Cats have strange habits surrounding food. Chief among these inexplicable actions is burying and hiding meals or snacks. Felines meow to announce hunger, then your cat covers or buries the food.
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 this from happening.
- 1 Why Do Cats Cover Uneaten Food?
- 2 Is My Cat Saving Their Leftover Food for Later?
- 3 My Cat Eats Their Food Then Scratches Their Bowl
- 4 My Cat Buries Their Food Without Eating
- 5 My Cat Eats Some of Their Food and Buries the Rest
- 6 My Cat Asks for Food Then Buries it
- 7 How to Stop a Cat from Burying Food
Why Do Cats Cover Uneaten Food?
When a cat covers their food, they are removing traces of their presence. It’s the same feline logic that compels them to bury their waste in cat litter.
They are masking any smell, ensuring that there is no trace of their presence. Cats consider this to be important for three reasons:
- They are afraid that another, aggressive feline will attempt to claim their territory.
- They do not want potential prey, such as rodents, to be alert to their presence. This will make hunting very difficult.
- They do not want a larger predator to know that they are around, compromising their safety.
Is My Cat Saving Their 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, they’ll periodically return for a further snack.
Bear this in mind if your cat likes to bury food and treats around the house. They won’t remember, and go and eat it in an hour or two.
The food will decay and rot, eventually starting to smell pretty rank. 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 Their Food Then Scratches Their Bowl
Your cat’s appetite is driven by their sense of smell. If their bowl still smells like food, they’ll assume there’s still some in there.
If your cat eats then scratches their bowl, the smell is confusing them. They are 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 their bowl as soon as they’ve finished eating. Give the bowl a thorough wash using dish soap, removing any trace of food scents.
My Cat Buries Their Food Without Eating
If your cat takes one sniff of their food and buries it, they’re not interested. There are three possible reasons for this behavior:
1) Your Cat Has Gone Off Their Food
If your cat is just fussy, trying to make their meal more appealing. As per Preventative Vet, some ways of attempting this include:
- Drizzling the juice of tinned tuna over the food
- Moistening the food with a little chicken stock
- Warming the food up a little in the microwave. We do mean a little here, though. You’re trying to release the scent of the meat, not burn your cat’s mouth
- 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. 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) Your Cat is Eating Elsewhere
If your cat is eating at a neighbor’s home, it’s a tricky situation to deal with. It’s possible that your cat is eating wild prey, of course. The average cat will need to eat a lot of mice to satisfy their appetite, though. What’s more likely is that they have a second home, and are being fed there.
If you know where your cat is going, speak to the occupant. Cats are master manipulators. It’s entirely possible that they are tricking people into thinking that they’re stray for a feed.
Explain that your cat eats at home, and that they’re 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 them 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, however, your cat will adapt. Just ensure that your pet has enough entertainment. If they can’t amuse themselves outside, cats must feel like home is the place to be.
3) Your Cat is Unwell
If your cat isn’t eating, they may be under the weather.
This could be dental pain makes eating difficult, which is common in felines. If your cat has got toothache, eating will aggravate this. 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, however. Your pet may be living with diabetes, liver disease, kidney problems or even cancer.
A cat that cannot eat for 24 hours must see a vet. If they’re covering their food, they won’t be eating food any time soon.
My Cat Eats Some of Their 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’s also possible that their food bowl bothers your cat. If the bowl is small, it may start to irritate and rub against their 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 thus not irritate whiskers. Also, a saucer will not hold too much food. A cat with a reduced appetite will find a stacked bowl a little intimidated.
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 they have 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 sparked by stress or anxiety. If your cat feels they are not getting enough attention, they’ll take action. No pet parent 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 its food – both brand and type
- 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 they start burying food, distract them with noise. Just be careful that your cat does not associate this negative connotation with food.
Watch your cat’s behavior surrounding 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, however, 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, however, you should seek help. If your cat isn’t eating, that’s far more concerning than what they do with the food.