Everyone that has been around cats long enough has seen them suddenly dropping down and roll around in the dirt outside. This behavior is also referred to as dust bathing and is not unique to cats. Both of my cats love to do this, but they don’t limit it to dirt surfaces, they also love roll around on the stone patio outside or on the lawn. No matter the surface, the question still remains – why do they do this?
Based on research and my personal experiences my 5 theories for this behavior are:
Because it feels good. When I see either Thor or Freja roll around like this, it reminds me of when I scratch my back against the door frame or wall. One can hypothesize that rubbing against the dirt, pebble, grass straws etc. really scratches their itch, literally.
Dirt can help cool down your cat. This is probably why this is Thor’s favorite activity on a hot summer day in the garden at my in-laws. 🙂
Scent marking. When cats rub their head against you they are marking you with their scent. Other animals can use this technique to spread their pheromones and scent so it is quite possible cats do it for the same reason.
Because it can remove fleas or unwanted bugs. Rolling around on the ground can help dislodge unwanted guests in your cats’ fur. Remember to routinely inspect the fur with a comb while looking for fleas, red spots or irritation on the skin. Consult your veterinarian if you suspect your cat has a flea problem.
To pass the time / entertain themselves. There is no question in my mind that cats find this an enjoyable activity. Whether that is because they find the activity itself fun, or because they enjoy scratching itches (I know I do), we can’t know for sure, but Thor even purrs sometimes while he is rolling in the dirt.
Of course, these are only some of the possible explanations for why cats do this, and it is hard to get a definitive answer. There was not much available in terms of academic or scientific material on the topic so it is left up to us to hypothesize.
What are your best theories as to why your cat likes to roll in the dirt? Share in the comments below!
Meet Thor. He is a courageous cat that loves to hunt animals, climb trees and does not shy away from play-fighting with Freja. Yet there is one thing that seems to fill him with fear, his arch nemesis…the broom!
After doing some digging it seems like the most likely reasons are:
Sudden Quick movements & the sound created when sweeping.
Traumatic past experiences.
That the broom is seen as an alien object that creates unease, especially when in motion.
Since we cannot ask cats directly why they are afraid of brooms, we can only arrive at theories and not definitive answers. In order to come up with viable theories, we tried to understand how fear works in cats and why cats become afraid through information from science and experts on cats.
1) Sudden Quick Movements & Sound
This one is arguably the most obvious theory of why brooms are scary to cats and probably the first one you think of.
When we sweep the floor, we generally do so in a long sweeping motion that can appear quite sudden. From a cat’s point of view, what you see is this very tall and strange object moving as fast as a cat along the floor in a very mechanical fashion (meaning movements they would not commonly see in nature).
Some even theorize that the sound the broom makes is akin to that of a hiss. That hypothesis is difficult to test as it is hard to sweep the floor without making any noise, but it is an interesting theory nonetheless.
For the same reasons a vacuum cleaner is scary to cats because of the loud noise and sudden movements, it is at least probable that cats are scared of the broom for the same reasons. You may have noticed that your cat does not seem scared of your vacuum cleaner if it is just sitting in the corner of the room for example.
Just like humans, cats associate objects, sounds, smells etc. to traumatic experiences earlier in their life and might, therefore, react in a seemingly irrational way towards objects such as brooms.
We adopted Thor when he was 3 months, but since he was a “street cat” that had lost his mother (who either abandoned them or died), we don’t really know of any traumatic experiences he had before we got him.
Since he was out on the street for the first 3 months of his life and not around humans in a household it makes it less likely he has encountered many brooms, but we cannot rule it out in his individual case.
3) It Is an Alien Object That Creates Unease
Cats like all animals react on instinct that comes from thousands of years of evolution + personal experience. Your cat loves it when you mimic the movements of prey in nature with a toy during playtime because this plays to their instincts.
Humans have a greater contextual understanding of a broom sweeping the floor. When we see a broom, we know what it is, why we need to use it, and we expect it to be used in a sweeping motion and produce a certain sound. To a cat, a broom is, therefore, an alien object that does not resemble what they are used to in nature, and we can theorize that this causes fear or at the very least discomfort for a cat.
Most people would interpret a cat rolling over and showing their belly as an open invitation to give a belly rub and cuddle. It is not!
A cat can show you their belly for a few reasons:
As a sign of trust.
As an act of defence.
To relax or while stretching.
As an act of mating when they are in heat.
1) As a sign of trust
Like dogs, cats can show you their bellies as a sign of trust. The cat is both a predator and prey in nature. The stomach is a vulnerable area to attacks from other predators. Cats will instinctively avoid showing you their belly, especially if they don’t feel 100% safe or secure.
This means that you should be even more honored if they show you their belly. Your cat is, in essence, saying “I trust you with my life” when they do so. This also means that if your cat never shows you their belly you should not take it as an insult. You should respect their boundaries and know they are acting on evolutionary instinct.
Our two cats Freja & Thor happen to be the perfect examples for this blog post. Freja shows her belly as a sign of trust quite regularly when she feels safe and happy. Thor does it very sparingly, although it does happen, as documented in the photo below!
