Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?

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. That’s why I decided to write this blog post about why do cats scratch around their food.

why does my cat scratch around its bowl a ragdoll cat scratching around its bowl next

Most of us are aware that our cats have a variety of peculiarities, but you must have observed one in general: they scratch the ground surrounding their food pre or post eating it.

It’s likely made you question if the stuff you’re feeding your feline friend isn’t up to their taste and expectations. My cat frequently combines her scratching habit with a few very loud meows, which I find charming.

In any case, it makes you wonder! Why do cats scratch around their food?

Pawing or clawing at the food is a natural and healthy activity. To avoid being eaten, cats would scratch to “fake cover” their meal and hide their tracks. They may even hide their dish with things such as napkins in some circumstances.

Continue reading, so you could learn actually why do cats scratch around their food bowl…

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What Does the Scratching Mean?

Ragdoll Cat Trigg Eating Canned Wet Food Out of PawNosh Glass Pet Bowls on WooPet

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 their wild ancestors 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 in the dirt 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 Ragdoll 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 why cats are scratching around their bowls, is that felines bury their leftovers to come back and continue.

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.

Why do cats scratch around their food? If they cannot bury their leftovers in the ground, they will keep them out of sight by covering them. Like leopards in the wild. 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.

Why do cats scratch around their food? 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 urine, feces, and 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. So, it is not limited to wild cats or big cats that wander and do food caching.

Why do cats scratch around their food? If you have a female cat, then you must have noticed it more often. However, the behavior is also seen in male cats. The interesting part is that cats’ claws are naturally designed for this unusual behavior.

Possible Reasons Why Do Cats Scratch Around Their Food Bowl

Let’s study the reasons for cat scratching in detail. The reasons will be the same even if the small kittens show this instinctive behavior and keep on digging around food dish(es) or water bowl(s).

Reason #1. Your Cat Is Hiding The Smell Of Its Food

In the outdoors, these creatures must kill for food, since they are prey animals/obligate carnivores. They receive food remnants from catching and eating significant chunks, and they need to hide them well so that other predators don’t notice their existence.

Why do cats scratch around their food? Cats are susceptible to larger predators, therefore keeping leftovers hidden is crucial to their survival. They don’t leave anything behind that may be linked directly to them in this approach. 

If you see your cat pawing about their food after they’ve finished eating, it’s likely that they’re merely repeating an innate activity.

This can cause food burying in one or all of your cats. This does not necessarily imply that it is harmful, but if done frequently, it might indicate that your cat is agitated. 

So, instinctive habit is one of the reasons why your house cat tries to hide food leftovers or excess food. She does so, in order to mask her scent, so she’d avoid signaling other predators about her presence.

Reason #2. The Cat Protects Her Kittens

Both male and female cats value the act of collecting foodstuff in the wilderness. Surprisingly, there is a component that increases the necessity of dietary concealment. This component is her offspring for female cats.

Female cats, unlike male cats, “independent of their own experience of raising kittens, female cats distinguish between kitten calls that convey different levels of urgency and react accordingly,” according to researchers at Hannover Medical School and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany.

This indicates that a mother cat guards her kittens fiercely. Since kittens are vulnerable and their mothers must abandon them to get nutrition, the last thing a mother would do is endanger their hiding area by dropping leftovers.

Why do cats scratch around their food? If you have a female cat who recently gave birth to kittens and you’re wondering why she’s scratching so much, her kittens might be the cause!

Make absolutely sure your cat-mama and her babies are in a comfortable, secluded, and secure area to make her feel more confident. In this manner, she could feel safer and quit clawing her chow, but even if she does not seem to, it’s not a problem as long as she eats frequently.

Reason #3. You Give Her Plenty Of Food

If you give your cat large quantities that she doesn’t finish in one sitting, you may see her clawing at the carpet when she’s finished.

In your kitty’s view, the extra food could be something she won’t be coming to after she’s finished, which is especially true with wet food. Because wet food does not absorb water for very long and does not last very long, it might be your cat’s way to inform you that she will not be eating it later.

Limiting the quantities you offer your cat is the greatest method of keeping this behavior at bay and making mealtime a little less unpleasant and a lot more enjoyable.

This will reduce scratching and, more significantly, keep the food fresh, slow its progression, and other health problems in cats.

Why do cats scratch around their food? 

We understand that being a professional cat parent requires you to be away from home for lengthy periods of time. Nourishing your kitty before starting to work and after coming from work may appear to be the only option, but it isn’t.

You may acquire an automated wet food feeder, which will not only keep the wet food fresh but will also allow you to control how much your cat eats in a day.

Reason #4. Your Cats Tries to Keep Her Space Clean

Why does my cat scrape around his food? The reason might be more than your cat’s wish to remain undetected by predators. Cats like being clean, which is why they spend so much time grooming, combing, maintaining, and cleaning their magnificent coats. 

They also hide their potty activity, and as soon as your bedsheets are changed, they’ll rush over to take a sleep in the cleanliness!

Why do cats scratch around their food? Once again, survival is the driving force behind your cat’s cleanliness and desire to hide any signs of their existence. 

“Adult cats spend approximately half of their waking hours grooming,” says an expert veterinarian.

They use this to keep the smells of feed and other aromas out of their fur, keeping them camouflaged from enemies. 

