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Why Does My Cat Scratch Around His Food?

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By now most of us know that our cats have many quirks, but I’m sure you might’ve noticed one in particular, where they scratch the floor around their food before or after eating it.

It probably has made you wonder if the food you’re giving your fluffy lordling is unworthy of their class. I personally find it cute, and my cats usually accompany this scratching behavior with a few demanding meows.

Either way, it does make you wonder!

Why does my cat scratch around his food? Pawing or scratching around the food is a harmless and instinctive behavior. Cats will “fake cover” their food by scratching to hide their traces and stay safe from predators. In some cases, they even use objects like towels to cover their bowl.

If you want to find out, why does my cat scratch around his food, we got the answers!

Let’s go!

What Is Food Caching?

Your kitten or mature cat might knead, scratch, or gently paw the floor around their food bowl, and this can happen before or after their feeding time. It might look as if your kitty is trying to dig or bury something and it could remind you of their litter digging activity.

While there’s nothing wrong with this behavior it can seem a strange one, but cats aren’t the only ones exhibiting it!

Wild Cats vs Domesticated Cats

House cats lead a different life in comparison to their feline cousins big and small. The indoor cats in particular are sheltered from wild predators and they’re unlikely to ever run out of food. But despite this security our kitties still have instincts and even though they don’t need them to survive they still rely on them.

Felines will do many things throughout their day to secure their safety and the safety of their young offspring. Take feces burying, for example, large cats (Panthera genus) like lions, tigers, leopards, and jaguars “that are competing for territory do not bury their excrement, as a way of signaling that they want to claim a particular area.”

For small wild cats, this isn’t an option since they have to show their submission and hide their scent so as not to be detected. But cats have another way of making a statement. The cats that run our streets and rule our homes use their scent instead, by rubbing against objects, scratching surfaces, and urinating to mark their territory.

When it comes to food your kitty’s much bigger relatives bury their food, “to save it for later, hide it from scavengers and throw other predators off the scent.” A study done on mountain lions showed that shallowly buried food (cached) “both reduced competition from arthropods, microbes and reduce odds of detection by larger vertebrates, such as bears, wolves, and other lions.

This instinctive behavior of caching food could also be triggered in your cat despite their comfortable living.

Felines vs Canines

“Food caching has been reported in the European wild cats,” as shown by research, but it’s not only cats that tend to hide their food away, dogs do it too!

While the world tries to show us how different cats and dogs are, it seems that they have something in common. You see canine hunters, that hunt in the wild for food, also stored it to save it for later or for when there wouldn’t be enough food to eat.

Burying food deep in the soil helped preserve it and keep the other predators, cats included away. Bones, carcasses were all kept in the underground “refrigerators” which was essential for survival. The slight difference between the two lies in the fact that cats usually eat as much of the prey as they can and bury the carcasses to avoid being caught, not to consume it later.

Why Does My Cat Scratch Around His Food?

Knowing that your cat can exhibit the same behavior as the wild cats and even dogs can make you appreciate them even more, as we all should! But domesticated cats live a different kind of reality and instincts can manifest themselves in a different way.

As responsible cat owners, we can make our cats’ lives more wholesome and give them what they want, if we understand what they’re telling us. So, let’s see what does your kitty tells you when they scratch around their food?

1. To Hide The Scent Of The Food

Since cats are obligate carnivores, meaning they only eat meat, they need to hunt when they’re in the wild. While housecats don’t have real opportunities to hunt for small prey, they still have the hunting instinct.

Cats can also fall prey to bigger predators so hiding leftovers is essential to their survival. This way they don’t leave anything that can be traced back to them. If you find your kitty pawing around their food after they were done eating, they might simply be recreating the same instinctive behavior.

For cat owners that have more than one pet, or if they’ve just brought a new cat into their home, this can trigger food burying in one or both cats. This doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily unhealthy, but if done excessively it might be a sign that your cat is stressed out. Scratching around their food might be their way to hide the scent coming from the remaining portions, so they won’t be detected by the new four-legged stranger.

See Also: 5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting A Second Cat

2. To Protect Her Kittens

The act of burying food in the wild is important for both male and female cats. Interestingly enough there is a factor that makes the urgency of concealing food greater. For female cats, this factor is her kittens.

