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Why Do Cats Pretend to Bury Food After Eating? (Survey)

It is very common for a cat to go through the motions of burying the remains of his or her food after eating. They may do this whether or not there is any left in the bowl. Some may even go further and scrape up a mat or newspaper placed under the food so it covers the bowl. In the nineteenth century a cat belonging to the Rev J G Wood was reputed to pull a handkerchief from his mistresses pocket to cover leftover food, an act that no doubt would today, if recorded, be a wild internet sensation.

My cat sometimes makes a quick back-and-forth motion with his paw before he starts eating as though he is unburying food too.

Experts give two explanations for this behaviour. The first is that the cat is hiding the remains of the food so nobody else can eat it. This makes sense and it is known that wild relatives of the domestic cat such as the Scottish Wild Cat do bury their food sometimes. Mostly however, small cats eat all their prey in one sitting, since a mouse or bird can normally be consumed as a single meal.

 Why do cats bury food after eating

When it comes to larger cats that can kill much bigger prey the need to hide part of the carcass is relevant far more often. Leopards are regularly known to hide food up trees to stop it being eaten by other animals. Bobcats, pumas and cheetahs also hide food, sometimes covering it in leaves to stop it being seen.

There is another theory about this. This is the idea that a cat tries to bury the food because they think it’s poo, or at least no better. This is most obvious when a cat eats a little food, decides they dislike it and starts scratching away. They may often give you a sideways glance when they do this. My neighbour’s cat Samantha always does this when I feed her with dry food. She loves the soft food squeezed out of a foil container, but not the dry from a packet. When I relent and give her her favourite tuna flavoured jelly she immediately eats ravenously until every scrap has disappeared. Then she has a quick paw at the ground, perhaps in case any tiny morsel remains.

So which idea is right — is it tasty leftovers or some ghastly poo they are instinctively trying to bury? I think that most likely both these theories have some truth in them.

What I would like to know is whether your fur baby does this, and what you think the reason is.

To find out, you could try giving them slightly less to eat to see if they stop doing this when there are no leftovers.

Also, does your cat seem to be signalling to you that they would like some different kind of food? Do they have any idiosyncratic way to cover their food, other than simply pawing the ground?

Please let us all know in the comments below.

 

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42 comments

  1. My kitties seem to do this as though they are cleaning and / or burying their food….natural instincts. For example, if one of the cats throws up a furball…they might try to scratch around it as though they are trying to clean it or get rid of it by burying it.

  2. My now unhappily deceased cat Jelly used to do this. Also if she didn’t like the food she would toss it out of the bowl

  3. I have one cat, who after I brought in 2 more cats, started covering her food dish with a small blanket. I fed all the cats separately so I fed her on the bed on small blanket. She would drag the blanket across one way then across the other way. Sometimes she left food and sometimes she didn’t. Sometimes she piled the blanket up nearly a foot high!

  4. my cats dont do this but they do scratch at the floor before they drink thier water

  5. My one cat does this but I have no clue why.

  6. Out of my 10 cats, 4 Maine Coons regularly go through the motions of burying their food. This takes place when they have had their fill or even at an empty bowl which once contained some food. Bowls can travel quite some distance as they can be very vigorous in burying it! They will not use claws, but will go though the motions by ‘digging’ at walls, floors or mats in order to fulfill this need. Quite comical to watch but can be quite loud in the early hours whilst we try to sleep!

  7. I have 2 female cats that do this. One is 8yrs. old and the other is 12 weeks. sure seems as tho they are trying to clean up! They do the ‘cleaning’ around the dog’s food as well as their own,too.

  8. All of my cats have done this at one time or another even the smallest kittens. I always thought they were telling me what it tasted/smelled like.

  9. Well my cat sometimes covers his food with a rug or cloth,,,but on occasion he has also wound off some toilet roll ( which is above his tray in the bathroom ) and placed it neatly over his litter ,also he has used a J Cloth cleaning cloth to cover it both actions very neatly done as if placed there,,,yes I wish I could record it also,He also has a bath mat under his tray as he likes ti clean his feet after using the litter, real cool cat my Darcy, .

  10. MY female cat both covers and scratches around her food dish. I have never seen my tom cat do this. I really think she wants me to know that she does not like the food.

  11. One of my cats does this when he is about to take a drink out of the faucet!! What about that one!

  12. I have 1 out of 6 that does that. I always thank him for being the tidy one. haha He cleans all around the food dish when he is done eating.

  13. One of my cats scratches around food that he doesn’t want to eat. He also buries leftovers with anything he can find – socks, dishtowels, paper products, pretty much anything he can paw or carry in the direction of the plate. He doesn’t cover dry food though. Only wet. He also tries to bury hair balls and any potty accidents he might find. He’s quite the tattle tale. If I see him scratching around something that is not a food dish, I know somebody has made a mess.

