Why Do Cats Roll In Dirt? Top 10 Reasons Kitties Like Dust Bathing

Why do cats roll in dirt? This is something cat owners ask about all the time as it is very common behavior. We look at reasons why cats love to roll in the dirt, or dust bathe as this behavior is also called. Jump in and learn more about cats and dirt in this quick overview.

Danielle DeGroot

Last Updated: January 5, 2023 | 9 min read

A playful calico cat rolling in the dirt and leaves, enjoying the midday sun shine

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Why do cats roll in the dirt? This is a question we often hear, as it is common behavior for cats to engage in. Cats who live outside do this all the time, and indoor kitties who make the great escape outside often head right for the nearest earth patch and roll around excitedly. What motivates this love for rolling in the dirt or dust bathing, as it is often called?

We know it can be hard to tell if a feline’s behavior is normal, and owners can be very concerned if a pet seems obsessed with something like playing with the dirt. It is normal to have questions, and we are here to help find the answers. Felines are a lot of fun, but they can be very tricky to understand.

The good news is that cats wanting to play in the dust is normal, and there are a few different reasons why they do this. We discuss ten of the top reasons why cats roll in the dirt and answer some frequently asked questions.

Top 10 Reasons Why Cats Roll In Dirt

Orange maine coon cat rolling around in the dirt
Even wildcats and those much larger than our domestic pets love a good dust bath.

Felines roll in the dirt for a few reasons. Felines have some excellent motivation behind this behavior. Let’s get into the specific reasons why dirt is simply irresistible to cats.

They Like It

This is the most common reason that felines choose to play with dirt. It is something they like because it feels good. When cats are relaxed, this might be something they like to do. After all, they are animals, and playing with dirt is fun. The ground also smells like so many different things that may pique their interest and make rolling around on the ground that much more enticing. Kitties have incredibly powerful senses of smell and can sniff out even the tiniest of treasures in the fresh earth.

They Feel Safe

When cats roll over on their back and relax, it is an indication that they feel safe and secure. A kitty relaxed on its back is experiencing the most relaxed state that they can reach. They feel completely safe, comfortable, and content. Sometimes one of the places they feel comfortable expressing this is by lying on open ground. After all, they are at home, in their most trusted space. They should be able to let out their inner beast a little bit and have a good roll about in some nice, soft, amazing-smelling earth.

It Keeps Them Cool

Temperature regulation is another big motivator behind why cats might like to roll around in some fresh soil. After all, felines carry around a lot more fur and hair than we do. On days when temperatures get high, they may need a little help cooling down, and nestling into a nice, soft pile of cool, pungent soil is very refreshing. This is why you may see some kitties pawing at the earth and digging out a little spot before curling up in it or rolling about. For felines, a nice dust bath on a sweltering day or when they have spent too long laying in the sun can be just the thing they need to cool down.

Owners should make sure that there are several spots around the house where their feline friend can curl up and cool down if necessary. While rolling around in the soil to cool down occasionally is normal, it may not be something owners want to happen all the time. Keeping a fan near where your fur baby sleeps, cracking open a window, or making sure the room is dark and cool are some ways to keep the temperature down.

They Are Itchy

Sometimes kitties dust bathe because they are itchy. Rolling around the ground helps them scratch areas of the body that they cannot otherwise reach. Wriggling about in some fresh dirt can be a way to help relieve that pesky itchiness. Sometimes this can be a once-in-a-while thing, but if cats seem to be rolling around excessively or seem extremely itchy, it is time for owners to step in and help. Some itching is normal, but sometimes other things can cause skin irritation.

Allergies or pests like mites, fleas, and ticks can find their way to your cat’s fur and skin and cause an extremely uncomfortable situation. If you are concerned that your kitty is playing with the soil excessively due to skin irritation, infection, or allergy, it is best to contact your vet and have your kitty examined. This is not an emergency unless your pet is in great distress or showing other signs of an allergic reaction or injury.

Digestive Health

Digestive health may not seem as obvious a reason why kitties like to dust bathe now and then. Owners should remember that felines are some of the smartest animals around, and they know what they need to keep themselves feeling good. Sometimes cats will roll around on the ground and then lick their coats clean as a way of helping support the health of their gut. Doing this helps them ingest digestive helping bacteria. Doing this helps keep their digestive systems healthy and functioning well.

Effects Of Catnip

Many owners use catnip as a treat for their pets, a way to calm them down, and as an aid to help keep kitties entertained. Catnip has a somewhat euphoric effect on felines and can induce different behaviors. One of these is rolling on the ground and in soil. Kitties who feel very relaxed, which can sometimes happen after ingesting catnip, may flop on their backs or sprawl about close to the ground.

Some owners will grow catnip for their pets themselves, and others will buy it. If fresh catnip is growing nearby, you may notice your furry friend spending more time in that specific area.

Wants Attention Or Is Bored

Some cats, especially those that spend most of their time indoors, may race for the nearest earthen patch as soon as they get outside as a way of getting their owner’s attention. Our feline friends learn very quickly what behavior will catch our interest and keep our attention. Playing with dirt happens to be one of them. Some owners will think this is cute and watch excitedly as their cat enjoys this exciting and messy activity. Others may try to stop it by scooping their cat up and offering cuddles or treats. Our purr babies know how to get our attention, and for some, flopping about and getting covered in dust is a good way to get us to engage. They will also learn that doing so prompts a quick and obvious reaction, so we’ll continue to do this behavior in hopes of getting that same kind of attention.

