We’ve all seen it, on warm summer days if the cat goes outside he runs over to the first patch of mud he can find and has a good old roll. This is not a behaviour exclusive to cats, many other mammals also enjoy rolling in the dirt, but why?
Unfortunately, there has been no research carried out to determine why cats roll in the dirt, the behaviour is known as dust bathing. Several studies have evaluated dust bathing in other species of animal.
- Dust bathing is a form of grooming in elephants and camelids.
- To reduce the number of external parasites.
- The frequency of dust bathing is higher in temperatures over 22C in hens which helps to cool them down.
- To a cat, dust bathing feels good, a bit like a massage. Releasing tension in the skin, rubbing itchy spots that they can’t reach with their teeth and claws, and stretching the body in various positions.
- To get rid of the smell of the indoors; it would be interesting to know if stray and feral cats also roll in the dirt.
- Scent marking may play a role in dust bathing; the cat rolls, he or she marks the area with scent glands which are located on their paw pads, cheeks and the top of their head.
- Catnip and estrus (in female cats) both induce rolling behaviour in cats.
We may never know exactly why cats roll in the dirt. What we do know is that they derive so much pleasure from rolling in the dirt that having to clean it up is a small price for us to play. We should be grateful, dogs like to roll in much worse things than dirt.