Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?

Last Updated on September 22, 2021 by Jenny

A common mistake cat owners make is that when their cat scratches around their food bowl they think that they are covering up the food like they would their poop in a litter box. Many cat owners assume this is a clear sign that the cat isn’t interested in the food. This assumption is inaccurate.

Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl

Here is why your cat is actually scratching around its food bowl…

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What Does the Scratching Mean?

Cats have been noticed to scratch around their food bowls even when their bowls are placed inside the house, on tiles or carpets. Even though there is no soil to scratch or move around, this behavior remains present in cats because it is related to an instinct. In the wild, felines must hunt to eat. In spite of the fact that they hunt and eat in packs, there is always leftover food after they are done with their meal. It is extremely important that they bury their leftovers to cover their tracks. This way, other predators can’t link the trail of carcasses to their whereabouts.

All felines are born with a full set of instincts meant to keep them safe in the wild. This is also true when it comes to cats. They may not need to use this type of instinctual behavior as long as they live in a loving home, but when push comes to shove, cats know how to keep safe.

Do Cats Try to Bury Their Food to Eat Later?

Another theory commonly used to explain this behavior in cats is that felines bury their leftovers to come back and continue eating. However, this is false because felines are not scavengers. They typically feed on as much of a carcass as they can eat in one meal after which they stop. Felines, including house cats, have a very strong sense of smell that can detect food that is not fresh. Their survival instinct will keep them away from food that is not fresh so that they do not get sick.

🐱 Why Do Cats Cover Their Food Bowl?

Some cats stick to scratching the tiles around their food bowl, but other cats have actually adapted to their environment. If they cannot bury their leftovers in the ground, they will keep it out of sight by covering it. Cat owners have reported seeing them cover their bowls with anything from paper towels from the kitchen to the towels in their bathroom. The explanation is the same, but the method is quite ingenious.

Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?

A cat scratches the floor around their food bowl, paws around their food bowl, or attempts to cover their food because it’s instinctual. In the wild, felines must hunt to eat. In spite of the fact that they hunt and eat in packs, there is always leftover food after they are done with their meal. It is extremely important that they bury their leftovers to cover their tracks. This way, other predators can’t link the trail of carcasses to their whereabouts. All felines are born with a full set of instincts meant to keep them safe in the wild. This is also true when it comes to domestic cats.

Should This Behavior Be Stopped?

While it can be somewhat annoying for cat owners to have their pets scratching their carpets or tiles after every meal, this behavior is completely harmless for the cat. So, unless carpets or furniture are damaged, there is no need for the owners to intervene in any way.

Is There Anything That Can Be Taken Away From This Behavior?

Even though there is no need to correct the scratching/covering behavior, there is one aspect that cat owners might want to pay attention to. As mentioned above, cats only bury their leftovers. This means that the cat may be getting more food than it can eat in a single meal. Pet owners must check how much food the cat should be getting to prevent obesity and other health issues. So, what does it mean when a cat tries to cover up their food bowl? Nothing more than the fact that it is a feline fully equipped for the wild. Have you ever seen your cat scratching around its food bowl after a meal? What about covering up the bowl? If you have, tell us the story in a comment.

If You Leave Cat Food Out All Day

Consider trying to put it in puzzle feeders instead. This way they will have to “hunt” for their meal, which will distract them from covering – and give them some mental stimulation!

If this behavior is destructive you can also try these ceramic elevated cat feeders

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23 thoughts on “Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?

  1. M says:

    Hi my 3 months kitten has been doing this for the last couple of days and that’s after his vaccination, he sniffs his food, scratches the floor and walks away without eating. Is this normal? Should I change his food or is it a reaction for the vaccination?

  2. Unknown says:

    My kitten does it when he doesn’t like the food. Tested and tried with different foods and moods. It stops immediately with the food he likes, and gets non stop with something he doesn’t want. So, i am more on a side of this being an expression of not liking something than all above listed. Hope it helps to someone who is confused as i was.

    • Jenny says:

      I will have to test that – that could be one of the reasons too. If I have learned one thing with cats – it’s never definitive.

  3. JMO says:

    I have 2 cats and I noticed that when I sprinkled a cat health supplement on the food, one of my cats started scratching around the bowl, a behavior that neither had done prior to the adding of the supplement. I found this thread and just decided to post this and see if anyone else has a similar experience. Cheers!

  4. Rachel says:

    I’ve owned cars my whole life and had never seen this behaviour…until my newest cat, she has a handful of quirks but she always scratches and paws the ground around her bowl, sometimes so aggressively that she flips her food bowl or even the mat it is on. She also regularly tries to cover whatever food I’m eating if she’s near by. It’s interesting and endearing. I’m glad to know more about the behaviour as I had incorrectly assumed it meant she didn’t much care for the flavour! Thank you so much for the thoughtful article!

