Do you have a cat that tries to bury their food or acts like they are burying their food? Does your cat paw away at the ground before or after eating? Although this behavior seems to be weird it is actually perfectly normal and quite instinctual – there is nothing kitty can do about it, they just do it in a completely absentminded manner – it is how they are programmed! If you want to know the answer to the question “why does my cat try to bury her food?” read on for the answers.
Caching is basically storing for later. Squirrels cache nuts, we might cache tinned food for use at a later date, and big cats cache meat. Some big cats make a kill and eat immediately but find there is just too much to go around in one sitting so they bury the kill for a feed at a later moment.
Not all big cats cache by burying the food underground though. Leopards have a tendency to cache their food up trees, safely out of reach of other predators and scavengers.
The reasoning for caching is simple – it is the act of storing for use later. Your cat might be getting fed just a little too much and be looking to store the remains for use later.
Lots of cats are territorial and territory without any prey is pretty much pointless. If your cat leaves a decomposing kill lying around for eating at a later date, the odor is going to scare off any prey animals that might inhabit the area.
For your little hunter, it makes good sense to bury her left overs for use at a later date to ensure the smell does not get around the area making the next hunt twice as difficult!
Of course, the additional benefit of hiding the smelly remains of a meal is that you don’t alert other predators that your territory is rich in prey or that there is a free meal to be had at your cat’s expense.
Does your cat scratch the floor after eating wet food but not dry food? This could be down to the extra odor of the wet food. Your cat could be acting instinctively to hide the smell and to avoid attracting competitors!
The Food Is Bad Or Not To Their Liking
There is a theory that cats will bury anything they don’t like – bad food, feces, etc. If your cat is scratching around the food bowl before eating or acting like they are trying to bury the food before eating, the chances are that they are telling you the food is no good in some way.
You might see this if you have suddenly changed the cats diet or if the food is off from being in storage too long, particularly with dry food which can get musty with age. Even small changes like a change of flavor from the same brand they usually eat, or wet food served up at the wrong temperature can kick off this type of covering behavior before they have eaten a mouthful. It is basically a polite way of turning their nose up at the food you are offering!
They Don’t Feel Good
Your cat might be off their food. They may be unwell. A subtle way of identifying this is whether they are scratching around and covering their food before eating.
Although they might find the food you have put out for them to be not to their liking, it could be just as likely that they have no appetite due to illness (or having eaten elsewhere!).
Appetite should return in a few hours if they are simply just not hungry – but if something is wrong they may act like they are covering their food for a longer period.
You might wonder why they would cover their food if they are not feeling well or have no appetite. At the end of the day they still don’t want to alert other predators to food or offer what amounts to an open invitation to enter/invade their territory to the competition.
Should I Let My Cat Bury Their Food?
If this is all pretty much natural and instinctive behavior shouldn’t we just let our cat bury food? Well, not really. If you do let your cat bury food you will never be able to monitor their intake and understand if they are being fed enough or too much. You might not be able to identify nutrition issues.
And then there is the problem of other animals – particularly rodents and insects. You are going to end up with a rodent and insect problem if you let your cat bury food. Although the smell of rotting food that is buried won’t travel so far on the wind there will still be an odor that will attract passing dogs, rats and eventually insects. Best to avoid issues by preventing this behaviour if possible!
There is the chance that having buried food the cat might be instinctively curious enough to dig it up for eating. Now, there is always a chance that this could end up with stomach complaints and the like if the food is too far gone. Save on vets bills by avoiding allowing this situation to happen where possible.
Stopping Obsessional Behavior
How might you stop this covering type of behavior? First up, identify when the behavior happens. Are they trying to cover before eating or after?
If they are covering before eating, identify any changes to the daily routine and food routine. Have you changed brands, are they eating elsewhere and are they ill? Are you free feeding and leaving food out all day – which your cat then thinks they need to cover every time they walk past the bowl?
Avoid free feeding and just feed at set meal times. This way you can build a routine and feed when they are hungry, avoid having food on show all day that might lead to obsessional covering behavior, and identify if they are genuinely off their food. You can also put more of a buffet out with various choices at mealtime that can help identify if your cat just finds some food repellant!
If they are eating fine but then looking to cover this is a far more straightforward issue to resolve. Again, be sure to reduce free feeding and go to a set mealtime routine.
If they are covering after eating, given this scenario, the chances are that you are putting too much food out. Simply reduce the meal size and create more mealtimes with small meals to ensure they are getting enough to eat throughout the day. Basically, don’t leave food hanging about after they have finished eating.
You could also try to distract the cat with play when they start pawing to break a cycle of habitual behavior.