According to researchers at Hannover Medical School and the University of Veterinary Medicine in Hannover, Germany, 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.”

This means that a mother cat is extremely protective of her offspring. Because kittens are so helpless and a mother would still need to leave them in order to find food, the last thing she’d do is jeopardize their hiding spot by leaving leftovers of dead prey.

If you have a female cat that just gave birth to kittens and you’re wondering where this scratching behavior came from, then her babies might be the answer!

To make your cat-mama feel more secure, make sure she and her kittens are staying in a warm, reclusive, and safe space. This way she might feel more secure and stop scratching around her food, but even if she doesn’t it’s nothing to be worried about as long as she’s eating regularly.

3. Kneading The Floor

Take a good look at your cat pawing around their food, because it might be a signal of immense pleasure! Cats may do it before, during, and even after feeding time, which can become confusing.

Your cat’s habit of kneading the floor can be traced to its kittenhood when they would knead on their mother’s nipple to stimulate milk production. Rachel Barrack, a Veterinarian of Animal Acupuncture, says that “kittens knead on their mothers while nursing,” and she also adds that “many cats carry this behavior into adulthood and may knead their owners, other furry siblings or bedding.”

You might’ve noticed your cat doing exhibiting this behavior not only around their food bowl but also on other surfaces, like blankets. Some cats could even knead dogs. This breadmaking technique usually means that your cat is anticipating a pleasant experience like cuddling and petting from you.

In my cat’s case, he’ll knead the floor even before I set down the food bowl. He’ll purr and meow with pleasure and if he approves of the food then he’ll continue on kneading after he’s done eating!

4. To Keep The Space Clean

The answer to the question, why does my cat scratch around his food, might be more than your cat’s desire to be undetectable by predators. Cats love to be clean, that’s why they spend hours grooming their splendid coats. They also cover their toilet business and the moment you change your bedsheets they’ll come running to take a nap on their clean freshness!

The reason behind your cat’s cleanliness and their need to cover up any traces of their existence is once again survival. According to Dr. Cynthia McManis, a veterinarian, “adult cats spend up to 50% of their waking hours grooming,”

They do this to keep the smell of food and other odors away from their coat, which will keep them hidden from possible predators. Seeing your cat scratching around their food might be baffling to you, but since the food bowl is usually in an area your cat lives in, they’ll try to make sure their territory is tidy!

5. Too Much Food

As we already established there are cats that will try to cover their food once they’re done eating as a means to protect themselves. If you’re giving your kitty big portions that she doesn’t eat in one session, then you might notice them scratching at the floor, when they’re done.

In your kitty’s mind, the excess food might be something she won’t be returning to once she’s done and that could especially be the case with wet food. Since wet food doesn’t keep the moisture for too long and it doesn’t really last long it could be your cat’s way of telling you that she won’t be having any of that later.

The best way to keep this behavior at bay and make your cat’s feeding time a little less stressful and a lot more pleasant try controlling the portions you give them. This can help minimize the scratching, but most importantly it will help keep the food fresh and avoid cat obesity and other health issues.

I know that being a working cat parent can keep you away from home for long hours. Feeding your cat before going to work and returning from it might seem the only way to you, but it really isn’t. Trust me I’ve been there!

What I did was get an automatic wet food feeder, which not only kept the wet food fresh, but it allowed me to regulate how much my cat ate in a day. You can find our top recommendation on Amazon, which offers five meals a day, the Cat Mate C500 on Amazon and see if it’s the right choice for you and your kitty!

6.They Don’t Like The Food

I’m sure most of us try to buy the best cat food there is, but one thing that has happened to most of us was to bring the bowl to our cat, watch them inspect it, wrinkle their nose, and leave the room. Their disappointment is evident, but so is ours, I mean no one accepts returns on an open bag full of expensive cat food!

While some cats will simply leave the food untouched others will try to make a statement. They will scratch around the food or they’ll try to bury it in an effort to dispose of it. This kind of behavior is similar to what they do in the litter box.

This kitty for example must really dislike human food!

