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Why Do Cats Roll in Dirt? 6 Reasons for This Behavior

Have you ever looked into your backyard only to find your cat rolling and writhing around on the ground? If so, there is no need to worry about your cat’s health or well being. In contrast, cats roll around on the ground for a number of reasons, all of which should cause no need for concern.

To learn about the six main reasons cats roll around in the dirt, keep reading. We explain this common behavior and provide helpful tips for discouraging your cat from doing it in the future. Let’s get started.cat face divider 2

The Behavior Explained

Because cats do not have the body construction of humans, they are more restricted in how they maintain and care for themselves. As a result, cats have to sometimes use their entire body to fully take care of themselves. This includes rolling around in the dirt.

Cats are not the only animals who have to do this. In actuality, many four-legged animals have to roll around in the dirt to fulfill all of their maintenance and health needs. Dogs, for example, roll around in the dirt probably more regularly than cats.

In other words, cats rolling around in the dirt is just an example of them taking care of themselves. The only reason why humans don’t have to do this is because we have a different body construction, allowing us to use our hands, brains, and other body parts to fulfill our health and personal needs.yarn ball divider

The 6 Reasons Why Cats Roll in Dirt

Here are the six main reasons that a cat may roll around in the dirt:

1. To Cool Down

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This may sound a little gross, but cats sometimes roll around in the dirt to keep themselves cool. With all that fur, animals have to find ways to cool down, despite their layers of insulation. Whenever soil has been freshly dug, the layer underneath will be soft and moist.

Whenever cats roll around in this moist layer, they get moisture on their fur and skin. This allows them to cool down and protect their body from the harsh sun. Cats are not the only animals to do this. In fact, animals all over the globe use dirt and mud to cool off and protect their bodies.

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2. To Scratch Themselves

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Don’t you hate when you have an itch you can’t reach? So do cats. Since cats cannot reach their backs or other parts of their body, the only way that they can scratch themselves is to rub against different objects, whether it be furniture or the ground.

In some cases, they may have a regular itch that shows no health issue. If you find your cat excessively rolling or scratching, on the other hand, it can be a sign that they have fleas or some other parasite. Talk to your veterinarian to see if your cat has any pest that you need to get rid of.

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3. To Mark Their Territory

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Cats are like dogs in that they like marking their territory. How cats typically mark their territory is by rubbing their scent on the object or ground. One of the best ways to do this is to roll around on the ground since scent glands are located on the paws, top of head, and cheeks.

While they are marking their territory, they may be checking to see if another cat has marked their territory in that location. If they smell another cat’s scent, they will work hard to overpower that scent, showing the location as being theirs.

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4. To Aid Digestion

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I know it’s gross to think about, but digestion requires millions of bacteria. Dirt gives cats the perfect opportunity to catch bacteria, which can aid the digestion process. Whenever cats roll around on the dirt, bacteria stick to their fur. That bacteria will then be ingested during the grooming process.

This is actually a very important function of a cat rolling around in the dirt. Bacteria is required for a cat to have a healthy gastrointestinal track. Without these bacteria in their system, cats cannot live a healthy life.

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5. Possibly a Sign of Submission

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Studies have shown that female cats will mainly roll around on the ground when they are in heat. If your female cat is in heat and spots an older male, she is likely rolling around to get the cat’s attention and show that she is in heat.

Males, on the other hand, will roll around on their back around other males. It is unclear exactly why males do this, but it has been noted that younger male cats will roll towards older male cats, but older male cats will not do the same for the younger ones.

This may imply that rolling around on the ground is a sign of submission. The idea that rolling around on the ground is an act of submission would explain why female cats do it to male cats when they are in heat.

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6. To Show They’re Happy!

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Finally, the last reason your cat may be rolling around in the dirt is to simply show that it is happy and having fun. In many ways, your backyard is your cat’s playground. Rolling in the dirt keeps your cat entertained and happy, just as climbing a tree or chasing a bird would.3 cat face divider

What to Do About It

Because cats roll in the ground for a number of reasons, some of which include aiding their health, it is generally not recommended to discourage your cat from this behavior. However, there may be instances when you want to discourage the behavior, such as when there are pesticides or other toxic chemicals on the ground.

Here are some ideas about how to prevent your cat from rolling around in the dirt:
  • Do Not Punish the Cat

First and foremost, do not punish your cat for this behavior. Cats are not like children or other animals that understand negative punishment. Instead, punishment will only scare your cat, without leading to any real changes in their behavior. Whenever you scare your cat, they will be less likely to trust or listen to you in the future.

Instead, it is best to distract your cat and reward it for good behavior. Doing these two things will help mitigate the behavior while ensuring your cat is not scared of you. For example, mitigate some of the causes for rolling around in the dirt and give them other opportunities to express their natural instincts.

  • Don’t Let Your Cat Outside When Harmful Toxins Are Present

If you do not want your cat to roll around on the ground because of some sort of harmful chemical you have put on it, simply do not let your cat outside during this time. This will be the safest way to ensure that your cat does not ingest the chemicals or toxins.

  • Ensure Your Cat Is Cool

Additionally, make sure your cat has opportunities to stay cool whenever they are outside. This includes giving them a nice shady area, providing water, or bringing them inside on very hot days. This will mitigate your cat from rolling around due to heat.

  • Maintain Their Coat

If you think your cat is rolling around in the dirt because they are scratching themselves, it is crucial to maintain their coat. Obviously, treat the cat if you notice any pests or parasites on their body or coat. However, other issues, such as dander and dry skin can also cause itchy backs.

Brushing your cat’s coat regularly will help keep the dander at bay. As a result, they will be less itchy and less likely to roll around in the dirt. Plus, being brushed feels better than rolling around in the dirt. Giving them plenty of opportunities to be brushed encourages them to get scratched that way, as opposed to the dirt.

For severe dander and other skin issues, talk to your vet about medications or medicated soap to use during a bath. This can help keep your cat’s skin clean, even in some of the more adverse skin conditions. Once again, maintaining your cat’s skin and coat will mitigate rolling from itchiness.

  •  Encourage Rolling Inside

If your cat rolls quite a bit, limit their time outside and keep them inside instead. This will allow them to roll to their heart’s content inside, without risking exposure to harmful chemicals or getting dirtied up while outside.

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Final Thoughts

Even though rolling around in the dirt sounds a bit gross to us, cats and other animals love to do it. For cats specifically, rolling around in the dirt fulfills a number of natural instincts, such as showing they are in heat, getting needed bacteria, and marking their territory. Additionally, it helps them maintain their health by helping them to cool down and scratch their back.

Because rolling around in dirt serves such an important function in cats, it is generally recommended to allow them to enjoy this behavior. If you are really concerned about your cat bringing dirt back into the home, minimize their time outside and let them roll around on the carpet instead. This will allow them to fulfill their instincts without trudging dirt into your home. Win-win!

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Featured image credit: Cathleen Wake Gorbatenko, Shutterstock