soil beneath. If theyre primarily outside cats, provide a place for them to rest in the shade, or consider setting up an outdoor fan so that they can catch a cool breeze. Scent glands on the top of the head, the cheeks, the paw pads, the tail and the mouth secrete a pheromone that is unique to each cat and that serves as a signature of that animal.

This is common in a lot of other animals with thick fur or feathers, including rabbits, chinchillas, bison, and any number of birds! In cats, as mentioned above, their usual aversion to water means that it can be difficult to wash away small irritants beneath the fur. This is the main reason why most birds dust bathe, and cats are usually able to maintain a higher level of cleanliness, so it may be less ordinary in larger mammals.

If you notice any of these symptoms, especially in combination with any behavioral changes that indicate discomfort or distress, take your cat to the veterinarian immediately. Fortunately, most parasites are pretty easily treated, and your cat should be feeling back to normal in no time at all. If your cat isnt showing any other signs of fleas, ticks, or mites, then their happy dust bathing is probably just a way of relieving a quick itch.

Rolling around in the dirt reaches every hard-to-scratch patch of skin, has a massaging effect, and can help your cat feel relaxed and content without having to constantly groom, scratch, and rub against your furniture to do so! In fact, a cats love of dirt and dust, while it may seem very at odds with their usual meticulous grooming, provides a quick, easy way to provide relief from a persistent itch, a parasite, or just a sudden cold spot on an unbearably hot day!

Many cats frequently roll in the dirt which seems opposite to the common behavior of grooming and licking its fur to keep itself clean. While it may seem odd for cat owners, dust baths are fun, quick ways for your cat to feel good and to help them remove parasites from their fur.

If your cat is usually outside, provide a place for them to rest in the shade and consider setting up an outdoor fan so it can catch a cool breeze. The response to this chemical is mediated through the cats olfactory system and binds to receptors in the nasal tissue when inhaled.

In this odd way, cats supplement and replenish the bacteria in their gut, helping it maintain their gastrointestinal tract. Dust bathing is common in a lot of other animals with thick fur, including rabbits, chinchillas and number of birds.

Occasionally, cats get out of character and exhibit some “not-so-clean” behaviors. This can be annoying if your cat has unlimited access to all areas of the house, such as your white couch and bed. However, your cat may have some valid reasons for rolling in dirt.

While cats are incredibly flexible and tend to reach every inch of their body, there are certain spots that may be hard to access effectively. Rolling in dirt can help your cat scratch an itch caused by parasite movement and bites.

Rolling in dirt is an effective way of ensuring cats maintain a healthy balance of good bacteria (probiotics) in their gut. Like other animals i.e., elephants, birds, horses, and dogs, cats love to bath in dust. Dust bathing is an unusual way of cleaning for many animals with notable benefits like keeping the skin/coat healthy and offering a pleasant feeling.

Since cats have an unmatched sense of smell (they have numerous scent glands on their bodies such as on their paw pads). Besides rolling in dirt, your cat can also mark their territory in other ways, such as urinating or defecating on specific things or areas. Frequent belly rubs can do the trick and stop counterproductive behavior like playing in dirt.

Since cats wont talk and tell you exactly what they want, theyll use signs like rolling in dirt to get your attention. Since they are adventurous and known for their cleanliness but hate water at the same time, they tend to have peculiar cleaning habits like rolling in dirt and licking their coat. If your cat rolls in dirt and the above reasons dont seem to apply, he/she may be trying to get rid of smell picked up in an adventure.

Catnip triggers behavioral responses in cats such as rolling, head shaking, cheek and chin rubbing, and spontaneous vocalization. Other herbs that your cat comes across in outdoor gardens like marijuana can result in similar reactions when chewed and ingested. There are other basis for cats rolling in dirt; however, the above information is based on the most common reasons for the behavior.

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Keeping cats indoors prevents potential conflicts with wildlife and exposure to parasites and toxins. If you occasionally (and responsibly, of course) venture outside with your cat however, you might have witnessed her dust bathing.Why do cats roll in dirt, exactly? While there’s limited research about this topic, our experts offer insights into what may drive cat dust bathing, how to manage it, and potential dangers to take note of.

To Relieve an Itch

On a hot day, a cat rolling in dirt

As Part of a Courtship Ritual

A female cat may roll on her back, including in the dirt, to show interest to male suitors. This behavior may be accompanied by purring and rubbing up against an object.

Do Cats Roll in the Litter Box?