  14. I adopted a pair of wonderful poly brothers from the Toronto Humane Society. Both exhibited this behaviour ,both when eating and especially drinking water. My theory was that because they had been surrendered as kittens, and had lived most of their lives (they were now over 2 years old) in a cage where there wasn’t much distance between their food/water bowls and the litter box, they were burying the smell. Felix scraped very elaborately when he drank,huge sweeping motions…he scraped a coffee carafe used for watering plants (his favourite drinking vessel) off the counter, smash!

  15. I know when I got my 5 week old kitten and had to hand feed her with a special formula due to lack of nutrition and dehydration. She was part of a rescue heading to Quebec City. This is the first time I had to hand feed the kitten and I eventually kept her after bringing her immediately to the vet. When she was 2 months old she started scratching at the floor to hide her food. In my case I believe it was that she was starving and she definitely wanted to keep the food for herself. I had a 2 year old female rescue. She did not have this habit. Of course, the little kitten I got she no longer does this because she realizes she is happy with her food and she knows her stomach is always full.

  16. My cat S.D. (S… Disturber) is quite vocal when he is not pleased with his food. If I attempt to feed him something he does not like he sniffs it gives it a lick (maybe) then turns around and seeks me out. He mumble meows while looking for me then hops up on the couch or whatever is available to be at eye level with me and meows loudly in my face followed by head butts to my face. The more i ask him what’s wrong the louder he talks and butts me until I stand up and head for the kitchen. He happily romps ahead and sits in the kitchen waiting for something more to his liking. My spoiled little brat gotta love our furbrats.

  17. Hi, my cat does scratch the floor after she has smelt the food as if to say it doesn’t smell very nice then she decides to eat it. She also does this to milk then drinks it really not sure why she does it. I have worked out though to give her little and often which she prefers. I seem to have a very fussy cat.

  18. I have to agree with the “Poo” theory. I have 7 cats and the only time they have ever scratched at their food, trying to cover it up like they do in a litter box, is when it is a flavor of cat food they don’t like….they won’t eat it either. It doesn’t happen often but when it does, it’s funny to watch them do it :)

  19. Is it because they are used to tearing up a prey?

  20. My 12 year old male house cat does this, and has done it all his life. Normally he’ll ‘bury’ the food when it’s a flavour or brand that he doesn’t want, bowls have travelled right across the room, and sometimes have been upturned. On occasion though, when he’s finished on his litter tray, he’ll make his way straight to the food to ‘bury’ that too, and then 2 minutes later will eat the food anyway.

  21. I always thought it was that they don’t like the food or smell

  22. Monique Damphousse

    Out of our 5 cats, one out of the two females does it sometimes, and 2 out of the 3 males have done it. The Maine Coon never does it though. We can’t understand why they do the burying thing because the 3 who do it only try to bury their plates once they’ve eaten everything on them. I always thought it was strange and I doubt we’ll ever be able to understand why. LOL

  23. My cats do this…I just figure that they were marking territory so that the other cats/kittens would leave there food alone. (I have two cats and kittens I am fostering). Now does anyone have a cat that picks up there food with their paws and eat it? On of my fosters, Sahara, does that. It is like she is a racoon. I keep expecting to see her dip the food in water and suspect that she has when I’m not looking. Sometime the water fountain is real gross looking. I’ve taken to cleaning the fountain daily. I really think Sahara maybe part racoon.

    • I adopted two six year old males in August. They both scratch their food dish area, usually after eating. Sometimes tipping the food over. One of them (the smaller guy) picks up individual pieces of food and eats them with his paw. Sometimes he picks them out of his dish and drops them on the floor and eats them. The weirdest thing I see is he will paw his water dish, and drink it with his paw for a while before bending down and drinking normally.

  24. My cat did this to his dinner I think he thought it poo,he also did it to my plate which naughty boy was up on the side,so guess he thinks I eat poo .Lovely moggy lol

  25. One of my current two cats scratches as if to bury her food after she has eaten, and I think it is a burying food for later action. First cat I have ever had that does this.

  26. Our family cat, Cola, usually does do a sweeping motion with both his dry and wet food, but usually gives up as soon as he gets started. Cola also will not eat any crumbs off the floor which he may spill out of his mouth while he is chewing! Why is this

  27. My cat Spice is nearly 4 and has always done this, she will eat then scratch the floor, wall, curtain, bookcase whatever is there, and does this for ages sometimes, she will also scratch the floor, wall or curtain after using the litter tray for ages too, food is on the other side of the room and nowhere near her litter tray!

  28. Charlie (Half Persian) has done this since he was small, we think it’s to hide his food after he eats what he wants. He has the best brands and loves it. He never eats it all at once, but goes back in stages. If he doesn’t like something, he will sniff it, them immediately, frantically cover it up and will not eat until we replace it with something more to his liking, forget people saying ‘oh he will eat, leave it there ’till he does’ he won’t. He’s happy with his current brand and it’s healthy for him, we change the flavour now and again for variety. He also has dried food, intermittently, which he also covers up.