In Heat

Female kitties in heat may amp up dust bathing or start rubbing up against objects. This is a way females can spread their scent to attract potential mates. It is also something they may engage in after mating. Males do not experience heat, so this does not apply to that. This also is not a reason a spayed female cat would be rolling around on the ground.

Marking Territory

Felines tend to be territorial animals and often exhibit their prowess with different behaviors. Rolling around on the ground is one of them. Male cats often do this when they interact with other males. Moving around and getting up close to the ground will spread a cat’s scent, letting other animals know this is their territory. Felines also enjoy smelling their own scent, so rolling around in an area that is familiar to them makes them feel better.


Oftentimes rolling around and playing on the ground is just that, a form of entertainment. Felines are very playful, curious, and highly intelligent. They can get bored or tired of their regular entertainment easily and may just want to do something different. Sometimes they can sniff out the unknown scents that waft about, catch a tasty bug or two, or stake out a passing cricket. Let’s be honest. Playing with mud and dust bathing is fun, but something we humans stop doing once we are no longer small children. Our pets, on the other hand, can act as childlike as they want throughout their lives, and dust bathing is one way they enjoy themselves.

Is It Dangerous For My Cat To Dust Bathe?

Black cat rolling and playing in the garden
Rolling in the dirt is safe for cats if where they bathe is clean soil.

Most of the time, dust bathing is a fairly safe activity for felines to participate in. Sometimes though dirt can contain potential hazards, rocks, sharp sticks, trash, pieces of plastic, and glass, can all be found in some areas. Because of this, it is important to make sure your cat is only able to play in soil that you know is safe and free from any of these potential hazards.

Some soils have been treated with different chemicals. Anything from weed killer, pesticides, growth additives, and other chemicals can sometimes be added to it. These can be harmful to pets if ingested, so again chemically treated soil is something to stay away from. Additionally, all soil runs the risk of having pests and microscopic parasites in it. Some of these may pose a risk to your feline friend.

Can I Stop My Cat From Rolling In The Dirt?

Stopping a determined cat who wants to roll around on the ground and get a little dirty might be more challenging than one thinks. Of course, one way to make sure your cat never plays with dirt is never to let them outside. Indoor kitties, unless they are let outside, do not have the opportunity to dust bathe and may never develop a habit or liking for it.

Other than stopping your cat from having access to dirt, owners can provide other entertainment and interactive activities. Installing cat steps inside your home or outside if you have a safe enclosed area, as well as investing in a cat exercise wheel, can keep your cat entertained and active.

Another tactic that owners can take is to teach their purr babies how to walk on a leash. A well-trained cat on a leash can enjoy a leisurely walk around the block, investigate new scents and smells, chase a few bugs and butterflies, and be kept safely away from those tempting patches of fresh earth.

Keep in mind that cats playing with soil is a perfectly normal feline behavior. They have very valid reasons for wanting to do this. So, unless your kitty has picked up a parasite or infection, has gotten injured, or is simply obsessed with dust bathing, doing this occasionally will not hurt them. It may cause your cat to be a little dingy and require extra grooming. Some purr babies may even need more baths to keep their coats clean if they habitually play with dust.

Understandably, this is a behavior that not all pet parents will be happy with, especially if they have a cat that fluctuates from being both indoors and outdoors. Overall, this is more of an issue for outdoor felines than indoor ones.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is a cat playing in its litter box like dust bathing?

No, these are not the same behavior. Some kitties will play around a bit, with some extra scratching and pawing after they do their business. However, a kitty rolling around the litter box is not normal. Stop your cat from doing this if you can. Investigate what might be going on to cause this action. Felines can start to do this if they are stressed or experiencing urinary tract issues, kidney malfunction, or cysts can all trigger this behavior. In some cases, felines may be itchy and try to use the litter to scratch. Intact females may start this if they are pregnant because of changing hormones.

Do cats like being covered in dirt?

Felines are notorious for being clean and are avid self-groomers. They may enjoy the feeling of soil on their skin but usually do not like to stay dirty for long. Some cats may use dust bathing to cool off, to itch, or to gather more bacteria from the soil that can help in their digestive process.

Does dirt taste good for cats?

Sometimes it will taste good to them. Felines can develop a taste for different things. Soil that is near the garden or has strong-smelling plants may attract them more. This is not to say all felines love the taste, but some certainly do.

Should I wash my cat after dust bathing?

If your cat is covered in dust, you may want to wash them before coming back inside. That is always an option. They do not need to bathe every single time they have a dust bath. Good, thorough brushing can help, as can pet wipes that can spruce up their coat. A bath is always an option and depends on how well your cat tolerates it. Felines should not be bathed every day, though, so try to avoid allowing your cat to get dirty enough for that.

Final Thoughts

Dust bathing is something many kitties engage in, and it is perfectly normal. There are very reasonable reasons why cats like to roll in the dirt. They can be cooling off, scratching, feeling happy, marking territory, relaxing, and more. Most of the time, this behavior is not anything to be worried about unless it becomes obsessive. As long as your cat is healthy, comfortable, and not spreading filth all over the house, this behavior is not harmful or unusual. Everyone needs a good dust bath every once in a while!

Always inspect your kitty’s skin regularly, especially if they are enthusiastic about dirt. Do not bathe them too often, but make sure to help keep their coats clean. Make sure the soil and surrounding areas are free of debris, potential choking, and injury hazards and have not been treated with harsh chemicals. Happy dust bathing to you and your sweet purr, baby.

Funny ginger cat sleeping with mouth open on back

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1 Comment

  1. Cats roll in dirt when they get the scent of a dogs urine.
    The down side of letting furbabies roll in dirt is they will get fleas, which live in sandy areas along with druer grassy areas.

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