I always spot my cat scratching around her food bowl once she’s finished eating. This is just one of the many quirks of our furry feline friends. But like all of our cats’ peculiar behaviors, there is bound to be a logical explanation as to why. Why do cats scratch around their food?
Whenever I see my cat scratch the floor, it’s usually because she’s trying to hide her leftovers. She might be saving it for her kittens, hiding it from other animals, or keeping it for herself for later. However, your cat could also be making biscuits or have simply been fed too much!
I look at all these reasons in more detail on this page. Plus, I share tips on how you can stop this behavior. Although your cat isn’t meaning to cause damage, kitty claws are sharp! So if you want to save your floors from damage while keeping your cat happy, you’ll want to read on.
Why Does My Cat Scratch The Floor After Eating?
This is an instinct that links back to a cat’s need for survival. The behavior has been observed in wild cats big and small and persists in domestic cats today. Here is a look at all the possible explanations – see which you think applies to your kitty!
1. They’re Caching Food
Scratching around food might seem like strange behavior to us. But for cats, it is completely normal. This behavior is a form of food caching, which can be defined as the storage of food in various locations hidden from other animals. These animals can be both animals of the same species – i.e., other cats – or different species.
We associate this behavior mostly with birds. Watch closely and you will often see birds shoving food into small crevices and coving the hole with debris. By doing so, birds can save their food for later. It is imperative for survival in poor weather conditions where food is scarce.
However, wild cats also partake in food caching. Like birds, hiding food in the wild is crucial for survival. If they didn’t cover up the smell of their leftovers, other cats or bigger predators could find their stash and eat it themselves. This could leave your cat going hungry. If she can’t catch more prey, she won’t have anything to eat.
Although domestic cats don’t need to hide their food (except perhaps from another greedy cat or pet dog), these survival instincts persist. So, if you see a cat scratching the floor near her food, she’s probably trying to save it for later. By scratching the floor, she is trying to cover any leftovers up.
Where they are other cats or pets present in your home, you might notice this behavior even more. For example, say you just brought a new kitten into your home. You might notice your old cat scratch the floor after eating when they never used to. They’re trying to make sure this food is theirs and theirs alone – no new kitten is going to get their paws on this tasty meal!
2. Hiding the Scent from Predators
Another reason your cat might scratch at the floor is to hide the scent of their food from predators. Again, this links back to wild cat behavior. If cats didn’t bury the remains of their food, predators might be able to track cats by following the scent of the remains of their food.
By doing this, predators could easily track the cat and eat it for their dinner. They’ll know which direction the cat is traveling in and where to find them next. But hiding the smell of their remains makes it much more difficult for predators to hunt them down. It improves their chances of survival and lets them stay aloof and undetected.
Covering up scents and hiding them from predators is nothing new for cats. Have you noticed how cats always bury their waste after using their litter trays? This is them trying to bury their scent so predators don’t know they’ve been there. If a bigger animal realizes a cat has been in its territory, the cat will soon be dinner.
3. To Save Food for Their Kittens
I used to be a breeder and I have never seen my cat try to bury her food more than when she has a litter of kittens. I’m not the only one that has witnessed this either. Researchers in Germany discovered that females are extremely protective when it comes to looking after their kittens. One way in which they aid the survival of their offspring is to bury food for their young.
For the first 8 weeks of life, kittens nurse from the mother. But as kittens get older they start learning to hunt for themselves. It takes time for cats to perfect their hunting skills though, so the mother needs to be extra successful at catching prey while they learn to ensure there’s enough food to go around.
Whenever a mother cat catches prey, she will bury any leftovers. This way, she has something to feed her kittens later if they get hungry and don’t manage to catch a meal of their own. If your cat has just had a litter of kittens, scratching on the floor is likely her way to trying to do just this. She’s watching out for her young and her protective instinct is taking over.
4. As a Sign of Contentment
Have you seen your cat kneading or “making biscuits” before? This is where cats move their front paws up and down in a rhythmic motion, digging their claws into the surface below. This habit stems from kittenhood and kittens knead on their mothers when nursing. Doing this on the mother’s belly stimulates the production and release of milk.
Although it is only kittens that nurse, most cats maintain this behavior through adulthood. They usually do it when they are happy as a sign of contentment. Your cat might make biscuits on your lap after a big petting session, or on other soft surfaces such as blankets and cushions.
However, cats can also knead the area around their food bowl as a sign of overwhelming pleasure. İf you see your cat scratching around its food bowl, it could be a sign they like what is in front of them. Cats are notoriously finicky creatures, so if you’ve managed to find food that your cat loves this much you should pat yourself on the back.
5. To Clean the Area
Another stereotype of cats is that they love to be clean. They spend hours on end using their sandpaper-like tongues to groom their beautiful fur coats. They also only use a litter box when it is clean and just like good hygiene and cleanliness in general.
This extends to their feeding area, and so cats will try to keep the area around their food and water bowls as clean as possible. When cats paw around their food, it could be their way of removing the dirt away from the area. They’re essentially sweeping any mess away so that it doesn’t spoil their food.
Like hiding food, keeping their feeding area clean is linked to survival. The cleaner the area, the less likely it is that dirt and bacteria will find their way into their dinner. Eating spoiled food can make your cat very sick, so keeping neat and tidy has its obvious advantages. You wouldn’t like to eat from a dirty table, and neither would your cat.
