If your kitty scratches at the floor around his food bowl or pushes something over the bowl to cover it, you might logically think he’s trying to tell you something. Maybe he is, and theories abound. But as with many behaviors of the ever-fascinating feline, the truth is a mystery.
When Kitty's wild cousins kill prey larger than themselves, they eat what they can and bury the rest, returning to it for their next meal. But it’s every cat for himself – bobcats who find a buried cache from another cat’s kill will help themselves to it. Your domestic darling might instinctively make digging motions in an attempt to hide his leftover food, even though no one is going to steal it.
In the wild, predator cats try to avoid attracting other predators or scavengers to their food by burying it to cover the scent. Covering the food also prevents potential prey from being tipped off that there are predators around who might be after them next. Many prey animals will avoid the scent of a dead animal because it tells them that a predator is in the area. By going through the motions of covering his food, your cat might just be acting out prudent predator behavior.
He Thinks It's Yucky
If you change your kitty’s diet and he suddenly begins to try to cover it, it could be his way of telling you he’s not happy with the change. Maybe he doesn’t like the taste of it, or maybe you dared change the location of the food bowl. Any of these things might trigger him to cover the offending food. Cats might also cover their food when they have no appetite because of illness, so make sure you check with your vet if your cat suddenly starts this behavior for no apparent reason.
If It's a Problem
It’s not unusual for cats to hide their food, but if it becomes an obsession for him, or if he’s taken to dragging your delicate sofa doilies to his food bowl, Cat Behavior Associates has a few tips: give him smaller portions so he doesn’t have leftovers, pick up the food bowl when he’s finished eating, distract him with play when he starts scratching at the floor, or place his food in puzzle feeders so he has to hunt for it.
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.