Why Do Cats Roll in the Dirt?

cat rolling in the dirt

If you’ve ever seen your cat stop, drop, and roll in the middle of a dust pile, you may have been caught off guard.

Cats are notoriously clean animals, so rolling around in the dirt may seem to go against everything that cats stand for—yet they seem perfectly willing to indulge the habit every chance they get!

So why do cats roll in the dirt? Most of the time, it’s just as simple as:

1. To Keep Cool

With the latest of several heat waves sweeping the world during the dog days of summer, keeping cool is a high priority on nearly everybody’s list—and your cat is no different!

Rolling around in the dirt is a quick and easy way for your four-legged friend to beat the heat without having to worry about getting wet.

While the dirt on the top surface of the ground can get pretty hot when directly exposed to the sun, the dirt underneath provides the secret to cooling down.

The dirt just beneath the upper layer of soil is usually cooler and more damp than the dirt above it, and can feel great on your cat’s paws or skin!

By rolling around in the dirt, your cat is essentially breaking up the top layer of dirt so that the lower layers have a chance to rub up against their skin and fur and help them escape the heat.

If you notice your cat taking impromptu dust baths on the hottest days of the year, there’s a good chance that they’re just looking for a way to cool off!

If your cat is showing any other signs of heat exhaustion or dehydration, make sure to provide a way for them to cool down!

Give them a place to rest in the shade, on a cooling mat or in air conditioning, and make sure that they have access to plenty of cold, clean water.

2. To Keep Clean

As mentioned above, cats are practically notorious for their self-grooming habits, so it may seem counter-intuitive to say that they roll around in the dirt in order to get clean.

However, especially for cats with thick or dense coats, dust baths can be a great way to keep clean without matting down their fur!

The way it works is like this: when a cat rolls around in the dust, the dirt works its way under the fur and rubs against their skin.

This essentially feels like brushing a piece of sandpaper very lightly over your own skin, and can help your cat scratch any itches that they may be dealing with.

On a similar note, rolling around on the ground can also help cats fight against tiny parasites that would otherwise be pretty tough to get rid of.

While cats are constantly grooming and cleaning themselves, small parasites like mites or fleas are mobile enough that they can move out of the way of a cat’s tongue.

However, the constant and all-encompassing deluge of dust and micro-abrasive particles can knock parasites loose from wherever they’re camping out on your cat’s skin.

If you notice an increase in dust baths combined with constant grooming or scratching, you may want to think about taking your cat in to visit the vet. Make sure there aren’t any parasites for you to worry about hiding on your cat’s skin!

3. To Keep What’s Theirs

Cats can be fiercely protective of what they know to be theirs, whether it be their family, their food, or even their territory.

This is where dust bathing can be another very useful tool!

By rolling around in the dirt for no apparent reason, cats are actually sending a message to other cats in the area to back off of their stomping grounds.

When a cat rubs its head against a piece of furniture or even against a beloved human’s leg, what they’re actually doing is called scenting.

Cats have special glands, located on their cheeks, on their lips, on their forehead, and on the pads of their paws, among other places.

These glands release pheromones, special chemicals that provide information to other cats in the area.

When your cat rolls around on the ground, they’re spreading these pheromones into the dirt of the surrounding area.

You may notice your cat dust bathing in areas that form the borders of your backyard, or places where you may have seen other animals before.

By spreading their scent to the ground and any plants around them, your cat is sending a very strong message to any other cats that this spot is private property!

If you notice your cat acting particularly defensive of some special area around your house, make sure there are no unwanted visitors hanging around to make them feel nervous!

4. To Keep Fresh

This explanation may seem like a continuation of an earlier example, but it’s actually just a more simplified version.

A dust bath essentially works the same way that a dry shampoo works for humans, especially if the dust in the area is particularly fine or small-grained!

As mentioned previously, when a cat rolls around on the ground, the dirt is able to work its way through their fur and to the skin and hair roots underneath.

Any excess oils or liquids will clump together once they’ve got something to bind to, and it’s a lot easier for your cat to shake off little clumps of oily mud than it is to wick off the oils or liquids on their own.

For this reason, you may notice your cat taking extra dust baths when they’ve stepped in something particularly smelly!

Cats that have been sprayed by skunks, for example, are known to spend quite a bit of time rolling around in the dirt until they’ve been able to shed the foul odors.

If you notice your cat taking dust baths in an attempt to get clean, you may have to bite the bullet and try to wrestle them into taking a bath!

They may not be as excited about it as you will be to finally get them smelling fresh again, but your nose (and theirs) will ultimately thank you for it in the long run!

5. To Keep Healthy

As mentioned previously, rolling around in the dirt can be a great way for cats to take care of their external health and get rid of pests and parasites, but it can also do a world of good for their internal health as well!

The key to this health-boosting roll in the dust lies in every cat’s well-documented need to groom themselves.

When your cat rolls around in the dirt, it makes sense that they’re going to probably walk away with a little bit more dirt between their toes than they had before.

While as humans, we know that eating dirt is an absolute no-go for our internal digestive systems, the same isn’t necessarily the case for cats!

A cat’s digestive tract is supposed to be full of probiotic microorganisms that help them digest food and keep their internal organs all clean and healthy.

This means that when a cat picks up some extra little bugs from outside, it’s essentially the same as yogurt for humans!

Please note that this does not mean that a cat can eat whatever it wants off the ground with no consequences. If you notice your cat showing any signs of an upset stomach, take them to your veterinarian’s office right away.

Your cat’s digestive system is, by its very nature, tougher than the human tract, but that doesn’t mean that they’re immune to all internal parasites.

6. Just To Keep Things Interesting!

The last explanation is also the most simple one: sometimes, cats just like to have fun! Rolling around in the dirt is a fun way for them to let off steam and have a little moment to play!

Especially with younger cats, finding ways to burn off extra energy can be a steep task for cats and cat lovers alike, so energetic cats will often look for any way to entertain themselves.

If your cat suddenly flops down and squirms in the dirt for no reason, they may just be feeling extra playful! Keep an eye out for any extra clues as to your cat’s mood.

Some common signs of a happy kitty include eyes that are halfway closed, constant purring, or cats that feel comfortable lying on their backs even with strangers around.

So long as your cat seems to be happy and healthy, there’s a good chance that their dust baths are just a way of letting off some extra steam.

If your cat seems bored or frustrated, on the other hand, look for ways to keep them engaged, playful, and curious!

There are a lot of fun toys available on the market that will keep your cat entertained and always busy, even when you’re not around to play with them.

As long as your cat is healthy, there’s nothing wrong with the occasional dust bath for a bit of fun!

Whether your cat is looking to scratch an itch, beat the heat, or just looking for a way to let off a little extra steam, rolling around in the dirt is a fun and harmless way to kill multiple birds with the same stone!

While it may seem odd for such clean creatures, dirt baths are a perfectly normal habit for your cat to have, and can be a sign of a happy, healthy animal!