Why Do Cats Roll in the Dirt? (For Fun or Health Reasons)

The clean-loving cat has a surprising habit where it rolls in the dirt, which sounds contrary to its obsessive licking and grooming itself to stay clean. That may leave you wondering…

Why do cats roll in the dirt? The main reason is that they want to cool down on hot days. There are many reasons that cats roll in the dirt, however, such as marking their territory, dust bathing, feeling in heat, getting rid of smells and playing around. 

If you’d like to learn more about cat behavior, follow along as we dig deeper into why cats do this.

Cooling Down on Hot Days

If he seems to roll in the dirt on a hot day, this is most likely the reason.

Pay close attention to where the cat rolls in the dirt. He never does this where the sun’s rays made the dirt hot. The cat usually chooses dirt in a shaded region or a patch of moist dirt.

Cats aren’t the only ones in the animal kingdom that do this. Chickens, dogs, elephants, gerbils, chinchillas and cape ground squirrels all dust bathe to stay cool.

You have many others, but we will spare you the details.

Remember playing in the dirt as a child and feeling the coolness of the soil? Cats dust bathe for the same reason.

The Temperature of a Cat

On hot days, you may spot your cat laying in cool dirt to lower his body temperature. A cat’s normal body temperature should always remain between 100.5 and 102.5 degrees Fahrenheit.

Too much colder, and they may become susceptible to diseases like the common cold. This is why something as simple as a dust bath can cool off your cat. From the action of rolling, a comforting cool breeze also adds to cooling of them.

Rolling in the Dirt is Harmless

Outside of him getting dirty for a short time, the dirt won’t harm him. However, you might offer other alternatives to keep him cool, such as an extra water dish or air conditioning inside the home.

While a dirt bath won’t harm him, dehydration and heatstroke from a hot day could cause some problems.

Your cat needs 3.5 to 4.5 ounces of water for every 5 pounds of body weight. To give an example, a 10-pound cat needs to drink 7 ounces of water each day at the minimum.

Symptoms of a dehydrated cat include:

  • Non-elastic skin
  • Sunken or dull eyes
  • Eyes lacking focus
  • Dry or sticky gums

Keep him hydrated so that he doesn’t have to cool off in the dirt as much. If you feed your cat wet food, you may have noticed that he doesn’t drink as much water. Wet food consists of 80-percent water.

You might give him wet cat food for those hot days to keep him hydrated. If you only give dry cat food, make sure he drinks plenty of water.

Dirt Baths Eliminate Parasites

Your cat may bathe in the dirt to get rid of parasites. The act cleans his fur and keeps him free of mites and lice. Rolling around can also get rid of fleas. Unfortunately, this can also give them fleas.

You may want to check your cat’s fur, bedding and skin to see if he has any of the pests. Red patches, excessive dandruff and inflammation are all signs to beware of.

To deal with fleas and ticks, the Seresto Flea and Tick Collar for Cats provides you with eight months of continuous protection. 

Territory Marking, in Heat or Hunting

Cats sometimes roll in the dirt to mark their territory. The feline world communicates through its sense of smell, and the cat may want to spread his scent glands over the dirt to mark his territory.

You can find the scent glands in a cat in his cheeks, paws and flanks. Cats mark their territory to show they own it, or to show sexual availability.

In fact, female cats will do this when in heat to spread their pheromones and scent and hopefully catch the attention of interested male cats.

They will also mark their territory when they feel threatened like how a male cat will spray. Sometimes, cats roll in the dirt to hide their scent before hunting.

Getting Rid of Smells

In some cases, your cat might roll in the dirt because of an unpleasant scent. A scent that a cat finds disgusting will make him do anything he can to eliminate the smell.

Having over 200 million odor sensors in the nose—more than dogs, even—can be a mixed blessing. They will rub themselves in the dirt to scrub the odor away.

Most cats hate human baths, but they lick themselves and give themselves dust baths to eliminate unpleasant odors. You have to exercise caution with giving your cat a human bath because it may be too cold for him. 

Playing in the Dirt

Sometimes they do this for no other reason than to have fun. Kitties especially love to play in the dirt. Think of a little kid and how they love to play in the dirt. You might toss a couple of toys in the dirt to make it even more fun.

For an adult cat, you could give him catnip. It does not affect kitties until six months old. After having catnip, cats will roll in the dirt as a form of play.

Your cat might, for example, roll in the dirt on its belly and wait for you to pat him. This is your cat’s way of saying hello.

Aids Digestion

Playing in the dirt grabs bacteria from the soil onto your cat’s fur. He licks his fur, and the bacteria aids in digestion and absorbing nutrients from food. Bacteria can prevent diseases. Dirt, plants and the outdoor air can assist with your cat’s gut health.

This matters because the cat’s gut can impact every aspect of his health and happiness. The dirt can aid in digestion, but other things that you may want to do to help his gut include:

  • Diet
  • Probiotics
  • Prebiotics
  • Dental hygiene
  • Exercise

Signs of a cat that has digestive health problems include diarrhea, constipation, bad breath and an unwillingness to eat. You don’t want to leave it untreated because the cat could suffer dehydration.

Scratching an Itch

Having four paws makes it hard to scratch the body. Your cat might roll around in the dirt to scratch the itchy part of the body.

You might buy him an arch scratcher, such as the Hollypet Cat Arch Self Grooming and Massaging Brush Toy.

Along with scratching an itch, the arch scratcher gently removes loose fur while giving your cat a massage. It acts as another form of grooming.

Dealing with Parasites

In most cases, a cat that itches like this may have fleas, mites or other parasites. You need to identify the source of the itchiness. For fleas, you might give him a flea collar.

Bald spots, scabs and red spots could indicate that he has to keep scratching himself to be free of the pests. He may roll in the dirt because of it. In some cases, you may need to take your cat to the vet.

Severe flea infestations can kill a cat or spread diseases, such as Feline Homotrophic Mycoplasmosis.

Death from fleas is rare, but it does happen.

Along with rolling in the dirt, you may see your cat rolling on a concrete driveway. The uneven and scratchy surface works better than dirt for scratching that itch.

Is it normal for cats to roll in the dirt? Cats rolling in the dirt is normal feline behavior. It could be due to many causes, such as going into heat, marking territory, cooling off or playing around. In most cases, you don’t have to be too concerned about it. 

Why does my cat roll around outside? Your cat may feel an instinctive urge to roll around when it goes outside to mark its territory or even to play. The environment may make him want to show other cats that he was there. Cats primarily communicate through scent, which explains why they would do this. 

Why do cats flop down in front of you? Despite what people think, cats love attention. Flopping down in front of you grabs your attention. This also shows that he’s relaxed and wants to spend quality time with you. Cats also initiate play with their littermates by flopping down and revealing their belly.

Why does my cat roll around? Some of the most common reasons that your cat rolls around include marking with scent, playing around, scratching an itch and females do it for mating reasons. They may do this to relax as well. Rolling on the ground happens with house cats, but larger cats in the wild do it as well. 

Conclusion

Looking past him dirtying his fur, rolling in the dirt won’t hurt your cat. In fact, it may even prove beneficial, such as aiding its digestion. This is normal cat behavior, and it will clean itself after.

However, stay aware of how your cat rolls in the dirt. Normal adult cats won’t eat dirt, and if he eats the dirt, it may be a sign that he has a poor digestive tract, and he’s trying to compensate for it by getting bacteria. Take him to a vet.

Kittens that eat dirt, on the other hand, aren’t a problem. In fact, it shows that they’re curious and exploring their environment.

 

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