Cats can exhibit behaviour that seems strange to us, such as scratching or pawing the floor next to their food dish before eating, or trying to cover or bury food after eating. When we look at why cats bury their food in the wild or cover their leftovers, we can come up with several theories as to why housecoat exhibit similar behaviour. We’ll never know for sure what’s going on in a cat’s head, but some of these theories may help you get to the root of their behaviour.
WHY DO CATS BURY FOOD?
Cats bury their food so the remains of their prey don’t attract predators. If your cat is scratching around their food dish, they may be indicating that don’t feel safe and they’re trying to “hide” the smells of their food. Although you may know there aren’t any predators around, perhaps you don’t even have other pets in the home, cats can experience stress, anxiety, depression, etc. so their fearful feeling may not be coming from an outside source.
If your cat is scratching the floor around their food dish, they may not be attempting to bury their food, but rather leaving their scent to warn other animals to stay away. Cats have scent glands in their paws, which release pheromones when they scratch, paw, stretch, or knead.
WHY DO CATS TRY TO COVER THEIR FOOD?
Cats cover their unfinished food to hide it from other animals and save it for later. In the wild, big cats will hide their food up in a tree or cover it with debris in an attempt to hide it from other animals.
If your cat is trying cover their food with objects such as paper, pieces of carpet, toys, etc. it’s likely they want to be able to come back and finish their food later and their instincts are kicking in to simply cover it.
They may be doing this if your take their food dish away in between mealtimes, or if there’s another cat or pet in the home that could come by and finish their leftovers.
WHY DO CATS PAW AT THE FLOOR?
Cats paw at the floor to stimulate their scent glands and distribute their pheromones to let other cats know it’s their territory.
There may be other cats in the house and they want to leave their scent around the food dish to try and claim the area. This could be due to them being a more aggressive and territorial cat than the other(s). Or, they may be the more passive cat that gets bullied away from the food dish, so when the other cat isn’t around, they paw the floor to passively tell the other cat to stay away.
Even if you don’t have other cats in the house, your cat has a good sense of smell and can smell things you can’t. There may be smells from pets that lived in the house prior to you moving in. Or, if their food bowl, food mat, water bowl, etc. is new, you likely brought several unfamiliar scents home with the new item(s). Your cat may be pawing around their food dish to try and cover those smells.
If your cat is more so pawing at the floor around their food dish, rather that scratching or trying to cover their food, it may be that they’re feeling territorial.
WHY DOES MY CAT KNEAD THE FLOOR?
Cats may knead the floor when they’re feeling content. They would knead their mother’s stomach when they were nursing as a kitten, so this behaviour may have stuck with them and comes out when they’re eating, or are about to.
Kneading the floor can also be a way for them to stimulate the scent glands in their paws. You can watch their overall demeanour to determine why your cat is kneading the floor.
If your cat is purring, has their eyes half closed, and in general, looks relaxed or happy, it’s likely the kneading is a habit they’ve carried on from kittenhood and they’re feeling comfortable and content while they eat.
If your cat is kneading the floor a little more aggressively and seems more alert, they may be trying to leave their scent around the food dish for territorial reasons. This theory may be more relevant if you have multiple cats or pets in the home.
HOW TO STOP YOUR CAT FROM SCRATCHING, PAWING, OR COVERING FOOD
If your cat seems happy and is healthy, there’s likely nothing to worry about when it comes to this behaviour. They’re most likely exhibiting natural instincts ingrained in them, or habits they formed when they were a kitten.
When the behaviour seems more obsessive or it’s damaging your floors, you can try the following options to get your cat to stop scratching, pawing, covering, or kneading around their food dish.
1. VETERINARIAN CHECKUP
You should talk to your vet if your cat has started exhibiting this behaviour out of the blue and if it’s accompanied by any other new or odd behaviour. If they’re not eating or drinking, if they’ve changed their litter box habits, or seem stressed and anxious while around their food dish, you’ll want your vet to rule out a health issue.
It’s important to contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat hasn’t eaten in the last 24 hours.
Cats express their illnesses in odd ways, so a change in their eating habits could be an indication that they’re not feeling well. It could also be a mental illness your cat is dealing with and trying to express. Either way, your vet can check them out and offer medication or solutions to the problem.
If your veterinarian has given your cat a clean bill of health, then you can try the following options to see if it gets them to stop scratching, pawing, or kneading around their food or trying to bury or cover it.
2. MOVE THEIR FOOD DISH
Your cat may not like something about the location of their food dish. It may be that they’ve been startled when eating in the past and now they associate their food dish with some sort of “danger”. That feeling of danger could be what’s making them feel the need to mark their territory or hide their food from predators.
Cats don’t like their food to be next to their litter box, for obvious reasons, but some also prefer their food and water be in separate areas. It’s hard to know for sure but it could also be due to their natural instincts. In the wild, a cat’s food source and water source are typically in much different areas.
Try moving your cat’s food dish to an area that might make them feel more protected. If you set it a few feet away from the corner of a room, they can sit in the corner and look out into the room while they eat. It may help them feel protected from behind and less like they need to keep predators away by marking.
3. GET A SECOND FOOD DISH
If you have multiple cats and they share a food dish, try buying another food dish so that the cat who’s scratching, pawing, covering, or attempting to bury their food can have their own bowl and even their own eating area. This may help solve the situation if your cat is exhibiting the behaviour because they’re feeling territorial.
You may even try feeding your cats at separate times if you think one cat is bullying the other cat around the food dish. This article provides tips to feed cats at different times.
4. CLEAN THE AREA
You may find it helps to clean the floors in the area they eat with a pet-friendly enzyme cleaner; there are several options here (do NOT clean their food bowl with these products). If you don’t have any other pets in the home but your cat seems to be pawing or scratching at the floor for territorial reasons, they may be smelling something you can’t.
If you clean the area and then spray with a product such as Feliway, or use a diffuser, it may help. Feliway or Comfort Zone mimic “good” pheromones that will help put your cat at ease and reduce behaviour such as scratching or spraying.
5. REMOVE LOOSE MATERIAL
When your cat’s food dish is sitting on a rug, towel, or surface they can paw at, they may feel more inclined to scratch that material or try and pull it up to cover or bury their food. Those materials may be stimulating their natural instincts and making them feel they need to use the material under their food dish to cover their leftover food. Try moving their food dish to a hard surface.
6. EXTRA LOVE AND ATTENTION
I like to include this as a solution for most cat issues. Use extra love and attention on its own if your cat has been checked by a vet and doesn’t have any health issues, or in combination with vet prescribed medication.
Cats want to be loved, just like we do, and love can help solve a lot of problems. There’s no harm in increasing how much love and attention you give your cat, even if you think they already get plenty.
Try talking to them in a loving tone, spending extra time cuddling, petting, or brushing them, as well as playing with them. Even if they seem like they don’t want your attention or care that you’re around, it’s more than likely comforting for them to have your company.
I hope this article has helped you determine why your cat tries to bury their food or is scratching or pawing the floor around their food dish 🙂
You may also be interested in reading:
- WHY DOES MY CAT SCRATCH THE FLOOR BEFORE DRINKING WATER?
- CAT SPLASHES WATER OUT OF BOWL: HOW TO STOP IT