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Why Do Cats Roll in Dirt? 9 Reasons for Dust Bathing

reviewed by a veterinary box

Why do cats roll in dirt? Have you ever looked out into the garden to see your beloved purrfect kitty rolling gleefully in the dirt? The complete opposite of seeing your fur baby neatly sitting, licking themselves clean, or admiring your grooming efforts? What’s going on?

While our fur babies have dust baths and we fear for their beautiful silky coats getting dirty, they have good reasons for doing it. It may seem a bit odd, especially with all our caring efforts; however, it’s actually a good way for them to care for themselves.

So, let’s take a peek at some reasons why cats roll in the dirt when they get outside. 

Cat rolls around in the sun why do cats roll in the dirt


Why do Cats Roll in the Dirt?

1. Cooling Off

Cats often roll in the dirt to keep cool. Your kitty can have a higher body temperature, from sunbathing or sleeping near a heater. You may notice your cat laying in the dirt a bit more than usual during those hot and sunny days.

There’s a cool soft layer underneath the bare earth, and when it’s freshly dug up it’s much cooler than on top. On a sunny afternoon, after playdates, you may find your kitty rolling in the dirt to cool down.

If you see your cat taking frequent dust baths whenever given the chance, or on hot days, make sure you provide other ways for them to cool off. It’s important for your cat to always have access to fresh, cold water. You can also provide a fan for your kitty to help them cool down.

Cat rolls around in the sun

2. Feeling Safe 

If your cat is rolling over onto its back, it is doing so because it feels safe. Cats mostly roll over when they are in their most relaxed state – almost like kitty zen mode.

When they are exposing their sensitive parts, like their belly, they are in a vulnerable position, giving opportunity for both of you to bond. If your cat is rolling over in front of you, consider this a good sign. It’s the cat’s way of saying, “I trust you, I feel safe”.

3. Catnip Content

If your cats have been playing with catnip, a catnip toy, or in your catnip garden, chances are they’ll be rolling in an ecstasy of dirt. Rolling around can be a side effect of the ‘high’ feeling your kitty gets from the substance in catnip.

Remember catnip is like cannabis for cats, with the active ingredient known as nepetalactone.

Orange cat sniffing dried catnip

When a cat inhales catnip, it exhibits some weird behaviours like licking, head shaking, body rubbing and sniffing. So, rolling on the ground can also be a result of them enjoying their catnip.

Catnip is non-addictive and harmless. It helps your kitty relax and feel calm, so there’s nothing to worry about – unless you’re needing to groom a Persian cat.

Psst… Be warned; if you have a catnip garden, you should expect to have plenty of visitors from neighbouring furry friends who will be attracted to the smell.

4. Microbiome Care

Our kitties are smart. If you see them rolling in the dirt, fear not. They could also be caring for themselves. Their coats often pick up bacteria from the soil. The next time they groom themselves, they ingest these bacteria by licking.

Tabby cat rubs face on the floor on blue

This is one-way cats can supply their guts with good bacteria, to help maintain the flora (microbiome) in their gastrointestinal tracts. This flora plays a vital role in food digestion, immunity and reproductive health. Therefore, your cat rolling in the dust can be a good thing.

5. Attention Seeking

Cats may roll over onto their backs to get your attention. If you’re getting ready in the morning and your cat flips over at your feet, this can be a sure sign your cat is looking for your attention.

Unlike dogs, who may rollover as a sign of defence or submission, your kitty could do it for solicitation of attention. Cats will often do this to indicate that they are feeling sociable and friendly and may even rub their head on the ground. However, as our felines are finicky this doesn’t necessarily mean that they want to be touched.  

black cat on back with tummy exposed

Giving your kitty attention once it’s rolled onto their back will reinforce their behaviour, and they’ll do it again. After that, your cat may repeat the movement to be awarded attention.

Your fur babies thrive on routine, so once you’ve established a pattern, rolling over becomes a comforting custom, even if it’s in dirt.

6. In Heat

Sometimes, you’ll find that female cats often roll around and rub against things when they are in heat or after mating. On the other hand, their male counterparts roll on the ground when they are around other male cats.

bengal cat on back

However, if you find your female cat rubbing herself on things or rolling around, it could be related to hormones and ovulation. They tend to roll on the ground to spread their pheromones and attract potential mates nearby.

7. Kitty Happiness

Your garden is your kitties’ Eden. Rolling in the dirt in the backyard is a way of entertaining themselves. The same way they like climbing trees, up fences, or along walls.

They could be trying to send a message to their owners to invite them to rub their bellies, or to play. On the other hand, they could also be merely communicating that they are super comfortable and want to take a nap.

why do cats roll in the dirt black and white cat on ground with grass

8. Marking Territory

Cats primarily communicate through smells, and by rolling on the ground, the cat can spread its scent. They do this by using their scent glands on their paws, flanks, and cheeks. This behaviour is often seen in both large cats and domestic cat breeds.

golden retriever dog and grey british short hair cat ru

When your feline is rubbing their face on the floor its leaves scent markers around the house to tell other cats that they’ve been there and it marks their territory.

9. Scratching Themselves

A very simple reason why cats roll in the dirt is that they could just have an itch that they can’t reach. To relieve the itchiness, they may move in the soil to scratch their backs. Many pet owners will get scratch houses, or an arch scratcher, etc. to help their kitties with the itch.

If this continues, you should try to find out what exactly is causing that itchiness. This could be several things such as fleas, ticks, mites or skin problems. It’s always a good idea to check your cat’s skin regularly, especially if you see them scratching.

Vets recommend giving your cat treatment against insects and parasites which can provoke itching.

ragdoll cat in garden

Can I stop my cat rolling in the dirt?

Alas, the only way to really stop a cat from rolling in the dirt is to stop it going outside at all. Yes, your kitty will need to become an indoor cat if you want to stop it from rolling in the dirt. Whilst as owners we may prefer our cats glossy and clean, as you’ve read in this article rolling in the dirt can be good for them.

A Footnote on Kitties Dust Bathing

There are many reasons why your feline is rolling around in the dirt. Lying on the ground is not a bad thing, luckily. And every kitty has their reasons for doing so.

The next time you see your fur baby doing the drop and roll, know that it’s nothing to be alarmed of. It’s healthy for your kitty to dust bath. So relax, stand back, and adore your kitty doing their natural thing on the ground. (

ginger cat scratching itself using its back paw

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