Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?

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A common mistake cat owners make is that when their cat swipes their paw on the floor around their food dish 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.

Here is why:

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.

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 Out of 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 food out all day, try putting 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!
  • Learn more about cat behavior

Comments (5)

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  1. 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

  2. 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!

  3. 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.

  4. 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…

  5. 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.

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