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Why Does My Cat Scratch Around Their Food Bowl? 7 Likely Reasons

Jordyn Alger

By Jordyn Alger

A bowl of delicious dry cat food in cat paws

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Cats have plenty of odd habits that are hard for humans to understand. Many pet owners consider their cat’s quirkiness part of her charm, though occasionally, it can be something more profound.

Sometimes, a cat’s behavior can be her way of communicating that something is not right. If her behavior is abnormal or uncharacteristic, it could be a sign that she is responding to something undesirable in her environment. However, often it is not that serious. The tricky part is deciding when a cat’s behavior is troubling or merely entertaining.

When it comes to scratching around her food bowl, there are plenty of reasons your cat could be acting this way. It could be an instinct, an odd quirk, or an effort to communicate a need. If your cat has recently picked up this behavior and you want to know why, take a look at some of the possible reasons listed below.

The 7 Reasons Why a Cat Scratches Around Their Food Bowl

1. Hiding the Scent of the Food

One reason your cat may be scratching at or near her food bowl is that she is attempting to hide the scent of her food.

This is an instinctive behavior in cats, as they learn to hide their food from other predators. Cats would often hunt more than they wanted in one meal, so they buried the rest for protection purposes.  Domestic cats still attempt to do this since it is an ingrained behavior.

black and white cat eats liquid food from a plate
Image Credit: Elizabett, Shutterstock

2. Instinct to Protect Kittens

If your female cat has recently given birth to kittens, she may be scratching around her food due to a maternal instinct.

After a queen gives birth to her kittens, she will not only want to bury the food to hide the scent but to prevent predators from finding her kittens. If the scent of her dead prey attracted a predator to her kittens, her kittens could find themselves in danger. So, your cat may be scratching around her bowl as a residual maternal instinct.

3. Kneading the Floor

Is your cat scratching around her bowl, or does it look more like she is pressing her paws down against the floor? If the latter is the case, she might be kneading!

Kneading is when your cat presses her front paws down in a steady, rhythmic motion. This instinct is carried over from when she was a kitten and would knead at her mother to drink her mother’s milk.

It is a sign that your cat is pleased. Think about other times you may have seen her kneading: perhaps on a soft blanket or even on you. These moments she expects to be pleasant because she is about to settle down and cuddle. The same can be said for her meal. Maybe she’s kneading before, during, or after she eats, but regardless, she is showing that she is content.

cat claws when kneading
Image Credit: RJ22, Shutterstock

4. Cleaning the Space

Cats are very clean creatures. They self-groom and do not like to leave behind much of a mess. This habit transfers to a cat’s feeding habits, as she does not want to leave any trace of herself behind. This is due to instinct, compelling her to clean up any trace of herself so predators cannot find her.

If you catch your cat scratching around her bowl, she may be trying to clean up a mess. If some food has fallen out of her bowl, clean it so she can rest easily.

5. She has Too Much Food

Are you noticing that your cat leaves a lot of food leftover in her bowl after mealtime? Does she seem to finish only a portion of what you give her before scratching around her bowl?

You may be giving her too large of a portion. Her desire to hide the scent of her food is coming into play, and she cannot feel like she is adequately hiding it because there is so much left over.

So, the leftovers may be giving your cat a bit of stress. The best way to deal with this situation is to manage her portions, reevaluating how much you should give her at mealtime. Once you have the right amount, she will be able to enjoy her meals much more than before.

Bengal cat near food bowl
Image Credit: Svetlana Rey, Shutterstock

6. She Does Not Like the Food

Cats can be finicky. If you have recently changed your cat’s food, there is a chance that she doesn’t like it.
If your cat does not like her food, she may scratch around her bowl to show her displeasure, mimicking burying the food without eating it. If she does not want to eat any of it, it is vital to make a plan to gradually transition your cat to the new food. When cats are used to eating only one kind of food, sudden changes might not be accepted and can even cause them gastrointestinal distress. Mixing only 10% of the new food with 90% of the usual and replacing 10% more every few days is the way to go. After a couple of weeks, your cat will be fully transitioned to its new food.

7. She Is Making Herself Comfortable

Another possibility is that your beloved cat is just trying to eat in comfort.

When cats paw down at the ground, they aren’t always kneading. Sometimes, they are settling the area down to make it more comfortable for them to rest on. Your cat may be pawing around her food bowl because she wants to prep the area before she digs in.


As silly as some cat behavior may seem, in reality, it can be an excellent tool to understand our cat’s needs. Cat behavior is another form of communication. The sooner we, as cat owners, can understand that, the sooner we can figure out how to best serve our feline friends.

Featured Image Credit: Svetlana Rey, Shutterstock

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