  29. I found this article hoping for a definitive answer, but like all questions “Why does my cat do this?” questions… it is clear no one really knows for sure!
    My Spooky is the only one of my 4 cats who does this and he does it to the point of not only trying to cover up his own, but the food of my other 3 cats as well, sometimes while they are still trying to eat! He sometimes scrapes all the bowls and plastic mats out into the middle of the room, but always after he has eaten his fill, so I tend to think maybe it is because he is trying to save it for a later date. I never considered that but he was a stray I picked up when he was only about 12 weeks old so he would come from a wildness background where that may be necessary.
    Although I have always taken it as dissatisfaction with the food by other cats I have had through the years that did it (but not to the extreme of Spooky), the burying for later theory makes more sense. I don’t think it is because he thinks its poo or doesn’t like it because he usually eats his fill first, and because if he or any of the other cats throw up a furball, he doesn’t do it.

  30. my two and half kitten does pretend like burying her dry food or wet food after finishing her meal. And she never eats it after sometime. even if I keep it to check for a while. and when I throw it and fill it new it eats and does the same. it eats a lot and doesn’t seem like it doesnt like the taste. maybe it wants to eat fresh meals. so I give it new food each time.

  31. My 3 yr old cat never did this untill my brother and his kids stayed with me for 2 weeks. Then she did it every time i fed her. She would eat all or most of her food so i dont think its dissatisfaction with it. She was probably being territorial cause of strangers in the house. Now if i can just figure out why she drops toys in her water dish!

  32. Yes, it Could be any of these , causing them to do this , I think when they actually take it to the kitty litter box and bury it , we will then know for sure which is the correct reason for this behavior , until then We will just have to speculate ……

  33. My Maine Coon Kitten tries to cover the food bowl, almost turning the bowl over. I think he copy catted this from an older cat who used to be wild and will do this occasionally. I yell every time he does this, hoping for negative reinforcement to cancel this behavior. Unfortunately, he now scratches loudly around the bowl when he is ticked at me for not letting him out. Yesterday after being told “N0″, he went, scratched the food bowl, then jumped on the end table that he knows he is not allowed on and tried to stare me down. I have never had a cat who went to such depths to let me know he disagrees with me, and is so expressive about it. Needless to say I am being trained not to yell when he scratches over the food bowl….and he is leaning that yowling around the house when he does not get his way, won’t work either.

  34. Working in cats shelters, the cats let you know what foods they prefer. Generally denotes a dislike as several cats with the same food did burying action. Taken away and offer a different food, no burying. They do the same action at their litter trays. That I think, speaks for itself!

  35. My cat loves wet food and eats it up purring (she doesn’t do this for her dry food). However, she does not like the “pate” variety which is thick and stuck together like Spam. My husband accidentally bought some. I’ve been hiding little chunks of it in her regular wet food. Today she scraped around the wet food to bury it when it was half eaten. A few minutes later she came back and finished it and then fake buried it again. I figure she is telling me that she does not prefer this. I probably ruined her meal. It’s like mommy hiding peas inside of mashed potatoes thinking they will trick a child. When my cat buries her food plate, I think it is like a child making a yuck face.

  36. My female cat does this after she eats and is full. It is her favorite moist food. She never does it with her dry food. She always comes back later to finish it. Before I got her, she had to share food with her sister’s and brother’s and her Mom. Maybe she thinks she is burying it so nobody gets it. Why? I have no clue as she is my only cat so there is no one who would get her food.

  37. I have a very young kitten who has been doing this, which surprised me since I thought of it as an adult ‘spoiled’ behavior. She started doing ad soon as I started to transition her and her brother to wet food, at 3.5 weeks old. The mama cat is feral and has never done it, not once, so it’s not learned behavior.
    I think it’s part of a larger autonomous need that they have to mask or diffuse smells. I have indoor/outdoor cats, and most of them engage in rolling in the sand that collects around my carport and walkway, particularly Drago, who is the only pet cat that I have who wasn’t born in my house and was born scavenging for food, so he has always displayed very wild and self-preserving characteristics. He rolls in the sand every day and then continues on his way, covered head to do with silver!

    Could the two be related to the same self-preservation instinct?

  38. Our Oreo has buried her food from the day we brought her home from the shelter. She was 4 months old when we brought her home and is now just over a year old. She’ll eat the wet food we give her and bury her food (she swipes her paw back and forth on the counter even though there is no food left in her bowl). She’ll also bury my wine. LOL! We’re not sure why she does it. Maybe all the competition she hd at the shelter for food? Just instinct? Maybe she doesn’t like the smell of my wine? We’re not sure but it’s cute and she is well fed! :)

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