Cats have strange habits surrounding food. Chief among these actions is burying and hiding meals or snacks. Felines meow to announce hunger, and then your cat covers or buries the food.
It’s a survival instinct. Wild cats hunt and kill prey, eat their fill, and bury the remainder. Failure to do so announces their presence to other felines who may wish to claim their territory. In your pet’s mind, food served in a bowl is no different from a fresh kill. If she’s not hungry enough to finish her meal, she’ll hide the evidence.
Hiding and burying food is a common feline behavior. It’s usually harmless. If you’re keen to train your cat out of the habit, we’ll provide some advice and tips to discourage it.
Why Do Cats Cover Uneaten Food?
When a cat covers her food, she’s removing traces of her presence. It’s the same feline logic that compels her to bury waste in cat litter.
She is masking any smell, ensuring that there is no trace of her presence. Your cat considers this to be important for three reasons:
- She is afraid that another, aggressive feline will attempt to claim her territory.
- She doesn’t want potential prey, such as rodents, to be alert to her presence
- She doesn’t want a larger predator to know that she is around, compromising her safety.
Is My Cat Saving Her Leftover Food for Later?
Many animals bury their food, so they always have access to a meal later on. It doesn’t apply to felines, though. Cats are not scavengers and have no interest in eating food that is not fresh.
The only exception to this is a steady supply of dry food. Some pet owners serve wet food with a small bowl of kibble as an accompaniment. If that’s part of your cat’s routine, then she’ll periodically return for a further snack.
Bear this in mind if your cat likes to bury food and treats around the house. She won’t remember, and will eat something completely different in an hour or two.
The food will decay and rot, eventually starting to smell. This will be unpleasant for you and your cat. This may deter your pet from eating the same brand of food again.
My Cat Eats Her Food Then Scratches Their Bowl
Your cat’s appetite is driven by her sense of smell. If her bowl still smells like food, then she’ll assume there’s still some food in there.
If your cat eats then scratches her bowl, the smell is confusing her. She is desperately trying to bury food that isn’t there. It’s best to nip this in the bud before it becomes a habit.
Observe your cat, and scoop up her bowl as soon as she’s finished eating. Give the bowl a thorough wash using dish soap to get rid of any trace of food scents.
My Cat Buries Her Food Without Eating
If your cat takes one sniff of her food and buries it, then she’s not interested. There are three possible reasons for this behavior:
1) Gone Off Its Food
If your cat is just fussy, trying to make her meal more appealing. As per Preventative Vet, some ways of achieving this include:
- Drizzling the juice of tinned tuna over the food
- Moistening the food with chicken stock
- Warming the food in the microwave. You’re trying to release the scent of the meat.
- Adding a small amount of strong-smelling cheese to pique your pet’s interest
If all else fails, switch up your cat’s food of choice. Stick with wet food if that’s what your cat is used to eating. Drastically changing a cat’s diet without warning can cause stomach upsets.
If you must make the switch from wet to dry, or vice versa, do so slowly. Start with a ratio of 90:10 in favor of the familiar food. You can then steadily swop these allocations over two weeks.
2) Eating Elsewhere
If your cat is eating at a neighbor’s home, it’s a tricky situation that needs to be managed. It’s also possible that your cat is eating wild prey. The average cat will need many mice to satisfy her appetite, though. What’s more likely is that she has a second home and is being fed there.
If you know where your cat is going, speak to the occupant. Cats are master manipulators. It’s entirely possible that she is tricking people into thinking that she’s a stray.
Explain that your cat eats at home and that she’s at risk of gaining weight. You could always stretch the truth a little and claim that your pet has special dietary requirements.
If you don’t know where your cat is going, you may need to keep her indoors. This will be a challenge at first. Cats that are used to freedom can go a little stir-crazy when kept at home.
If you’re patient, your cat will adapt. Just ensure that your cat has enough entertainment. If she can’t amuse herself outside, she must feel like home is the place to be.