2) As an act of defense
Rolling on their back may actually be a defensive measure, especially in a fight. You may have noticed this if you have ever observed cats fight or play-fight. If your cat is flattening its ears, making agitated sounds and looks like it is under stress it is better to back off and give them space. The photo below is of Freja & Thor when they were play-fighting, and Thor used this technique to defend himself and attack off of his back. Since they were play-fighting they weren’t making any agitated sounds like a cat would in a real “combat” situation.
3) To Relax or When Stretching
This one is rather self-explanatory. While stretching, many cats may roll onto their back while stretching or when they just want to relax a bit. As mentioned before, this is not an open invitation to touch their belly and you should proceed carefully and with respect for their boundaries (see further down for how to rub your cat’s belly in a way that does not annoy your cat). Freja gladly demonstrated the Stretch/Relax with the picture below 🙂
4) As an Act of Mating When They Are In Heat
Here neither Freja nor Thor can demonstrate for you as they are both spayed and neutered. When female cats are in heat they may show their bellies, especially when they roll around on the ground (which is a symptom of a female cat in heat).
Why does my cat still bite me when I rub their tummy?
Just because your cat is telling you they trust you, does not mean they are telling you to rub their belly. Cats generally do not like to get a belly rub for reasons mentioned above, so do not get surprised if your cat bites you.
Again, our two cats are the perfect examples of individual differences. Freja enjoys a belly rub from time to time – on her terms, whilst Thor will never let you pet his belly under any circumstance.
How Should I Rub My Cat’s Belly? (If They Like It)
With Freja, I always ask for permission first and follow her lead. Your cat is showing you an incredible amount of trust, so you should respect their boundaries! I ask for permission by slowly sitting down next to her or bending down close to her. If she stays on her stomach, I try to carefully place my hand on her stomach, and if her body language is positive I will begin to gently rub her belly.
Always Watch Your Cat’s Body Language
If she wags her tail, that is a sign that she is feeling uncomfortable and would rather have me stop, and of course, if she bites me it means “hands off right now!”. As soon as she wags her tail, even slightly, I respect her wishes and live her alone, and so should you if your cat does the same. Unlike dogs, cats wag their tails when they get annoyed, stressed or uncomfortable and this is a certain sign that you should stop.
Sometimes, she enjoys it though. Signs of this include purring, kneading with her paws in the air while the tail remains completely still. As long as your cat displays positive body language like this, you can continue to rub their belly. Remember to stop the moment the body language changes and they want you to stop. Another way for me to know that she wants to cuddle is by looking at her a bit and make eye contact. If she wants cuddles she usually lets out a “meow” to let me know she wants attention.
Should I Rub My Cat’s Belly?
In general, my advice would be resisting the urge to rub your cat’s belly. Be happy that they show you such a sign of trust and love and try not to violate it. If you want to try to see if your cat is one of those that like to have their belly rubbed, always look at their body language.
Cats are adaptable animals and can adapt to their living spaces and a variety of situations fairly well. That being said, living in a small apartment together with your cat or cats can present some challenges for both you and your feline friend(s). If your cats´ living space is limited, that also means you get in each other’s way more often. It can also mean your cat does not get enough stimulation and ends up using you or your furniture as a scratching pole or prey to stave off boredom.
No one wants that to happen, not you, nor that cozy but slightly too expensive chair you got yourself as a present.
To keep both you and your cat happy, it is important that you stimulate your cat actively (by playing with him/her) or passively (by making sure their environment has stimuli like toys, areas to climb, hide or even another cat.
Ways to entertain a cat in a small apartment:
Buying cat trees or toys where your cat can entertain themselves Cat trees, such as the Go Pet Club 62″ Cat Tree is great for a few different reasons. It uses the space efficiently, your cat can climb and jump as if they were in a larger area or outdoors. The different textures are stimulating to your cat. The ability to scratch on the posts, helps your cat be able to fulfill this natural instinct and to maintain the length of their nails. (this is not an excuse not to cut your cats’ nails, however).
You can also create your own cat trees with cardboard or wood + some string. We are planning a complete guide on how to create cat trees yourself, so be on the lookout for that. We have included a picture of one of these being built below. Martina (the beautiful Persian mix) seems to be enjoying it already! 🙂
Make use of vertical space!
Cats love to climb, jump and to survey their territory from a vantage point. If you use your vertical space well, you can make your apartment seem a lot bigger and more exciting for your cat. You can either buy cat furniture for your cat to climb and mount it on the wall like this one on Amazon or you can make them yourself.
Have a set structure in regards to meal time and playtime for your cat.
Cats are creatures of habit, and it is a lot easier to not get them to wake up because they want food if they are used to getting fed during the day and evening. Ideally, you should feed your cat every 6-8 hours. Never free feed them, as this takes away the routine but also makes it much easier for the cat to become overweight since cats usually eat more than they need to if they have access to food since, in their mind, there is no guarantee for the next meal to come. A consistent routine reduces this innate fear.
Similarly, playing with your cat before bedtime (and during the day) is a great way to manage their energy level and make sure that they have healthy ways to expand their energy instead of letting it loose on your furniture or you. By managing their energy and ensuring that your cat’s energy levels are depleted around your bedtime will increase the chance of both you and your feline friend sleeping well through the night.