  5. Ann says:

    Thanks so much for this explanation! The motion is just like covering up poop, so I thought he was commenting on how the food tastes! But then he comes back and eats it up later. So I’ll stop wondering about this behavior – I think instinctual implies that it’s inborn, not a reaction to life in the suburbs, so, I hope he isn’t worried that there might be predators in my house who are tracking him.

    • Jenny says:

      Yes, that’s why I did this post! A reader assumed the same as you – and I was like, “Oh no….” – glad you found this post =)

  6. Sara Ashraf says:

    My dr advice that my cat Should eat a specific grams per day and specific calories intake.

    40 grams per meal. I always put the food very fresh for him and he likes it A lot but the problem is he eats only 20 grams per meal or sometimes less than he starts digging.

    I’ve tried to put smaller portions and give more meals per day but he doesn’t feel hungry if I keep 4 or 5 hours gap between the meal. I need to leave at least 8 hours for him to get hungry and actually eats. He is 5 months old and I I don’t know what to do

    • Sara Owen says:

      Hi fellow namesake!
      How’s the little 1 doing now? Cats are notoriously fussy eaters! 1 of my cats eats anything+is a good eater. My other cat is so fussy+eats a lot less. I feed them wet food twice a day+they have dry food down all the time to pick at in between. They’re all different. They’ve both got plenty of energy so they’re eating what the want. My fussy 1 will always be fussy! Hope your little one is eating better for you. Much love

  7. John L Treuthardt says:

    My kitten started scratching the floor around her bowl before eating. The problem is then she wont eat. My other 2 cats are chowing down. I don’t understand.

    • Rita says:

      My cat sometimes scratches before he eats , walks away a few steps and returns to eat. I thought he was saying he doesn’t like the food but will eat it bc he’s hungry.

      • TerriSF says:

        I agree with your interpretation. My two cats scratch the floor BEFORE they eat if they do not approve of the food. They may come back for a few bits under protest or not eat at all. It’s pretty obvious to me what their message is.

  8. Branden Acre says:

    I have two kittens, brother and sister about 7 months old. Aurora (the female) has done this often since she was about 3-4 months old, while Orion (the male) does it as well but not as much as his sister. Since I knew that they instintcly cover their pee and poo so as to avoid their scent from being detected by predators, I assumed that they would do the same to their food for the same reasons but I wasn’t 100%.
    Discovering this article helped confirm my suspicions; it was extremely informative and I thoroughly enjoyed reading it! Thank you very much!!

  9. Samantha Keffer says:

    My two Himalayas male and female do this. More the male but he will hardly eat any, like a few bites and he does come back for more a little later. Sometimes he will scratch and sometimes he won’t.

  10. AJ says:

    My Lani does this with food she doesn’t like. I experimented with 2 snacks – one she liked and one she didn’t. She scratched at the first one and ate the second… so I now interprete the scratching as her saying “this smells like my poo!” since she will eat other foods she deemed worthy…. Unfortunately she does this with some types of premium food that’s suppose to be good for her! She really hates the chicken version of ziwipeak as soon as I introduced it to her, but likes the mackerel and lamb one. Weird cat…

  11. plmcat says:

    i’ve had a few cats that would do that once in a while. i always thought it was kind of cute. thanks for the info though, it’s nice to know that there are reasons. i was one that thought it was maybe because they didn’t like the food. i would see it happen when i introduced something new. i think we often forget that cats are still wild animals. sure they have become domesticated to some point but they are essentially wild. that is one of the things that i love about them.

  12. Kattolio says:

    I have brother and sister cats. My female, Seven, “covers” her food all the time and also tries to cover ours if we eat on the couch. Little stinker! Neo doesn’t do this, but his way of “covering” his litter box deposits it to scratch the sides of the box and not the litter. Go figure!

  13. Patti Johnson says:

    ABSOLUTE SUPER PAWESOME & BRILLIANT POST, Jenny!! WOW! I just LEARNED A LOT!! I’ve never seen Miss PSB exhibit this behavior…yet. But, if she starts doing this later then I’ll certainly understand why! THANK YOU SOOOO VERY MUCH FOR THE GREAT INFORMATION!! 🙂 <3

    Big hugs & lots of love!!!

    Patti & Miss Pink Sugarbelle 🙂 <3

    P.S. So cold, damp and chilly out!! Brrrrr…. <3

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