I've recently started letting my cat outside, which she really enjoys. However, one of her favorite things to do out there is to roll around in the dirt, which of course leaves her filthy. She's visibly brown and you can draw in the dirt on her with a finger. There's a cloud of dust when she shakes herself or you pet her.

It doesn't seem to bother her at all, and she is somehow clean again by the next day, but I wonder if licking all that dirt off herself every day is an issue. There are no pesticides or fertilizer or anything in the dirt, it's just dirt. (She only goes in my fenced backyard, so I know this for a fact.)

Like most cats, she doesn't like to be wet, and I imagine bathing her would be traumatic for everyone involved. I did try rubbing her with a damp paper towel, and she seemed to tolerate it, but it'd be a lot of effort to get her to even resemble being clean, so I don't know if I should bother. Should I take any action here or let her handle it?

And before someone comes in with a comment about how cats destroy ecosystems and shouldn't be let outside: she's older, doesn't jump or climb, and is horribly inept at hunting anything more sentient than a leaf. She stays in my yard and is not bothering anyone, I promise.

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    do cats behave like other animals: to bath in sand or similar to prevent vermin? Maybe it is a natural instinct or maybe she want to do an alternative to itching? Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 19:03
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    @Allerleirauh maybe. She also likes to roll around on the porch which is cement with aggregate showing so it's bumpy. So it's totally possible she enjoys how it feels. I don't have a problem with her doing it so long as it isn't going to cause her any health issues.
    – Kat
    Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 20:35
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    @Allerleirauh it is useless for cats to take a sandbath to get rid of tiny livestock,their tongue does a better job at this it has an inbuildt comb. Commented Aug 31, 2020 at 20:40
  • My cat poops in the backyard but she has cat box and we do have cats too in the neighborhood so I don’t understand why she is doing it. And she also gets dirty. Commented Apr 1, 2021 at 19:53

5 Answers 5


Cats are self-cleaning, so as long as she isn’t rolling around in something that could be poisonous (like fertilizer or weed killer), let her take care of that.

Yes, the dirt will probably annoy her when she grooms later. If it annoys her enough, she will learn to be more careful about getting dirty. But if she doesn’t mind, then you shouldn’t either.


There are reasons you may want to consider bathing your cat if it gets covered in dirt. For one, of course it's going to track that dirt all over your house, and then there will be a lot more cleaning necessary. For two, dirt can contain things like germs or parasite eggs. Some parasites actively spread through ingesting soil that contains their eggs, such as the roundworm. However, at the same time, I wouldn't really expect bathing the cat to be good enough to completely prevent infection from ingesting soil, as there's a fairly high chance if you find the cat covered in dirt that it's already attempted to groom itself and has eaten some anyways. Therefore, since you know your cat is likely to eat dirt, you should keep particular watch for signs of parasites. Some of the possible symptoms include:

  • potbellied appearance
  • visible worms in stool or vomit
  • diarrhea
  • coughing
  • weight loss
  • dull hair

However, your cat may have no visible symptoms at all as well. It would be a good idea to tell your vet on your regular visits you know that your cat is eating dirt, and so you are concerned about parasites. Your vet may choose to test your cat for parasites or recommend some sort of treatment.

It may also be a good idea to inspect your cat's skin some just in case. Cats may roll around in dirt just because it feels good to them, but sometimes it may also be because their skin is itchy for some particular reason. If you notice other signs your cat is particularly itchy, it may be a good idea to ask your vet about that as well.


Your cat gets very dirty because your cat is very happy; your cat rolling on the ground is a sign of intense pleasure.

A few years back, I adopted a feral cat and he was very happy getting a home.

After he had gotten used to living in a house and I started to let him outside, he rolled back and forth on the ground when I was outside with him because he was happy.

Your cat will most likely get less dirty over time as she gets used to being let outside, and she will most likely start to focus more on other aspects of being outside.

To get rid of most of the dust and dirt, you should brush your cat when she enters the house; you should not need to give her a bath unless she gets sticky stuff in her fur.

Sticky stuff does most often come from cats walking under cars or machinery, this is often oil or coolant from the car and is dangerous for cats and needs to be washed off as soon as possible.

Common stuff in your garden is not harmful, so you do not need to worry about whether she ingests some of it; what you need to keep an eye on is if she eats plants, as they can be poisonous. Be sure she does not eat plants.

By common stuff I mean sand, dust and soil, things that your cat will pick up by simply by being outside; you say in your question that you do not use pesticides or fertilizer in your garden, so your garden should be safe for your cat.

Cats will eat grass; this is not poisonous, but she will throw up from it, so you will need to clean it up.

For the last part of your question (the part about the ecosystem): yes, cats hunt, and they changed human history as a result of it. When humans started to grow grain, cats were an important part of making it possible.

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    What do you mean by "common stuff in your garden is not harmful" especially when followed by "don't let her eat plants"? And I know the history of cats, I just saw a comment on another question that involved a cat going outside and didn't want to be chastised for letting my kitty do it.
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 3:53
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    I read this again and realized you didn't actually answer my question: should I help my cat get rid of some of the dirt on her when she comes in or leave her to it?
    – Kat
    Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 4:05
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    @Kat updated my answer a bit,the plant part is something you should be aware of not only when your cat is outside your house but inside too.here is some of the plants that are toxic to cats home.howstuffworks.com/green-living/… but there is a lot more plants that are toxic to cats. Commented Sep 1, 2020 at 5:02

Unless you or your cat has been affected by ringworm from the local soil, it's perfectly natural for animals to roll around in dirt or dead plant matter. From some papers I've read, rolling in warm sand or topsoil helps some mammals ward off certain parasites. https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dust_bathing


Practical answer: brushing/combing will remove most dirt and the cat will enjoy it. For the worst spots, "licking" with a corner of a washcloth will be preferred to bathing. See other answers about how to bathe a cat if you absolutely must, but that's a last resort for most cats and most situations.

Rolling on the ground transfers some of the cat's scent to the surface, so there's an element of "I claim this place". At least they don't pee on things to claim the territory anywhere near as often as dogs do.

Rolling may also transfer scent the other way, helping to mask your cat's scent from prey. Again, dogs exhibit a more extreme version of this, sometimes rolling in things that actively smell bad to humans. Elsa the lioness (does anyone still read Born Free and it's sequels?) was reported to live rolling in herbivore dung, guessed to be for similar reasons.

When trying to explain instinctive behavior, remember that animals' senses are different from our own perception and the explanation may involve something we can't detect but they can.

  • Elso I did not know, but will add to my list. I know Kinuli instead ^^ Both lions are also witnesses of their time... Commented May 18 at 20:11

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