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Of all the quirky things our kitty companions do, one that raises the most eyebrows and amuses us the most is when we catch our cat burying food. There are memes and videos all across the internet that show off our feline friend’s hilarious habit.
So why do cats cover their food?
Is it their furry, four-legged, non-opposable-thumbs attempt to stow away their leftover food for later? Or could it be a rebellion? An act of defiance against food that simply isn’t up to snuff for their picky palate?
Here’s what our team of veterinarians, feline behaviorists, and cat health experts have to say about this mysterious and comical behavior.
Why does my cat “dig” around his food bowl?
Also known as caching, the simplest explanation for why our domestic cats try to bury their food or dig around in their food bowl comes down to instinctive behavior. Food caching is a survival instinct embedded in our kitties’ DNA, from their ancestors. While they may not have to face off against predators daily anymore (not looking at you, vacuum cleaner!), many cats are still driven by this self-preservation.
Why is my cat burying food?
Along with being fueled by instincts from their feline ancestors, here are three other reasons you might catch your domestic cat companion trying to bury their food.
Concealing the scent
When you see your cat try to bury her food, it may be because, instinctively, she’s trying to avoid attracting other predators to her eating space.
European and African Wild Cats display such behavior to preserve and protect their uneaten food from other animals. Covering animal carcasses with dirt or other earthy debris in the wild is one of the best ways to mask the smell of the prey they killed and not alert predators.
This natural behavior manifests in your cat pawing around inside her food dish, or scratching the area around the bowl.
Saving it for later
One big thing wild cats and your domestic indoor cat have in common is that they don’t typically gorge themselves on food.
A big reason your cat scratches around their bowl after they’ve finished eating is to show they plan on returning later. Unlike domesticated dogs, most cats don’t eat everything that’s in front of them and will periodically graze throughout the day, especially if you give them dry food.
Cats have scent glands in their paw pads, so when they scratch by their bowls, they’re marking the space (and said food there) as their territory.
Cleaning the space
If you notice your cat doesn’t cover their kibble or wet food when they scratch the space around their bowls, it could be their way of “tidying” up their eating place.
Think about it this way – cats already bury their waste in their litter box and can spend as many as five hours a day grooming themselves. Your kitty companions’ cleanliness and distaste for messes also drive them to keep their space clean after eating.
Should you stop your cat’s caching?
Although it may seem like quirky and unusual behavior to us as humans, our cat’s fixation on digging around their food bowl, or in some cases inside of it, is a completely harmless behavior. You often don’t need to stop their caching.
What to do if caching becomes an issue
If your cat’s determination to hide or cover their food starts to concern you, or you find your cat’s behavior annoying, there are a few actions you can take to curb their burying behavior.
Set a feeding schedule
Cats love routines. That includes mealtimes.
If the times you feed your cats are erratic at best, you could be unknowingly encouraging caching behavior. Cats who feel like they’re faced with food insecurity may cache out of fearfulness, anxiety, and stress.
The best solution to this is to set a feeding schedule and stick to it. If you work long and hectic hours, it’s worth looking into getting a cat sitter to help with meal times!
Serve smaller portions of food
If you’re mounding your cat’s dishes with a mountain of kibble, the problem is probably the portions. Excess food in your cat’s bowl could cause them to resort to caching behaviors out of anxiety.
Be aware of your cat’s eating patterns and build meal times around that. If you have a senior or geriatric cat, it’s good to know that many of them have less of an appetite than younger cats and to feed them small portions.
Change the location of feeding spots
The place you’re feeding your feline matters as much as a schedule and portion control. This is especially important if you have a multi-cat household.
If you have several cats, there’s a possibility that they may try to get into each other’s food. This competition for resources could cause stress-induced caching behavior. Finding safe and secure feeling spaces to feed your pets can reduce their urge to bury their food.
Use a puzzle feeder
Could some cats be caching out of boredom? Yes! If your kitty is bored to tears, one of the best ways to combat caching and to introduce more stimulation into your cat’s life is to start using a puzzle feeder.
Also known as slow feeder bowls, puzzle feeders require your cat to think critically and work to get their cat food.
Keep water bowls away from food
It might seem natural to you to leave a water bowl or automatic cat water fountain near your kitty’s kibble or wet food, but for some cats, the pairing is a big turn-off.
Instinctual behavior is also at play here. Wild cats don’t usually eat and drink fresh water in the same space. Placing the water bowl in a separate area, or at least 3 to 5 feet away from their food bowls, allows your cat to lean into their instincts without the urge to bury food.
Key points on why cats bury their food
Now that we’ve demystified why cats cover their food, if you notice your cat scratching around their dinner dish, know that it’s rarely ever a sign of harmful behavior.
If your cat’s previously eaten food without any trouble but begins to show signs of caching, there are many actions you can take or strategies you can put in place. Something as simple as not giving your cat too much food, rmoving their water bowl, or introducing a puzzle feeder can reduce your cat’s urge to bury their food.
And if that doesn’t work? Grab your phone, fire up your camera, and your kitty might just become the next internet cat celebrity or meme!
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