It’s not as common as frolicking outside in the dirt, but when cats roll in the litter box it’s often for the same reasons.“Rolling in the litter box is one way a cat may spread additional scent to claim ownership or create a familiar scent,” says Bennett. It’s more common when the box has just been cleaned and contains fresh litter, she adds.It can occur more frequently in multiple cat households where conflicts are present, Krieger says. “The cat who is being picked on or is the low cat on the totem pole may roll in the litter box. Rolling in litter boxes deposits the scent from the other cats on them.”There could also be a perceived payoff to performing this behavior. “This has not been researched, but from a behavioral perspective there would be something about the behavior that the cat finds reinforcing, either while they are performing the behavior or immediately afterwards,” says Valli Parthasarathy, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist with Synergy Behavior Solutions in Portland, Oregon.

Parasites

Fleas, ticks, and other parasites can lurk in your soil. “For example, feline roundworm eggs can be found in the soil. If ingested through grooming this can lead to infection. Fleas or ticks can hop or crawl on board if the cat is rolling or resting in the dirt,” says Parthasarathy. Get your cat on flea and tick preventive medication to avoid parasites.

Toxins and Poisons

Any type of chemical solution you use on or around your soil—including pesticides, insecticides, and rodenticides—has the potential to make your cat sick. Weed killers for example, often contain glyphosate, which veterinarians say can cause a variety of symptoms in cats, including vomiting, lethargy, anorexia, respiratory issues, and even death. Always use a pet-safe weed killer if your feline likes to explore outdoors. Even seemingly innocuous flowers like tulips, lilies, and daffodils can be toxic for cats.“Cats are such efficient self-groomers so if there are any contaminants or chemicals in the soil, there’s a risk of ingestion,” says Bennett. If you’re concerned about your cat being exposed to toxins, she says gently wiping her down with a towel before she starts grooming can help.

Debris

Even if you’ve done due diligence in cat-proofing your own yard, do you know what’s in your neighbor’s yard if your cat should accidentally wander away? Remnants of glass or pull tabs from cans, for example, can cause injury.

Scratching an Itch

If you notice your cat seems to spend more time in the dirt on hot summer days, there’s usually a pretty simple explanation. That explanation is simply this: it’s hot out, and your cat’s thick coat and warm fur make it kind of hard to cool down.On hot days, bare dirt may feel warm to the touch, but only for the first few centimeters. Below that, dirt usually stays cool, helped by a layer of moisture that hasn’t evaporated due to direct sunlight, and it could be that your cat is taking advantage of that fact.Especially if you notice them squirming and moving around, your cat may be trying to brush past the top layer of hot dirt and to the cool, dark soil beneath. Cats are famous for their dislike of water, and where a dog may have no problem jumping into a kiddie pool, a sprinkler, or a puddle to cool off, a cat is far more likely to go for a cool patch of dirt instead.If you notice your cat taking dust baths on hot days, try to provide other ways for them to cool down. Make sure that they have plenty of cold water and access to cooler parts of the house. If they’re primarily outside cats, provide a place for them to rest in the shade, or consider setting up an outdoor fan so that they can catch a cool breeze.Ice is your best friend during long, hot summers. Obviously, you can drop a couple of ice cubes into your cat’s water bowl, but if your fans don’t seem to be cutting it by themselves, try putting a bowl full of ice directly in front of a small fan, so that the air it generates will be cold and fresh.Some cats will roll around in the dirt despite these measures, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t appreciate the effort you put in on their behalf! Your cat may just prefer to take a quick roll in the dust for various reasons, including:

Conclusion

If you live in an area with lots of cats, or even just a few cats that pass by from time to time, dust bathing and rolling around in the dirt can be a vital way for your cat to get a message out to the whole neighborhood. If not, it can still help them stay happy and healthy in a way that “cleaner” living might not be able to do.As mentioned above, if you think your cat’s dust bathing habits could be a sign of parasites, try an anti-parasite medication or take your cat to the vet. If your cat shows no other symptoms of distress, however, it’s probably safe to say that they’re just enjoying the sensation.If you’re worried about your cat tracking dust indoors, keep a towel by the door and wipe them off before you let them cross the threshold. Similarly, if you’re worried about them disturbing a fragile patch of the yard, or maybe an area where you’re trying to grow some sort of garden, try providing another area for your cat to dust bathe in peace.If you’re not worried about home or garden perfection, however, there’s really nothing to worry about! While your cat’s love of rolling around in the dirt may seem strange or off-putting to you and the rest of your human family, it’s perfectly normal for your cat.In fact, a cat’s love of dirt and dust, while it may seem very at odds with their usual meticulous grooming, provides a quick, easy way to provide relief from a persistent itch, a parasite, or just a sudden cold spot on an unbearably hot day! No matter the reason, dust baths are fun, quick ways for your cats to feel good, and are nothing at all to be worried about.Product data was last updated on 2021-08-29.

