Why Do Cats Scratch Around Their Food?

Photo via @vanillaceramic

Cats are weird little guys and gals, doing things that surprise and delight us to no end. So have you ever caught your cat digging around their cat food bowl and wondered, “Why is Fluffy turning mealtime into a construction zone?”

You’re not alone. This puzzling behavior, known as floor scratching, is a common habit in our feline friends, with deep-rooted reasons and instinctual behaviors behind it.

In this insightful article, we’ll decode what exactly is the behavior we’re talking about, just why do cats scratch around their food, and share practical tips to manage it (if needed), enhancing your understanding and relationship with your kitty. Let’s dig in!

Is Your Cat Scratching Around Their Food Bowl or Dishes?

Cats scratching around where they eat is a distinct behavior that is hard to miss once you recognize it.

It starts with deliberate movements of their front paws. It could start slow and ramp up, or be quite rapid from the beginning. Your cat may use one paw or both paws.

They’ll begin to paw at the floor around their food dish, mimicking a digging or burying action. Their claws might be extended, scratching at the surface of the floor or even the wall.

Often, this behavior is mixed with licking or sniffing at the cat food. My Maine Coon rotates between taking a whiff, scratching a wall next to the food with her paw, smelling again, and so on. Every cat is different.

The scratching behavior typically occurs where they eat, right around the food bowl. However, this isn’t a hard and fast rule. You might notice your cat scratching a little further away from their dish, particularly if they have a designated feeding area.

Your cat may also scratch any surface nearby, including mats, rugs, or even the walls next to their food dishes.

Wild Cats vs Domesticated Cats

Your domesticated house cat may live in your house, know or even like you, and tolerate the dog, but the genes of their wild ancestors are still present in lil Milo.

Observing this act gives you a fascinating glimpse into the evolutionary instincts of your beloved feline. The scratching around food behavior is an echo of their wild relatives practices, reverberating through time right into your kitchen.

Though it may seem strange to us, it’s perfectly normal for a cat. Know that she isn’t intentionally trying to cause a mess.

Reasons Why Cats Scratch Around Their Food

A host of reasons exist as to why your cat might be scratching around their food or food bowl. Not only is it a window into their fascinating instincts and behaviors, but it can also offer clues to their emotional and physical wellbeing. Let’s explore the various factors driving this behavior.

Food Caching

Just like their wild ancestors, who often bury their leftover kills to snack on later, your domestic cat may also demonstrate “food caching” behavior. Their scratching around food could be their attempt to hide it it for future consumption. It’s a hard-wired survival tactic ensuring they have a backup meal available.

They’re Done Eating and Want it Gone

On the other hand, the act of scratching around their food dishes might indicate that they’ve had their fill and want to get rid of the leftovers. In the wild, leaving food remnants could attract predators. Scratching things after eating could be your cat’s instinctual method of keeping their territory safe and clean.

Marking Territory

Cats have scent glands in their paws. When they scratch around their food, they are effectively marking their territory. This scent-marking communicates to other cats that this food – and this space – is theirs.

Saving Food for Kittens

If you have a mother cat, she might cover their food after eating as a way to “save it” for her kittens. This behavior is especially common if the food source is plentiful and the mother cat wants to ensure her kittens have enough food to eat.

Cleaning Their Dining Area

Cats are clean creatures and often don’t like their food area being messy. The act of scratching around their food might be their way of cleaning up before or after themselves. It’s a tidying-up behavior that keeps their dining area neat.

Kneading: A Comforting Ritual

The act of scratching or kneading can be a soothing ritual for cats. You know how a cat will “make biscuits” on their favorite blanket or person? They also can do that to make themselves comfortable in their dining area.

Expressing Discontent with Their Food

Finally, if your cat doesn’t like their food, scratching around it could be their way of expressing dissatisfaction. It’s their way of complaining, basically. If this behavior is paired with a lack of appetite, it may be time to reassess their diet.

How Do I Stop My Cat From Scratching Around Their Food

Cats’ quirks and habits, though puzzling at times, make them the beloved companions we know and adore. If your feline friend has a penchant for scratching around their food, don’t fret. Here’s how you can manage this behavior effectively.

Understanding the Behavior

First off, know that this behavior is not dangerous. It’s an instinctual behavior for cats, a nod to their wild ancestry. Unless it’s excessive or your cat seems distressed, there’s typically no urgent need to intervene.

Modifying Your Feeding Practice

Modifications to mealtime processes can influence your cat’s behavior around their food. Here are some strategies you might consider, if needed.

  • Stop Free Feeding: Instead of leaving food out all day, have designated meal times. This can help control your cat’s instinct to bury or cover their food.
  • Portion Control: Reducing your cat’s food portion size can minimize the chances of leftovers, which cats may feel the need to hide.
  • Use of Automated Feeders: An automated wet food feeder can provide portioned controlled wet or dry meals at consistent times, creating a reliable feeding routine.
  • Slow Feeders and Puzzle Toys: These feeders require your cat to work a little for their food, satisfying their hunting instincts and keeping them engaged. This might reduce the food-scratching behavior.

Adjusting the Food Environment

The environment in which your cat eats can also affect their behavior. Some helpful adjustments include:

  • Location Change: If your cat’s current eating spot is busy or loud, they might feel the need to bury their food for safety. Try moving their bowl or dining area to a quieter location. This also lessens chances of food misbehaviors like not eating or avoiding wet food.
  • Elevated Food Bowls: Elevated food bowls can make your cat feel safer and discourage scratching behavior.
  • Watch Leftovers: Clean up any leftovers promptly. This can discourage your cat from feeling the need to bury leftover food.

Engaging Your Cat Differently

Other strategies include:

  • Interactive Toys: Use cat toys or scratching posts to redirect your cat’s scratching behavior towards a more appropriate outlet.
  • Vet Check: If the scratching behavior becomes excessive or there’s a sudden change, I advise a vet check to rule out any health issues.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do cats scratch around their water bowls?

Cats scratch around their water bowls or fountains because it’s fun! While most cats are not fond of baths, many do enjoy water to play with (or knock off a table). Cats may paw the water, watch the water move, and also lick and clean their paws.

If you find your cat pawing at water while not drinking but seemingly want to, check the water source or container the water is held in for odors, contamination, and cleanliness.

Why does my cat dig at everything?

Cats often dig or scratch at various items due to their instinctive need to mark territory. Scratching leaves visual marks and releases scents from their paw pads, signaling to others that the territory is claimed. Plus, cats need to scratch, it’s innate, feels good, and sharpens their claws.

Why is my cat scratching the floor like litter?

Cats may scratch the floor as if it’s litter due to a variety of reasons, such as to hide their food or water, or simply because they’re mimicking their litter-burying behavior. It could also be a form of play, or they might be trying to get your attention.

Why do cats scratch the floor after pooping?

After using the litter box, cats scratch and cover their waste, which is cat behavior from their wild ancestors. This act helps to hide their scent from potential predators and maintains cleanliness in their territory.

Cats using a litter box paw at litter to cover their waste, but the litter box may not be large enough or contain enough litter to satisfy their urges. That’s why your cat may scratch at the floor even after finishing up in their litter box.

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