Does your cat try and hide food?

Your cat tries to hide his food and you are trying to figure out why.

I have never seen this behavior in my cats but it does happen. You might see your cat or kitten paw at the ground near the food bowl, usually, after he has eaten. This would be an instinctive desire to bury or hide the food to protect it from other predators; a hard-wired instinct inherited from the domestic cat’s wildcat ancestor. Your cat is trying to drag earth or leaves over the food bowl.

To some cat caretakers it can give the impression that their cat does not like the food and is trying to bury it to get rid of it. This is not the case.

Cat burying his food or bring prey back to the food

Cat burying his food or bringing prey back to the food. Photo by liberalmind1012

One wild cat species that is well know for this behavior is the cougar (mountain lion or puma). This cat buries prey under leaves, snow or other available movable objects. I can remember a story of a person who slept outside and woke up to find himself buried under a pile of leaves. A cougar had treated him as a potential meal and buried him while he slept with the intention of coming back for breakfast! He woke up first. Note: cougars don’t eat people.

A kitten or cat might make an attempt to bury food even if he is a full-time indoor cat. It makes no difference whether there is any chance of a predator stealing the food or if the food is regularly supplied by the owner.

That said, I wonder if this behavior is more likely to occur in households where there may be competition for the food from several cats. It may also happen more often when a cat is stressed or insecure but that is a guess.

Apparently cats have been known to drag an object, such as a towel, over the food to hide it. A variation on this is for a domestic cat to bring an object that he has played with back to the food or water bowl and drop it in or nearby. The toy is prey and the cat is bringing prey back to his den or secure place. The nearest a domestic cat gets to this is the position of his food and water. In the picture there are lots of toys in and around the food. This can looks as if he is trying to hide the food. The cat’s caretaker believed he was trying to bury it because he did not like it.

Personally, I have not seen this behavior either. It is individualistic cat behavior. I would expect it to be quite unusual. A similar form of cat behavior is pawing at water or shiny surfaces.

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Does your cat try and hide food? — 21 Comments

  1. My cats all do this. They do it after eating as if to save the rest for later, hidden. I often find objects in their food. But 2 of my cats are fully fledged nest builders so this seems small by comparison.

  2. Our Jozef almost always covers his food when he’s eaten enough and we’ve always thought it was because of his feral ancestry as Walter never does it. If Walter leaves any of his dinner Jozef covers his up too.
    He will use anything handy, mats, shoes, toys, a scratching board lol
    So now we try to remember to leave him a square of kitchen roll handy, we call it his tarpaulin and he happily uses that. We go through quite a lot of kitchen rolls lol but it’s worth it to keep him happy 🙂

  3. I wondered for a bit why Monty doesn’t do this. He was feral after all. I quickly figured it out. He never leaves any food. There is no food to hide. It’s all in his belly.

    • That is a very neat answer and it must be true. The large wild cats kill large prey and can’t eat the whole carcass in one go so are obliged to hide the remains. You must be rationing Monty (feeding him in a controlled way).

        • It’s amazing that our Walter doesn’t cover his food because he was undernourished before we rescued him, he was anaemic and had a heart murmur because of a poor diet. It makes us feel good that he trusts us enough to know we will never ever let him go hungry again or maybe he knows that Jozef will cover his food for him.
          Ours have an eternal supply too like Charlie.
          Jozef always puts a thank you butty on the hand giving him his saucer of food but Walter never does. I wonder how many cats do that and why some do and some don’t, do it?
          Cats completely fascinate me.

            • Jozef is very confident with us, he’s a cat who knows what he wants and he gets it too lol but he doesn’t like many other people. If a stranger comes he sits on my foot to protect me.
              Walter is quite reserved in that he sits back and waits, where Jozef demands instant service.
              Walt sometimes tries to bully Jo just like people do when they feel inferior, but he soon backs off if he retaliates. They really are a couple of characters, never a dull moment for us 🙂

              • Thanks for responding, Ruth. Walt is reserved and doesn’t do much head butting etc. That makes sense to me. His bursts of bullying Jo may show that he feels a bit frustrated in not having the confidence to be himself. I might be anthropomorphizing him but I sense that. He may resent Jo’s outgoing personality. Perhaps Jo gets more attention because he is more outgoing. I don’t know. If so might that cause the bullying? Wild guesses.

                As you say:

                just like people do when they feel inferior,

                That sums it up better than my ramble.

              • Oh no, Jozef doesn’t get more attention than Walter, we make sure of that. He does spend more time upstairs than Jo does as he likes to have his daytime snoozes on Barbara’s bed where as Jo mostly lies on the couch for his daytime snooze, but we pop up and see Walter and if he’s awake he gets a fuss made of him.
                I think he does feel inferior to Jo because of his bad start in life, cats never forget do they! Jo is more confident and a better hunter too so maybe Walt bullies to make himself feel better.
                It’s sad we can’t take away the past if a cat has been badly treated, he came from a horrible home while Jo came from a happy houseful of cats and kittens, but they are both very happy cats who enjoy their life and are much loved.

                • Nice comment. Sums it up, really. Thanks Ruth. I guess the point I was making was that outgoing, confident cats are more likely to instigate interaction with their human caretaker and because of that he/she may get more time with a human than a more reserved cat. You make sure both get a lot of time despite this possibility. Great.

              • Yes you are right of course Michael, a quiet shy cat can get overlooked if a more confident one lives in the same family. I suppose it’s like the children of a family, parents need to make sure that each child has the same love and attention so the shy ones don’t feel left out.
                Walter is always happy to have our attention, we don’t force it on him.
                Also when they are both outside he clocks in more than Jozef does, as if reassuring himself home is still here,
                Really cats natures are very like peoples I think, with the same emotions and anxieties etc and that’s not surprising because their brains are very similar to ours.
                It’s sad when some people say ‘they are ONLY cats’ and don’t think cats have emotions and feelings because I’m sure they do.

  4. Monty will attempt to put it all in his belly whether it will all fit or not. Sometimes this causes barfing, sometimes it just causes him to go into a food coma and sleep it off. I try to very carefully control his portions.

    • I guess you are saying he gobbles it all up because of his feral cat days. This is one reason why you control feeding. He’d get fat otherwise.

      • He already is fat. I just try to keep the situation from getting any worse! At eleven pounds the vet said, “This is ok, but no bigger!” He actually hit twelve pounds at one point. He and I were snacking our way through each day. He loved it. I put a stop to it. He lost the weight, I didn’t.

  5. Several feral cats in my colonies cover remaining food completely with dirt and return later, uncover, and eat even though there is still dirt on it.

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