Reasons why cats roll in the dirt

While pet parents find dust bathing or rolling in the ground makes their cats dirty, their cats have many reasons why they do so.

Cooling Down

On hot summer days, you may notice your cat spending more time in the dirt. The simple reason for this is because it is hot and your pet’s thick coat and warm fur make it hard for her to cool down. The layer underneath the bare dirt is soft, moist and cool. If you have noticed your cat squirming and moving around, your cat may have been trying to brush the top layer of hot dirt to the cool, dark soil beneath.When your cat is taking dust baths on hot days, make sure that you provide other ways for your pet to cool down. Provide cold water and give access to cooler parts of the house. If your cat is usually outside, provide a place for them to rest in the shade and consider setting up an outdoor fan so it can catch a cool breeze.

Marking their Territory

Cats sometimes mark their territory by spreading their scent by rolling on the ground. They use their scent glands on their cheeks, paws and flanks to leave a personal scent. Marking is their way to keep any potential enemies or rivals away. Cats leave their scent markers to tell other cats that they’ve been there and claimed their spot.

Cat on Heat

Female cats roll on the ground usually when they are in heat or after mating. They tend to roll more than usual to spread their pheromones. Pheromones transmit the characteristic odor of each cat and also signal certain bodily changes such as the ideal time to mate. They spread their pheromones full of their scent to attract all potential mates nearby.It also could be noted that female cats roll after mating. This may be due to their hormones and response to ovulation. They also roll on the ground to remove the scent of a male cat before possibly moving on to another male cat.

Playing

It could also be as simple as your cat wants to play. For some active cats, outdoors is their playground. They love running around, climbing the tree and chasing birds. Rolling in dirt can also be their way of getting entertained. With this reason,

Catnip

If you grow catnip in your yard, don’t wonder if your cat starts to roll in the ground. Catnip is a weed-like mint that has an active ingredient called nepetalactone. The response to this chemical is mediated through the cat’s olfactory system and binds to receptors in the nasal tissue when inhaled. This chemical mimics the effects of a pheromone to cause a variety of behaviors.When a cat smells catnip, it can exhibit weird behaviors like sniffing, likcing, head shaking, head rolling and body rubbing. Rolling on the ground or dirt can also be an effect of catnip. Cats under the influence of catnip can be fun to watch but there’s nothing to worry because catnip is non-addicting and harmless.

Scratching an Itch

A simple reason why cats roll in dirt is because it scratches an itch they can’t reach. To relieve the itchiness, they flop onto their backs and roll in dirt. Although scratching an itch can look simple, it’s important to find out the cause of itchiness. Usually itchiness is caused by fleas, ticks, mites or other small parasites. Check for bald spots or growths of skin, scabs and red spots beneath your cat’s fur if your cat is constantly itching and pulling at their own fur as they roll in the dirt. When this happens, take your cat to the vet to have it treated.

Looking after their Digestive System

Rolling in dirt coats the fur with bacteria from the soil. They ingest these bacteria the next time they groom themselves by licking their coat. In this odd way, cats supplement and replenish the bacteria in their gut, helping it maintain their gastrointestinal tract. The bacteria plays a significant role in the proper digestion of their food.

1. To Stay Cool

Like dogs, cats also tend to roll in dirt to keep cool. Underneath dirt is a soft and cool top layer of soil that cats love making use off, especially during hot summer days. If you are a pet owner, you may have noticed small burrows in your yard. Your cat may have made this to find a cool spot to relax in.You can provide a cooling mat to help your cat cool down in the summer. This will help prevent your furry friend from rolling in dirt and making burrows in your yard.

2. To Scratch Hard-To-Reach Areas

Your cat may also roll to scratch their back, among other hard-to-reach areas on their body. While cats are incredibly flexible and tend to reach every inch of their body, there are certain spots that may be hard to access effectively. In such instances, an aggressive roll in dirt over some gravel gets the job done.

3. To Get Rid Of Parasites

Your cat could also be rolling on dirt because they are infested by itchy parasites. Constant scratching coupled with rolling in the dirt and scratching against furniture may be an indication of a pest infestation.It is advisable to inspect your cat’s coat to see if they have fleas, ticks, or any other pests. While some pests may be invisible to the naked eye, you can look for red patches, dander, or hair loss. If such signs are present, you need to visit a vet. Rolling in dirt can help your cat scratch an itch caused by parasite movement and bites. It can also help to get rid of the pests.

5. To Dust Bath

Sometimes cats roll on the ground as it can feel good and be a lot of fun. Like other animals i.e., elephants, birds, horses, and dogs, cats love to bath in dust. While they may get other benefits, they may just roll for fun.Dust bathing is an unusual way of cleaning for many animals with notable benefits like keeping the skin/coat healthy and offering a pleasant feeling. For a cat dust bathing may also be your felines way of enjoying a self-massage.