It is also possible that your cat dislikes their food so much that they are trying to clean it away and bury it from sight. Out of sight, out of mind, right? If your cat hates its food, you will often see it scratching at the floor and burying its food before they’re even had a bite. They’re trying to make it disappear so they don’t have to deal with it.
6. They’ve Got Too Much Food
The final reason why cats scratch around their food? It could be that you are feeding your cat too much for them to eat in one go. Therefore, they feel like they have to scratch the floor, hide the leftovers, and keep their feeding area tidy. If they ate the entire bowl in one sitting, none of this would be necessary.
Cats that can’t eat all their dry kibble aren’t anything to worry about. As long as your cat is getting enough calories throughout the day, they can return and eat their leftovers at a later time point. However, wet food shouldn’t be left out for any longer than an hour.
If this is the case, I recommend reducing their portion sizes. For example, instead of feeding cats one large portion in the morning and evening, you should split the same amount of food between five smaller meals placed intermittently throughout the day. This will help ensure the food your cat is eating stays fresh and minimizes the risk of it ingesting spoiled food.
Sometimes, this will mean that you need to open a can of wet food without finishing it. It is important to store this wet food correctly so you can feed it to your cat later. Keep it in the refrigerator in a sealed container. Cats can eat cold wet food straight from the fridge. However, they’ll prefer it if you heat it up a little before serving.
How To Stop My Cat Scratching The Floor Near Her Food?
If your cat tries to bury her food occasionally, it probably isn’t too much of a problem. After all, it is an instinctive behavior and we should try to let our cats keep these intrinsic traits. We cannot expect cats to stop doing things that are instinctively cat-like. You might even find it adorable to watch!
However, I have to deal with my cat scratching around her food bowl every single mealtime. My floor was getting destroyed. So, I tried several things to help limit this behavior while keeping my cat happy. You might want to give them a go yourself, so I share all my tips with you below.
It is important that you never punish your cat for scratching the floor. Remember, this is a natural behavior that is wired into your cat’s DNA. They aren’t trying to be destructive and annoying, they’re just trying to be a cat! Punishing your cat will only destroy your relationship. If your cat won’t stop scratching around the food bowl, this might be something you just have to accept.
1. Reduce Portion Size
Many cats scratch the floor after eating because they have too much food. They’re forced to “hide” their food or save it for later. Therefore, reducing portion sizes can improve this behavior. This doesn’t mean changing the amount of food necessarily. Instead, split this food into more frequent but smaller portions throughout the day.
If you’re not around to feed your cat multiple small portions throughout the day, look at purchasing smart cat feeders which do the job for you. Many works with wet food only, but some more simple timed feeders come with ice packs that work with wet food as well.
2. Redirect Their Behavior
You can also try to redirect the scratching behavior whenever you see your cat scratching. I like to do this with toys. Pull out your cat’s favorite toy and start playing together. Most cats won’t be able to resist playing and their hunting instincts will kick in quickly.
Not only does playing together redirect her from burying her food, but she’ll also get a healthy dose of exercise. This can ensure she remains fit and maintains a healthy weight. However, limit it to a short distraction rather than a full-on play session. Too much exercise right after eating could cause a tendency to regurgitate their meal!
3. Remove Any Leftovers
Another option is for you to remove leftovers as soon as your cat has finished eating. This is a must if you’re feeding your cat wet food anyway – leaving it out will cause it to spoil. Eating this later could cause them to have an upset stomach.
But removing leftover dry food can also stop scratching around the bowl. This is true for cats that like to graze. Even if your cat only eats a little, take the remaining food away as soon as your cat sharts to show disinterest. Your cat should quickly learn that they need to eat all their food in one rather than saving half of it for later and will adjust their feeding habits accordingly.
4. Use Elevated Food Bowls
I also found elevating my cat’s food and water bowls to be a huge help. When the food is raised, your can can’t bury it as easily so will leave it be more often than now. Elevated food bowls are also great for digestion as their digestive tract is more aligned than when eating from a bowl at floor level.
I often see my cat paw at her water bowl too. They’re not trying to hide their water or save it for later – this is usually because cats struggle to see the water level. Cats also have a preference for running water, so splashing their paws in the bowl could be replicating this effect. However, it can make a big mess! So, switching to elevated bowls helps avoid this behavior as well.
5. Change the Feeding Location
If none of the above options work, I suggest moving your cat’s food bowls to an area that is less likely to be damaged from scratching. For example, a wooden floor might fare better than a carpet, which is just going to get pulled. A feeding mat is another option as it doesn’t matter whether this gets a little scratched and damaged.
You could even consider getting a feeding shelf which will limit the area your cat has to scratch around its food. Make sure any materials your cat could use to hide and bury its food are also far from reach. For example, don’t put their food bowls near any plant pots or next to their litter tray.
MY FINAL THOUGHTS
So, why do cats scratch around their food? This is an instinctive behavior linked with survival. They might be trying to save their food for later, put some food aside for their kittens, prevent predators from tracking them, or keep their feeding area clean. On the other hand, they might be kneading the floor as they love their food, or burying their food because they hate it!
No matter the reason, it is important to recognize this behavior as a natural instinct. We can’t expect cats to completely stop this behavior ever – it is hardwired in their DNA. However, you can use the tips in this article to help limit the behavior and minimize the amount of destruction in your home.