Domestic cats can sometimes act a little strange. Whether that’s having a five-minute case of the zoomies or refusing to come out and meet your friend who popped by to say hi, it can be hard to predict what our cats will do next.
One behavior that can be particularly baffling is your cat pawing and scraping around their food in what looks like an attempt to bury it. What’s up with that? It might look odd indeed, but there’s a good explanation for this behavior — in your cat’s mind, at least!
What does a cat trying to bury their food look like?
Before we take a deeper dive into the reasons behind this behavior, let’s consider what this behavior might actually look like. Remember that each cat is an individual, so some might approach burying their food in one way, and another cat will have a totally different way of achieving the same thing.
Besides digging around their food bowl, some cats may paw and scratch at the bowl itself. This is them pretending to “bury” their food. They know that there’s no dirt close by, but by acting as if they’re carrying out this important task, they can feel satisfied that they’ve done what they set out to do. You might even see your cat pretending to “uncover” their leftover food before eating it later, which is just as odd to watch!
Other cats will lift a chunk of food out of their bowl and actually trot away with it! In this case, you need to watch out that your cat doesn’t bury their food somewhere completely unsuitable, like in a plant pot or under the couch.
Some cats might even cover their food with a tea towel or napkin if there’s one close by!
Why do cats try to bury their food?
You might never have seen your cat do this before, but it’s more common than you might think.
The reasons for this behavior are instinctual, so your cat wasn’t taught to act this way by their mother cat; it’s literally ingrained into their genetic makeup.
Let’s explore the main reasons that cats try to bury their food.
1. They’re hiding it for later
Your domestic cat might be cute and fluffy on the outside, but on the inside, they retain instincts leftover from their wild ancestors. So, when your kitty tries to bury or otherwise cover their food, they’re doing something called “caching.”
Caching is used by wild cats to protect food from other cats or scavengers, to stop it from spoiling, or to have something to come back later to when there isn’t any other food.
Just don’t burst your cat’s bubble and tell them that they’re not a wild mountain lion, after all!
2. They’re trying to conceal the scent
Covering or burying food helps hide the scent from other cats or predators. This is a smart move for wild cats on two fronts. First, hiding the scent means another cat is less likely to discover the food and eat it for themselves. Second, it helps disguise the scent from prey animals, which have sensitive senses of smell. If a prey animal sniffs blood or meat, they will be much more likely to avoid the area, meaning there’s less chance of a wild cat being able to make another kill.
3. They don’t like it!
If your cat doesn’t like the new brand of food that you’ve just switched to, they may decide to dispose of it by trying to bury it. This is similar to how they bury their waste to keep their living area free from unpleasant scents or smells that might attract a larger predator.
What to do if your cat’s behavior is a problem
Many cat owners are happy to leave their cats to their instinctive food-burying rituals if they’re not doing any harm.
But if your cat is damaging your floors or running off and hiding chunks of wet food around the house, then you might want to intervene.
Some cats start to carry out this caching behavior to the point of developing a neurosis. This can be more common in multi-cat households, where the cats might feel like they’re competing for resources. They can then get to the point that they feel the need to hide or bury their food, and they begin to get a little obsessive about it.
In any of these scenarios, the best solution is to supervise your cat as they eat their food, and then remove their bowl when it seems like they’re finished. This removes the object of interest, and you can then distract your cat with something else.
If you’re away from home, use an automatic dispenser that provides a small amount of food at a time. This way your cat is less likely to have any leftovers that they decide that they need to cover.
Feed your cat in a room with easy-to-clean floors, or place a large mat down while they eat. You may want to shut the door so they can’t take a piece of wet food and go hide it someplace else (behind a cushion where you can’t find it, for example).
You may decide to consult your vet or a behavioral consultant if your cat’s burying habit doesn’t seem to get better.
Never punish your cat for trying to bury or cover their food. Remember, this behavior is instinctive, not something that they’re actively able to control. No matter how many centuries cats have been domesticated, behaviors like this remind us that we really are living with tiny wild animals!
Featured Image Credit: Milles Studio, Shutterstock