The many mysteries of the feline leave us scratching our heads. One of the curious things that they do is rolling on the ground.
Why do cats roll on the ground? Cats roll on the ground because it marks their territory. They communicate largely through scent and marking an area with their scent can help them find their way home or to tell other cats that they own this area and not to encroach.
Marking their territory gives you one of the main reasons that cats roll on the ground, but you have other reasons that they do this. Follow along as we explore how cats work and why they roll on the ground.
Cats Love to Roll
Anyone who has ever seen a cat has probably witnessed them rolling on the ground at one point or another. Cats love to roll, and they do it on a variety of surfaces for many reasons. If you’d like to explore the many reasons that they roll in the dirt, check out the article that I wrote here.
Perhaps the biggest reason that your cat likes to roll on the ground, it marks his territory. Cats have scent glands in the face, cheeks, tail and feet. Rolling their head on it or other areas puts their scent on the area to mark it as theirs while letting other cats know that they own that territory.
With multiple indoor housecats, you will sometimes even see them marking out the food dish as their territory, which can lead to fighting.
Cat Behavior 101: The most infamously known form of marking territory is male cats urinating in a spot to mark it. Male cats have especially strong-smelling urine, which exists for the purpose of marking territory.
Most commonly, cats mark their territory through rolling on the ground when in the great outdoors. You see this indoors but not as much. The more rolling that they do to that area, the more they apply their scent and mark it as theirs.
Humans don’t have enough smell sensors in the nose, but cats live in the world of scent and largely communicate through it. To put this into perspective, cats have 200 million smell sensors. Humans have five million smell sensors.
Another term that they use to call territory marking is bunting. Bunting is a type of scent rubbing where the animal will rub its head up against things to mark them as his.
Display of Aggression and Territory Marking
Pay attention after your cat displays aggression toward another cat. Oftentimes, you might see them roll on the ground as a way to mark their territory and let the other cat know what time it is. They mark the immediate area as a territorial display.
This happens whether with domesticated housecats or lions or tigers. In fact, lions are famous for rubbing their muzzle on shrubs and grass. They roll on the ground the same way. Along with cats, you also see this behavior in cattle and horses.
Let Your Cat Channel Territory Marking Constructively
If your cat wants to harmlessly roll in the dirt, on the concrete or the floor of the house, let him. You can’t change the instincts of your cat. However, if you attempt to stop him from rolling on the ground, you will wind up with less desirable types of territory marking, such as urine spraying. A cat does this when he feels unconfident in his domain.
You can also use scent markers throughout the home as a way to promote constructive scent-marking behavior. Buying a scratching post, a porous and soft cat bed and a cat mat can all go a long way to making your cat feel more confident.
Camouflaging His Scent
Your cat may roll on the ground as a way to camouflage his scent before hunting. Common animal behavior, cats want to remain incognito as they prowl for their next meal.
Usually, when a cat rolls on the ground with the purpose of camouflaging his scent, he does it because of another animal that had marked his scent there. He may even roll over a dead animal.
Your cat might roll in the sand as a way to hide his scent before the big hunt.
Your Cat is in Heat
Rolling on the ground after mating with a male cat, the female cat may do this to rid herself of the male cat’s scent. She does this before she moves on to another male cat.
Another reason that she may roll on the ground when in heat comes from the fact that she’s spreading her pheromones around.
Pheromones contain a lot of scent with a specific message, and the female cat transmits them from her cheeks. This sends a clear message to nearby tomcats that she wants to mate.
You will see her rolling on the ground and rubbing her cheeks up against objects to send a message via scent communication.
Cat behavior experts call this a social roll. A social roll shows that your cat feels content and happy. He usually wants attention when he performs the social roll.
Some of the signs that he is rolling on the ground for attention include:
- He meows at you while rolling
- He rolls right next to you
- Happens at the same time each day
Especially if it seems to happen at around the same time each day, your cat wants your attention. Cats have an internal clock that keeps their sleeping and waking hours regular. Cats use internal and external clues to learn the time of the day.
Rolling on the Ground to Protect Himself
One of the less mentioned reasons that your cat may roll on the ground—he doesn’t always roll for happy reasons. In some cases, he rolls on the ground as a form of defense. It’s not as common, which is why it probably doesn’t get mentioned as much.