If your cat isn’t eating, she may be under the weather. This could be dental pain makes eating difficult, which is common in felines. If your cat has got a toothache, eating will further aggravate this problem. Signs that your cat has dental pain include:
- Regularly pawing at their mouth
- Bad breath
- Reluctance to groom
- Angry, red, and inflamed gums
- Loose teeth or exposed roots
- Aggression when touched around the mouth
Dental pain is not the only sickness that precludes a cat from eating. Your pet may have diabetes, liver disease, kidney problems, or cancer. A cat that cannot eat for 24 hours must see a vet.
My Cat Eats Some of Her Food and Buries the Rest
This suggests that your cat does not have as voracious an appetite as you thought. There is a chance that your cat is hunting or eating elsewhere. If this is the case, follow the advice previously laid out.
Alternatively, your cat may just be growing older. Senior cats are often less hungry as they burn less energy due to their sedentary lifestyle. In such a situation, change your cat’s eating habits.
Two or three smaller servings may be better than one large meal. As long as your cat receives sufficient nutrition and calories, it doesn’t matter how it happens.
Perhaps the food bowl bothers your cat. If the bowl is small, it may start to irritate and rub against her whiskers. This is a lot sorer than it sounds. If it continues, your cat will associate food with pain and become reluctant to eat much. In such an instance, change their bowl to something wider.
A saucer or small plate may be a useful alternative vessel. These will be flat and won’t irritate her whiskers. Also, a saucer will not hold too much food. A cat with a reduced appetite will find a stacked bowl a little intimidating.
My Cat Asks for Food Then Buries it
This denotes a mental issue than a physical ailment. Your cat is either trying to get your attention or has a psychological compulsion. In many respects, these are two sides of the same coin.
The latter is concerning. Cats can have OCD, which sees them engage in repetitive behaviors. Often, these serve no real benefit to the cat.
Feline OCD is usually caused by stress or anxiety. If your cat feels that she is not getting enough attention, she’ll take action. No pet owner will ignore a plea for food, and your cat knows this.
Meowing in that way will always get a reaction. Unfortunately, this can become frustrating when your cat rejects the food and asks for more. Every time you react by offering your cat food, you are reinforcing their behavior.
Speak to a vet if your cat displays signs of feline OCD. You may also need the advice of a behaviorist. You need to get to the root of your pet’s anxiety. The most likely explanation is something changing, such as a new arrival in the home. This may be another pet or a new baby.
Alternatively, they may have an inconsistent routine. Cats need to know that they will be fed and played with at particular times. They may be independent animals, but felines prefer consistency. If you establish a reliable pattern for your pet, their stress will be reduced.
How to Stop a Cat from Burying Food
If you want your cat to stop burying their food, follow these steps.
- Remove a food bowl when your cat stops eating, even if there’s still food in it
- Regularly wash and clean your cat’s food bowl to remove lingering food scents
- Ensure that your cat enjoys the brand and type of food
- Make sure that your cat is not filling up elsewhere. Keep them inside if necessary
- Try feeding your cat in smaller quantities, multiple times per day
- Get your cat into a regular, reliable routine. This includes food, play, and general attention
You could also distract your cat with corrective therapy. When she starts burying food, distract her with noise. Just be careful that your cat does not associate this negative connotation with food.
Watch your cat’s behavior surrounding the burying food carefully. It should be easy to put a stop to it using the advice that we’ve provided. If you’re unable to do so, it points to a larger problem.
Cats burying food is usually harmless, though. It’s a survival instinct, after all, and cats will always embrace these. What’s important is that you understand why your cat is doing it.
If your cat eats a little then buries the remainder, it’s arguably the best-case scenario. It’s just a sign that your cat would prefer several smaller meals.
If your cat shows no inclination to eat at all, you should seek help from a vet. If your cat isn’t eating, that’s far more concerning than what she does with the food.