Kitty has just enjoyed another tasty meal from his food dish. Inexplicably, he begins pawing at the floor around his bowl, trying to hide his leftovers. While it seems strange to you, it's perfectly natural and a throwback to Kitty's wild origins.
In the wild, a cat has some sort of lair. Whether it's a favored tree or a little cave, it's somewhere that belongs only to him. Since this would be place where he ate his meals, his food dish becomes his lair in the home. Other than just digging his paws around his food dish, he may also try and hide things there. Have you ever found a catnip mouse of sparkly ball floating in the water bowl? This wasn't an accident. Kitty will sometimes “hide” his prized possessions in his food or water bowl since it's the central hub of his territory.
If Kitty were still in the wild, he'd have to worry about potential predators. In your home he has no predators, and he doesn't have to hunt for a kill. However, his instincts still linger. When he furiously digs around his food dish, he's trying to cover his meal. His food sitting around is a clear sign to any potential predator that this is where Kitty lives. Covering it up will allow him to cover his tracks and keep himself safe.
Covering It Up
Your furry friend may not stop at just trying to dig on the floor. He may grab a stray towel or blanket and lay it on top of his food. You may think he's trying to protect it for later, like wrapping up the leftovers and sticking them in the fridge. However, Kitty doesn't think like that. In the wild, cats don't come back to a meal they've stored for several days. Instead, this is still him trying to be sneaky and not let predators know where he is. If you're feline pal has taken the time to physically cover his food rather than just pawing on the floor, he's just going the extra mile.
Stopping the Behavior
While the behavior is harmless, it could be annoying if he tears up your carpet or keeps pulling towels out of the laundry. The most effective way to stop the behavior is to take his food bowl away from him when he's done eating. If the bowl is gone, he won't have anything he needs to cover up. Only feed him enough for one meal at a time. If you free-feed, leaving a food bowl full of kibble out all the time, this will only encourage the behavior. As soon as you notice kitty starting the behavior, distract him. Tease him with his favorite feather toy or laser pointer. Getting his mind on play and off of food will help bring the behavior to a halt.