Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Her Food?

I bet you noticed your cat pawing or scratching around her food before or after eating. While some cat parents believe she's doing so because she doesn't like her food or hides it to eat later, the reasons for such behavior are a whole lot different.

Scratching around a cat's bowl looks like she's trying to dig or bury something. And though it seems weird, there's nothing wrong with your feline if she behaves like that. The question is, why does she scratch around?

Here are the reasons and some tips on how to stop your cat from scratching, in case you find such behavior annoying or damaging to your floor and carpets. 

Reason #1: Your Cat Hides the Scent of Her Food

Cats are obligate carnivores, and they have to hunt for food when in the wild. Hunting and eating portionwise, they get food leftovers and need to hide them so other predators couldn't smell out their presence there.

So, one of the reasons why your domestic cat attempts to bury food leftovers is her instinctual behavior. Doing so, she wants to hide the scent as it can alert predators that she has been there.

Reason #2: She Protects Kittens

If you have a female cat with kittens at home, her reason for burying the food is that she wants to protect her kids from other predators. As well as in the case with her own scent, a cat tries to prevent others from finding out that there are kittens nearby.

Reason #3: You Give Her Too Much Food

As already mentioned, cats scratch over the food leftovers. If you notice a feline burying her food, it may be a signal that she gets more food than she can eat.

It's similar to hiding feces: A cat sees the excess food as something she is not going to return to, so she instinctively wants to bury it. As a responsible and loving cat parent, you need to control how much food to feed your cat to prevent undesired behavior, obesity, and other health issues.

Reason #4: She Tries to Keep Her Space Clean

Another reason for a cat to bury her food may be her inherent neatness. Most felines are creatures with passion for cleanliness, so they try hard to stay spotless and keep their place clean.

So, maybe your cat scratches around food, trying to tidy up her territory.

Should You Prevent a Cat from Scratching?

Pawing or scratching around the food is not harmful in itself. It's your cat instinct behavior to stay safe and hide the traces of her presence from other predators. In fact, some cat owners even find such behavior cute.

So if it's your case, feel free to leave your cat alone and don't stop her from scratching.

Another pair of shoes is when a cat damages your furniture or carpets while scratching, or you merely consider these actions annoying. If that's the case and you want a cat to stop scratching her food, there are a few steps to help you manage it.

What You Can Do to Stop This Behavior

  • Once your cat finishes eating, take the bowl away to prevent scratching. If feeding with wet food, please clean the bowl at once and don't feed the leftovers again: Wet food spoils quickly.
  • At the same time, please make sure your feline has free access to clean water to maintain the moisture balance in her body. She will hardly scratch around it, and you'll help her prevent many health problems this way.
  • Once you see that a cat begins to scratch around, try distracting her with a cat toy and play with her.
  • Don't leave dry food with a cat if she hasn't eaten the whole portion. Otherwise, you'll encourage scratching. Instead, limit portions to one meal so your cat wouldn't have food leftovers to bury.
  • Serve food on surfaces that can't be damaged by the cat's claws, and take her food bowl away from items she can use to cover her meal.
  • If you prefer free feeding or merely don't want to serve cat food all the time during a day, consider buying a puzzle feeder for your feline. It will encourage her to "hunt" for a meal and distract her from scratching.

And no matter what, please don't punish a cat for scratching or pawing her food. It's her natural, not harmful behavior, and she will not understand the reason for your punishment anyway.

Some cat owners believe that spraying water on a feline or hitting her from a bowl will solve the problem, but, in fact, it leads to more problems with a cat's behavior. When you punish your four-legged friend for scratching, you may break the bonds built between you and your pet, which will be not that easy to regain.

About the author:

Jimmie O'Chutt

Jimmie O'Chutt is an avid cat lover who runs CatPet.Club, a blog about living with cats and making this life fulfilling for both owners and their four-legged friends. Jimmie has also created the CatPet YouTube channel where you can find games for your pet to play. In his spare time, he loves reading, playing computer games, and spending time with his Maine Coon Ronnie.

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