The curious case of the thrashing cat

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I am not a cat person. I don’t dislike cats, nor do I particularly like them. I’m sort of ambivalent about them, except, of course, when they’re kittens. Everybody likes kittens, don’t they? Who can resist those little fluff balls with their big, curious eyes?

The reason I bring up the subject is that there’s a black and white (mostly black) cat that roams our neighborhood, and at least twice a day he/she (?) cruises through our yard, climbs the berm in the backyard, plops itself down in the dirt and wriggles around on its back like it’s having convulsions. This goes on for about five minutes, and then it gets up and walks away.

This cat pays no attention to the birds perching on my bird feeding station; it just walks on by to its favorite spot, flops over onto its back, and thrashes around in the dirt. Pretty curious. So I went online to see if there would be an explanation for why a cat would carry on such a weird ritual.

Interestingly enough, there are all kinds of articles which give explanations, most of them giving pretty much the same information. Obviously all of the explanations are conjecture, because, as far as I know, no cat can speak to us to explain its actions.

Anyway, most of the articles refer to the habit as “dust bathing.” I don’t know how getting dirty can be called bathing, but what the heck? Some articles say its like a cat massage, releasing tension in the skin, rubbing itchy spots, and stretching the body in various positions. It might also be a way of eliminating fleas or dry skin.

Another reason that cats roll around in the dirt is to coat themselves with bacteria that is needed for digestion. When they lick their coats after their dust baths, they ingest bacteria from the dirt, at the same time that they lose a significant amount of bacteria during the grooming process. Does that make sense?

One writer said, “I genuinely believe that the main reason they roll in the dirt is because it feels good, and they can. A bonus is that it annoys us when they traipse dirt back into the house and leave a gritty little patch on the sofa or in the bed! This may be slightly annoying, but cats seem to derive so much pleasure from rolling in the dirt that it’s a small price for us to play. Besides, we should be grateful, dogs like to roll in much worse things than dirt.”

Another writer asked, “Has your cat been on the catnip again? Rolling is a common side effect of catnip ingestion. For those not up to speed, catnip is an herb which induces a high in cats. The active ingredient is nepetalactone. It is completely harmless to cats, and the effects wear off within a few minutes.”

Yet another article said (and I don’t know how they know), “It is important for pet owners to allow their cats to bathe and roll around in the dirt, as this is a completely natural habit. If a cat is not allowed to roll around in the dirt, they can develop anxious behavior traits.” Boy, we sure don’t want our cats to develop anxiety, do we?

Have you ever wondered why they make cat food out of cow, fish, turkey, chicken and lamb meat — but not mouse meat, which would probably be a real hit with cats? Well, that was uncalled for.

Contact Roger VanHaren at rjmavh@gmail.com.