This is what I would call a popular topic. It is not a serious subject but, that said, people are interested to find out why their cat uses his paw to eat and drink. It is not usual to see this. You would say it is quite rare, in fact. I have not seen answers to the question in books or on the internet. A reader of this short article may have seen something that makes better sense than me, but I will try and answer the question as I write this.
All domestic cat behavior stems from wild cat behavior although it can be substantially modified through domestication. There are only two ways that the domestic cat eats commercially manufactured food:
- By putting his face into it or rarely as questioned;
- putting his paw in the food and scooping a small amount up and licking it off his paw.
[There are other ways to eat food when the domestic cat catches prey such a bird (plucking the feathers if the bird is large) or a mouse; head first.]
The second way is safer than the first. It is a more cautious way to eat because the face is not trust into the food. It is akin to the way a domestic cat prods and pushes about a dying mouse that he has caught rather than kill it immediately with a killing-bite.
When a cat does this it can be as a precautionary measure to avoid being bitten by prey. Domestic cats are out of practice in respect of catching prey and sometimes play safe and use their paws to push and poke small rodents.
It would seem to me that picking up food in the paw is an extension of this instinctive behavior. It may happen more with cats who are less sure of themselves i.e. less confident.
There may also be a female cat element to this. Female farm cats may bring prey back to their den to play with it, but a better description is that she is killing prey in front her offspring to teach them.
Obviously supermarket cat food is not prey but it is a prey substitute. The instinctive behavior in some cats to use there paws and claws to handle “prey” in this way may originate in a cautious approach to dealing with prey and may have also developed into a way to test food in the same that prodding a mouse around is testing the prey for life.
Sometimes cats scoop up water in one of their paws and drink it off their paw. Often it is the left hand because although cats are either left or right-handed I think you will find that by a small margin the majority of domestic cats are left-handed. It appears to be an action that allows the cat to sample the water, to test it and taste it. It is a cautious approach to drinking and much less efficient than placing the tongue directly into the water.
As it is less efficient and slower there must be some other benefit as a trade off. I would suggest that the benefit is to play safe and test the water before indulging in full-blown drinking with the tongue.
Link to original photo.