You might be perplexed by your cat clawing surrounding their food, but because the food dish is normally in an environment where your cat stays, they’ll want to keep their territory clean!

Reason #5. Your Cat Considers Scratching Around The Bowl A Pleasant Experience

Look very carefully at your cat scratching over their dish; it could be a sign of deep happiness! It’s possible for cats to do it before, between, or even after mealtime, which can be perplexing.

Your cat’s behavior of kneading the floor dates back to when they were kittens and would knead on their mom’s breast to encourage milk supply. 

In general, kittens knead on their moms when sucking, and so many cats continue to do so as adults, kneading:

  • Their parents
  • Other cats
  • Stuffed toys
  • Fluffy blankets
  • Soft clothing
  • Etc.

You may have observed that your cat does this not only near their food bowl but also on other surfaces such as comforters. So it is undoubtedly a positive sign of your cat’s happiness. 

This method of breadmaking typically indicates that your cat is expecting a fun time from you, such as snuggling and caressing.

Why do cats scratch around their food? Even before you sit down in the food bowl, the cat would knead the floor. Cat’ll purr and meow with delight, and if he likes the meal, he’ll keep kneading after he’s finished eating!

Reason #6. They Don’t Like The Food

Most of us attempt to buy the best cat food available, but we’ve all brought the dish to our cats, seen them scrutinize it, twist their noses, and then leave the room. 

Their dissatisfaction is palpable, as is ours; after all, no one takes refunds on an old sock of pricey cat food!

While some cats may just ignore their food, many will attempt to take a stance. In order to get rid of the food, they would scrape around it or try and hide it. 

Why do cats scratch around their food? This is comparable to what they do while they’re in the litter box.

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 to why do cats scratch around their food.

Why do cats scratch around their food? In itself, meowing loudly or digging around the meal is not dangerous. It’s part of your cat’s gut feeling to take precautions and hide her existence from other carnivores. 

In fact, some cat lovers find such behavior to be endearing.

So, if this is your situation, feel free to let your cat DO and allow her to scratch.

Another pair of shoes is when a cat scratches your objects or carpets, or you just find these behaviors bothersome. If this is the scenario, there are a few things you may do to get your cat to quit clawing her food.

What You Can Do To Put a Stop To This Behaviour?

Why do cats scratch around their food? If you see your cat scratching, try diverting her with a soft toy and playing with her.

If your cat hasn’t finished her dry food, don’t keep it with her. You’ll promote clawing if you don’t. Instead, restrict quantities to one mealtime to prevent your cat from burying food remnants.

Serve meals on materials that the cat’s claws won’t harm, and keep her feeding dish away from objects she may use to conceal her food.

Consider purchasing a jigsaw feeder for your kitty if you like free eating or simply don’t want to offer canned food for the whole day. It will inspire her to “hunt” for food while diverting her attention away from caching.

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. 

Why do cats scratch around their food? 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?  Why do cats scratch around their food? What about covering up the bowl? If you have, tell us the story in a comment.

If You Leave Cat Food Out All Day…

Why do cats scratch around their food? If it annoys you, you can try something different.

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!

Or you might be interested in checking out our best cat products post where we review our past year’s favorites.

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

Learn More about Cat Behavior


[adthrive-in-post-video-player video-id=”S5LAiz8G” upload-date=”Tue Dec 03 2019 00:00:00 GMT+0000 (Coordinated Universal Time)” name=”Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Its Food Bowl?” description=”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”]

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Hi, I’m Jenny Dean, creator of Floppycats! Ever since my Aunt got the first Ragdoll cat in our family, I have loved the breed. Inspired by my childhood Ragdoll cat, Rags, I created Floppycats to connect, share and inspire other Ragdoll cat lovers around the world,

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27 Comments

  1. I thought our kittens were replicating their behaviour in the litter tray, suggesting the food smelt like crap (because it does).
    Why is cat food so stinky?
    it’s no wonder cats burry their business, if their food smells so bad it should come as no surprise that once processed it isn’t going to be any better.
    It’s kinda funny watching them though, scraping up an imaginary pile of dirt around their food bowls.
    I might even try it myself one evening, it looks like fun.

    1. ha ha ha – switch to raw and it won’t smell and neither will their poop!

  2. My ragdoll ( I have 2) actually cover his food with the fishing rods that are his toys. The fish has long been ripped off the rod, but he loves to play with the sticks with the string dragging behind him. He carries the stick like a dog and covers his food with it. He does it everyday 2 or 3 times a day exactly the same way with the two sticks crossing each other like an “X” over the food. It’s amazing

  3. 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?

    1. No idea on the vaccination. Worthy of trying something new – if he is not eating at all – needs to go to the vet.

    2. I’m literally going through this right now with a male about the same age. Does the same actions by the step as you mentioned yours doing. It’s never been an issue or has he done this before, so I’m curious if you were able to figure out with you cat what was going on?

  4. 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.

    1. 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.

  5. 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!

    1. how interesting!! thanks for sharing. what’s the supplement and why are you giving it?

  6. 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!

    1. You’re welcome =). Glad you can appreciate the behavior even more now =)

  7. 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.

    1. 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 =)

  8. 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

    1. 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

  9. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  10. 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!!

    1. Awesome, glad you enjoyed it. Hope you will stick around for more =)

  11. 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.

  12. 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…

  13. 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.

  14. 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!

  15. 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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