Why Do Cats Roll in Dirt?

Why Do Cats Roll in Dirt

Many cats frequently roll in the dirt which seems opposite to the common behavior of grooming and licking its fur to keep itself clean. While it may seem odd for cat owners, dust baths are fun, quick ways for your cat to feel good and to help them remove parasites from their fur.

Reasons why cats roll in the dirt

While pet parents find dust bathing or rolling in the ground makes their cats dirty, their cats have many reasons why they do so.

Cooling Down

On hot summer days, you may notice your cat spending more time in the dirt. The simple reason for this is because it is hot and your pet’s thick coat and warm fur make it hard for her to cool down. The layer underneath the bare dirt is soft, moist, and cool. If you have noticed your cat squirming and moving around, your cat may have been trying to brush the top layer of hot dirt to the cool, dark soil beneath.

When your cat is taking dust baths on hot days, make sure that you provide other ways for your pet to cool down. Provide cold water and give access to cooler parts of the house. If your cat is usually outside, provide a place for them to rest in the shade and consider setting up an outdoor fan so it can catch a cool breeze.

Marking their Territory

Cats sometimes mark their territory by spreading their scent by rolling on the ground. They use their scent glands on their cheeks, paws, and flanks to leave a personal scent. Marking is their way to keep any potential enemies or rivals away. Cats leave their scent markers to tell other cats that they’ve been there and claimed their spot. 

Cat on Heat

Female cats roll on the ground usually when they are in heat or after mating. They tend to roll more than usual to spread their pheromones. Pheromones transmit the characteristic odor of each cat and also signal certain bodily changes such as the ideal time to mate. They spread their pheromones full of their scent to attract all potential mates nearby.

It also could be noted that female cats roll after mating. This may be due to their hormones and response to ovulation. They also roll on the ground to remove the scent of a male cat before possibly moving on to another male cat. 


If you grow catnip in your yard, don’t wonder if your cat starts to roll in the ground. Catnip is a weed-like mint that has an active ingredient called nepetalactone. The response to this chemical is mediated through the cat’s olfactory system and binds to receptors in the nasal tissue when inhaled. This chemical mimics the effects of a pheromone to cause a variety of behaviors. 

rolling in the dirt
Image: istockphoto.com / insonnia

When a cat smells catnip, it can exhibit weird behaviors like sniffing, licking, head shaking, head rolling, and body rubbing. Rolling on the ground or dirt can also be an effect of catnip. Cats under the influence of catnip can be fun to watch but there’s nothing to worry about because catnip is non-addicting and harmless.


It could also be as simple as your cat wants to play. For some active cats, the outdoors is their playground. They love running around, climbing trees, and chasing birds. Rolling in dirt can also be their way of getting entertained.

Scratching an Itch

A simple reason why cats roll in dirt is that it scratches an itch they can’t reach. To relieve the itchiness, they flop onto their backs and roll in the dirt. Although scratching an itch can look simple, it’s important to find out the cause of itchiness. Usually, itchiness is caused by fleas, ticks, mites or other small parasites. Check for bald spots or growths of skin, scabs, and red spots beneath your cat’s fur if your cat is constantly itching and pulling at its own fur as they roll in the dirt. When this happens, take your cat to the vet to have it treated.

Looking after their Digestive System

Rolling in dirt coats the fur with bacteria from the soil. They ingest these bacteria the next time they groom themselves by licking their coat. In this odd way, cats supplement and replenish the bacteria in their gut, helping them maintain their gastrointestinal tract. The bacteria play a significant role in the proper digestion of their food.

Should I worry when my cat rolls in the dirt?

Dust bathing is common in a lot of other animals with thick fur, including rabbits, chinchillas, and a number of birds. Even dogs and horses enjoy dust bathing or rolling in snow, dirt or mud. As explained above, most of the time rolling in the dirt is an indication that your cat is just normal, happy, or playful.

If you think your cat is dust bathing because of fleas or ticks, try an anti-parasite medication or take your cat to the vet. If your cat shows no other signs of distress, it’s probably safe to say that it’s just enjoying the sensation of rolling in the dirt.