Usually, a cat will not eat the food after they scratch the floor because they see it as waste. But if they don’t expect you to give them something tastier, they’ll eventually realize that they have to make ends meet.

Why Does My Cat Paw Around Their Water Bowl?

While most cats would make us believe that they don’t like water, this isn’t entirely true for all of them. There are cats that love to spend their time in the sink by simply sleeping or even drinking running water. There are cats that enjoy licking wet surfaces like shower curtains and humid windows.

Your kitty could have the same playful attitude towards its water bowl. You might notice them pawing around it or even playing with the water itself. Some cats also prefer to dip their front paw inside the bowl and then lick the water from it!

Cats also prefer running water to the one sitting for hours in their bowl. That’s why you might find them drinking water directly from the tap or even the toilet. By pawing around it, or in it, they could be trying to recreate the effect of a moving water source. A cat water fountain could be a great way to help your cat engage in playful activity with their water bowl without actually scratching your floor!

Should You Prevent A Cat From Scratching Around Their Food Bowl?

Finding your fluffball scratching at the floor around their food or water bowl can come as a surprise and might alarm you. That’s why it’s important to understand where this behavior is coming from and if it’s as innocent as it seems.

Excessive Floor Pawing

This interesting habit is part of your cat’s instinct and it’s not harmful in itself, it usually helps them feel safe or express pleasure. But as with everything, excessive behaviors could also be a sign of stress.

Cats love routine and when things suddenly change, if for example, your partner or friend moved in with you, if you brought another cat, or if the environment, you’re offering isn’t cat-friendly overall, then they begin to stress.

A lot of the time anxiety in a cat can be observed in behavioral changes and excessive behaviors. If your cat keeps pawing around their food for an unusual amount of time it could be characterized as excessive and be a sign of an underlying health issue.

In fact, research has shown that “poor welfare may be reflected in poor physical health, illness, and disease or behavioral problems such as house soiling and fearful aggressive behaviors.” There are cats that will scratch excessively at their litterbox and who says it can’t happen around their food or water bowl?

How Do You Stop Your Cat From Scratching Around Their Food And Water Bowl?

While floor scratching can be harmless and simply a quirk of your feline beauty, it can also become destructive to your floor or carpet. In this case, it’s quite understandable if you’d prefer to keep their sharp claws away from these surfaces!

There are a few easy steps you can take to keep your floors safe, for instance, you could take away your cat’s food bowl when they’re finished or clean away the leftovers if you used wet food. Also, try giving your kitty small scheduled meals which most likely won’t leave leftovers and will keep them full throughout the day.

Consider a puzzle feeder to simulate your cat’s “hunt for meal” instinct because according to Dr. Carlo Siracusa, of the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine “in their natural environment cats eat about 12 times a day, feasting on small prey like mice and birds.

Serve the food and keep the water bowl on surfaces that can’t be damaged and don’t leave anything your kitty can use to cover her food, laying around. When you serve food you could try distracting your cat with a toy every time they start scratching the floor and praise them when instead of pawing around the bowl they simply eat.

What we don’t recommend is punishing or scolding your kitty. Cats don’t understand our language and all you’ll end up doing is reinforcing their bad habits because they see scolding as another form of attention. Spraying water or hitting your cat after scratching the floor can only lead to more behavioral issues.

Using negative means will only break the bond between you and harm your cat. Instead, use positive reinforcement, ignore them when they’ve done something bad, and distract them from their destructive behaviors.

Finally, if you’re having problems with excessive scratching a trip to the vet can help you find the possible root of the problem and the solution. Your doctor could also redirect you to a pet behaviorist if your kitty’s problems are less physical and more psychological.

Closing Thoughts

A cat burying their food or scratching around their water can be strange, cute, fascinating and all of that at the same time! It could be alarming for cat owners who want to keep their floors scratch-free and it could be another quirk to be celebrated.

You might want to stop them or praise them, but as long as your kitty is pleasantly kneading the ground you should also be happy that they’re finally enjoying the food brand you’ve selected!

And if we’re honest a few scratches around the food are far better than dead prey on your pillow!

Now tell us if you’ve ever wondered, why does my cat scratch around his food? Could you relate to any of our reasons or is there something different about your cat’s floor pawing behavior?