6. To Scent Mark Their Territory

Your cat may also have ulterior motives when rolling in dirt. Besides enjoying a massage, he/she may be intentionally leaving their scent on the ground.Since cats have an unmatched sense of smell (they have numerous scent glands on their bodies such as on their paw pads).Your cat may be sending a message to other cats in the vicinity that your home and surrounding environs are his/her territory. Your cat may also be rolling in dirt to get rid of another cat’s scent in their territory.Cats are territorial pets that love to leave a “mark” on their dwellings. Cats rub their heads on the floor to spread their mark as they love their own space. Your cat may be rolling in dirt to keep other cats in your neighborhood from accessing their territory and belongings.Besides rolling in dirt, your cat can also mark their territory in other ways, such as urinating or defecating on specific things or areas.

7. To Initiate Play

Cats can be very playful. Rolling in the dirt can be a way of unleashing their playful nature when they go outdoors. The rolling may be accompanied by erratic sprints all over the compound. If your cat is restricted indoors, they are more likely to be overly playful when they get an opportunity to go out.The same applies to kids. While they may be restricted to play indoors, they unleash their playful nature outdoors. If your cat rolls in the dirt near you, they may also be inviting you to play with them. Frequent belly rubs can do the trick and stop counterproductive behavior like playing in dirt.Investing in some toys can also control excessive dirt rolling. You may not have the effort or time to play with your cat at every instance. Some pet toys can help your cat entertain themselves and get rid of boredom and excess energy that can be used counter-productively.

8. When In Heat

There are studies showing that female cats tend to roll in dirt when in heat. Adult female cats tend to roll for adult males while their younger counterparts do so for older male cats.Rolling in dirt or on the ground is common among female cats that are in heat. While most female cats will roll mostly when in the presence of older male cats, they may also exhibit this behavior around younger male cats.Also, although both male and female cats tend to roll, males do it more often than females. What’s more, male cats (regardless of age) tend to roll anytime to catch the attention of adult female cats. However, female cats tend to roll only when in heat.

9. To Communicate

Since cats won’t talk and tell you exactly what they want, they’ll use signs like rolling in dirt to get your attention. This sign is usually accompanied by another sign.For instance, if your cat is rolling in dirt while twitching their tail, he/she may very well be sleepy. If the rolling happens near you, he/she may be inviting you for a belly rub. It may also be a sign that he/she needs a bath.Pet owners should understand the body language of their pet in-depth to be able to understand their pets better.

10. To Get Rid Of Smell

Cats also roll in dirt to get rid of bad or unpleasant smell. Cats are adventurous and bound to get dirty and pick up bad smell.Since they are adventurous and known for their cleanliness but hate water at the same time, they tend to have peculiar cleaning habits like rolling in dirt and licking their coat.If your cat rolls in dirt and the above reasons don’t seem to apply, he/she may be trying to get rid of smell picked up in an adventure.This may be impossible to tell for pet owners since cats have a very powerful sense of smell (many times more powerful than humans).However, if he/she rolls on loose dirt that isn’t cool, he/she maybe trying to remove a disagreeable smell.

11. Response To Catnip

Sniffing on catnip can send your cat rolling in dirt and twisting, among other weird cat behavior. Cats tend to have psychoactive responses to catnip – a perennial herb in the mint family. Catnip contains a chemical compound (nepetalactone) that attracts as well as affects most cats temporarily.Catnip triggers behavioral responses in cats such as rolling, head shaking, cheek and chin rubbing, and spontaneous vocalization. Catnip toys or exposure to the herb itself outdoors can cause your cat to roll and elicit other responses associated with exposure to catnip.

12. Response To “Highness”

Your cat could also roll because he/she is “high”. Catnip is believed to elicit responses that match those of an intoxicated cat. Other herbs that your cat comes across in outdoor gardens like marijuana can result in similar reactions when chewed and ingested. It’s, therefore, advisable to research what you should/shouldn’t grow when you have pets.

Summary

There are other basis for cats rolling in dirt; however, the above information is based on the most common reasons for the behavior. Armed with the above info, you can have an easier time pinpointing the exact reason for your cat’s behavior. If it’s a pest infestation, you can deal with it adequately.When your cat just wants to play, you can find ways of keeping him/her engaged. If the rolling is related to probiotics, you can look for some cat food that offers everything your cat needs. Rolling in dirt can be an annoying habit, especially if it happens often and your cat brings dirt indoors.Luckily, you have everything you need now to deal with the habit. If the problem persists, visit a vet.