Pay special attention if a feral cat does this. Whether doing this for you or someone else, he’s trying to trap you. Dogs don’t do this. Cats, on the other hand, do this because they can use teeth, claws and their back paws all at once in defense. Touch the belly and the cat will strike.
Usually, you see other warning signs, however, such as growling, hissing or flattening their ears against their head. The last one mentioned is an instinct that protects their ears when in a clawing and biting fight.
Expert Tip: If you ever see an unfamiliar cat rolling around at the sight of you, never approach him. In most cases, you will be okay as long as you don’t go to pet him.
Is Your Cat Rolling around and Meowing?
In many cases, when your cat rolls on the ground and meows, it could be a sign of feline dermatitis.
Pay special attention to the following symptoms:
- Loss of hair
- Swollen, red skin
- Matted hair
- Dandruff on the skin
- Scabs, sores and bumps
Most commonly, feline dermatitis happens because of an allergic reaction. Your cat rolls on the ground and meows like this because he’s itching himself.
Also known as cat mange, you want to treat this immediately with a visit to your vet because it can spread to humans.
You Put Catnip on the Ground
Put some catnip on the ground, and you will often see your cat roll in it. Most cats react to catnip by rolling in it, flipping around, rubbing up against things and zoning out.
In some cases, you may even see them meow and growl at the same time. I call this a meowl. If you want to see what a normal cat’s reaction to catnip looks like, check out the video below:
As you see in 98 percent of the videos in the compilation, the cat rolls around in the catnip. Rolling on the ground is common cat behavior with catnip.
Through inhaling the nepetalactone, cats even get high off of catnip. The chemical binds itself to the inside of the cat’s nose and stimulates his brain neurons.
Your cat will usually roll for about 10 minutes while on catnip. How he responds to it also depends on the cat.
If you’d like to see how your cat reacts to catnip, you might check out the Captain Catnip Organic.
He Wants to Play
Especially common with kittens, they will roll around on the ground as a way of playing. Many times, you see this type of play with their littermates. One kitten will drop to the ground and wait while the other kitten sees him, tackles him and the process of play begins.
Your kitten may try to play with you in this way. Sometimes cats do this, also. It depends on the cat’s personality. Some cats are more playful than others, and certain cat breeds are more playful.
Some of the more playful cat breeds include:
- Maine coon
- Japanese bobtail
Safety and a Sense of Security
Unless your cat feels safe and secure, he will rarely roll on his back. You have few exceptions, such as taking up defense as we mentioned earlier. Your cat may do this to show that he trusts you. He may also do this to feel secure, such as when he rolls in dirty clothes to catch your scent and remind himself of you. I talked about that here.
In most cases, when he rolls in front of you, take it as a good sign, especially when he exposes the belly. Your cat does this to say, “I trust you.” The belly is the most vulnerable part of the cat, and predators often target the belly.
Cooling off on a Hot Day
Pay special attention to the type of surface that your cat rolls on and where. Does he roll in the shade on a patch of dirt? Many cats roll in the dirt as a way to cool off. They may roll on kitchen tile or concrete for the same purpose.
Cats originally inhabited the deserts, so they can handle a lot of heat. However, they still want to stay cool in some cases.
Cats have a higher body temperature than humans. The higher body temperature in cats has made it so that they often seek out the sun’s rays. Many times, cats will roll in a warm area as a way of heating up. They may subsequently fall asleep. Typical cat….
Many times, cats will even use the sunlight as a way to make up for a slight drop in body temperature. This usually happens after they fall asleep. You may even notice something interesting—your cat changes sleeping positions to follow the sunlight.
Digestive Health Purposes
In particular, your cat may roll on the ground outside because it coats his fur in dirt. Dirt has healthy bacteria that your cat will later use for his digestive system. For example, the cat goes to lick himself, and he consumes some of the bacteria because of it.
The bacteria aids digestion. It helps him to absorb the nutrients from food more easily. This bacteria also prevents diseases. However, if your cat eats dirt outright, take him to a vet. This suggests that your cat has digestive health problems, and he’s trying to get more bacteria to aid his system.
Other signs that your cat is having digestive problems include diarrhea, constipation and bad breath.
Your cat rolling on the ground is normal cat behavior. Cats may roll on the ground for other reasons as well, but this highlights some of the most common reasons.
If you’d like to learn more about why cats roll on their back and bite, I wrote a fascinating article on that subject here.