Getting a second cat:
If you have one cat you might want to consider getting a second cat so that they can keep each other company. However, it is important to consider if your apartment is suitable for one more cat. Do they have enough spaces to hide in, or to have their own spaces? This is especially important when introducing a second cat. You ideally want to keep them separate for the first few days, but this might be difficult if you have a small apartment. If you cannot keep them separated, you need to be monitoring how they interact together. The hiding spaces are important because both the new cat and your old cat may want to retire to a hiding spot or safe place when they feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed. A tip is to invest in cat-friendly furniture like furniture with small spaces or shelves where your cats can hide. Make sure your cats have access to “higher ground”, like the top of shelves, closets etc. Cats love to survey their surroundings from a vantage point, and it is also stimulating for them if they can move around their territory on a few different levels. Also having the ability to climb and jump is a great way for your cat to stay fit.
What can happen to an under-stimulated cat?
A cat living in a small apartment may find themselves more easily bored because they have less space to explore and to run around in. This boredom can manifest in many different ways and cause unwanted behavior such as the destruction of furniture and other aggressive behavior. Your cat may also start to show signs of depression if they are not receiving enough stimuli during the day.
Your cat can get too inactive.
This is a danger for all indoor cats, but especially if your apartment is on the small side. Long spells of inactivity can lead to problems like obesity, depression etc. An important way to prevent this is to keep you entertained and have scheduled times during the day which is dedicated to playtime with your cat. Make sure you do this daily, even if it is only 15-20 minutes, and stick to it! Your cat will thank you for it! If you have an especially active breed cat, such as the Bengal or the Somali, this is especially important as these cats need even more active stimuli than say a Persian does.
Your Cat Can Disturb Your Sleep
If your apartment is as small as mine, that means that your bedroom is also part of where your cat roams around, also during the night. No one wants to feel like they are shutting out their cat, especially if they have a very small area to stay in if you block them out of your bedroom. Cats are the most active during dusk and dawn, and they can also be quite active during the night. This clash of rhythms can lead to disturbed sleep for you and conflicts and stressful situations with your cat and around sleep.
Using a regular and strict feeding schedule and playtimes before bed as mentioned earlier goes a long way to solve this problem, as well as making sure the cat has ample opportunity to stimulate him or herself with toys and or the environment.
Many cat owners have experienced the frustration when our furry friends start meowing for our attention at the late hours of the night. Whether they want food, water or just attention, this behavior is certainly unwanted and damaging to both your sleep and the cat – owner relationship.
Why Is My Cat So Active At Night
Cats, like humans, have a circadian rhythm, or what we might refer to as a “body clock.” Unlike humans, however, their “body clock” is tuned a bit different ours. The ancestors of our domestic cats, the African Wildcat, is mostly nocturnal. Our domestic cats have adapted to be more awake during the day, but cats still like to be active during the night .
Make Sure Your Cat Is Not Sick
To be able to correct the unwanted behavior it is helpful for us to understand why it is happening in the first place. The first thing you should rule out is a medical issue. Has your cat started crying and wandering around aimlessly, and does it exhibit the same type of behavior during the day as well? If you suspect this to be the case, you should take your cat to the vet.
If your cat´s meowing at night is a behavioral issue, however, there are five steps you can take to remove this unwanted behavior:
Establish a Consistent Routine.
Cats are habitual creatures , and they need routines to feel safe and well. In fact, any change in their routine or environment is likely to stress your cat out, which may lead to a change in behavior. Make sure that they know when feeding time and playtime is, as well as when it is time to sleep – for everyone.
Have a Regular Feeding Schedule.
If you are free feeding, you should consider switching to specific mealtimes. Not only is it harder to make sure your cat gets the right amount of food when you free feed, but you also take away the opportunity for you and your cat to have a strong motivator and significant happening during the day – mealtime. If you plan the mealtimes well, you can make sure that your cat´s energy level is controlled and that it does not spike at 2 AM. According to Francis Kallfelz, DVM, Ph.D in this article, feeding an adult cat once or twice per day is fine. Dr Kallfelz says that kittens should be fed more often as they need more food as they grow.
Feed Your Cat At The Right Time.
Cats like to sleep after a meal, so you should use this to your advantage, As mentioned above, meal planning allows you to control your cat’s energy level, which means that ideal feeding times are in the morning when you wake up, and in the evening, around 1-2 hours before bedtime.
Play With Your Cat Before Bedtime.
Another part in managing your cat´s energy is to playing. Playing allows your cat to expend its energy when you want to. An ideal time is 1 – 2 hours before their last meal of the day.
If Your Cat Meows At Night, Ignore Them
This step is both the easiest and the hardest part of removing this behavior. If your cat is still waking you up and meowing in the middle of the night and you have determined that the issue is not a medical one, you just have to ignore them. If your cat receives any attention from you when doing this, positive or negative, it will know that the meowing is working. If you refuse to acknowledge your cat in any way over an extended period of time (sometimes up to a few weeks depending on the cat) your cat will eventually stop, allowing you to sleep well at night again.