a tabby cat sitting in dirt

Why Do Cats Roll In Dirt?

Ever seen your cat rolling around in the dirt and wondered why do cats roll in dirt? You might have thought it odd that an animal, known to take great care of its appearance, would want to get down and dirty in a dust patch.

Such odd behavior must have a reason – but science hasn’t yet come up with any conclusive proof as to why your cat gets up to such antics…

Here are some of the latest theories as to why your cat might be rolling in dirt, see which you think are the most plausible :

To cool down

Your cat might roll in the dirt to try to cool down. The idea is kind of backed up by the observation that you never see your cat doing this on a cold day or when conditions are damp. 

The theory goes that the dirt has to be that really fine, dusty dirt. Although on a hot, sunny day the top layer might be scorching, the layers of dust below the surface are like cold talc. A quick roll around deposits this cold dust on the skin in a chilled blanket effect, getting right under and between the fur to give delicious relief, even if only for a short moment of time. Irresistible even to the most fastidious cat on a burning hot day…

To remove odors

a stripey ginger cat sleeping in a flower bed

Maybe your cat doesn’t actually roll around in the dirt to get cool. Maybe your cat thinks they stink and needs to ditch the odor or rather, get some “Eau de wilderness” on the go?

Maybe, your cat thinks they stink of you and your household and thinks this won’t help when on the hunt, stalking or potentially being stalked – maybe the dirt roll is actually odor camouflage or maybe actually strips of odor. 

After all, unnatural or unusual smells are bound to alert wary and suspicious creatures…   

To clean natural oil’s and grime off fur 

It is notable that one of the other animals that tend to take dirt baths is birds. The thinking in ornithological circles is that birds take dust baths for feather maintenance. The dust gets right through the feathers and onto the skin and soaks up oils and grime that might make feathers matted and reduce efficiency. Seems plausible…

Maybe, our cats are rolling in dust for the same reason. To clear excess oil from skin and fur. Whilst they might be fastidious groomers, you can really only go so far with a tongue. After all, if you are not fond of water, what are you going to do?. Maybe a dust bath absorbs that oil that just can’t be reached by a tongue – maybe the oil around the base of fur follicles…

To scratch an itch

a grey and white cat rolling in dirt
C’mon, you can’t be that itchy!

Maybe your cat has an itch that needs scratching and simply decides that a dust bowl is the most effective means to scratch that itch. 

I am not so sure about this one, I mean why would such a clean animal decide to drop in the dirt for an itch when they could brush past a hedge or a wall or rub against a kind, receptive humans legs? I would put this one down as possible but improbable.

To scent mark

Scent marking could be a possibility. Maybe they are just using the dust as one of many methods of scent marking. Maybe the dust gets right on their skin oils and sheds to leave a carpet of scent – maybe after doing so, a light breeze blows the scented dust and creates a cloud of their odor that covers everything near and sundry? Kind of like a scent marking loud hailer… 

To “onboard” microbes required by their digestive system

You might have seen those nature documentaries where elephants go to mud holes to get a dose of magnesium salts or parrots in the Amazon that head off to clay outcrops and bite off pieces to supplement their diet with nutrients that are missing from their everyday intake?

Perhaps a similar effect is happening here. Maybe the cats are taking probiotics – rolling around in the dust and dirt and then have a lick down groom later. The grooming allows them to take on board microbes and helpful bacteria from the dust that are beneficial to their gut. 

Maybe they are like the parrots and are supplementing with minerals in the same way – by licking microscopic amounts of nutrient-rich dust off their fur….

To shift parasites

Ok, I understand your cat doesn’t have fleas (although at any one time 10% of cats of all cats do), and you have seen your cat doing this so it can’t possibly be true, but, maybe, this is a standard feline trick to suffocate and eradicate potential parasites off the skin?

Maybe, after a walk outdoors such a dust bath is a good precautionary tactic to ensure such parasites and their eggs don’t get a foothold? There is some thinking that birds and animals take dust baths to aid with the removal of parasites – perhaps our cats have spotted the trick.

Check this out for some more ways to naturally treat fleas

mackerel tabby cat rolling in dirt
Dude are you high?

Because They Are High, Man!

The only other reason I can think of, and that I have come across, is the catnip theory. The theory is they partake of some natural catnip on their travels. They get a natural high that makes them lose all inhibitions. Under the influence, they generally roll around and behave like silly buggers for the sheer fun and enjoyment of it, at any opportunity. Sounds good.

Why Do Cats Roll In Dirt?

Of course, the truth is there probably is not one major reason for this behavior and that all the reasons listed could be attractive to our kitty friends. It could be that on different days there are different reasons for this behavior. 

Maybe you have ideas of your own that we have not spotted. Let us know in the comments – maybe there is something incredibly obvious that we have missed that the sharp-eyed amongst you have spotted…

images : flickr flickr flickr flickr