A lot has been written about why domestic cats paw around their food bowl. I expect that, by now, people know the reason why but for the sake of clarity I’ll restate it. In my experience, cats do this when they either don’t like the food that they’ve been given or they have finished eating and have left some in their bowl. They are therefore, burying the remaining food. They do it for two possible reasons. Firstly, it is to bury “prey” to protect it from other predators which allows them to return to it the next day to finish their meal. Remember, that wild cats are able to eat rotten flesh and do so frequently. Tigers eat maggot infested flesh without a pause.
Secondly, it is said that cats bury their prey to avoid attracting predators which would threaten their survival. This domestic cat behaviour is, therefore, inherited from their North African wildcat ancestor which self-domesticated themselves around 10,000 or more years ago in the Eastern Mediterranean.
We accept this feline behaviour and see it quite often and think nothing of it. However I’d like to reflect on this useless or redundant behavior. The domestic cat is pawing at a hard surface, usually the kitchen floor which is often tiled. There is no possibility, obviously, of burying their food. But cats ignore this deficiency in the process. They think they are burying their food even though it is plain to see that it is not happening. It is instinctive and carried out without rational thought.
You would have thought that once domestic cats realise that they are failing to bury their food that they would stop and modify their behaviour. You would have thought that over 10,000 years of domestication they would have evolved a different form of behaviour which didn’t waste time or effort. But apparently not.
This tells me that domestic cats are driven to irrational behaviour by their inherited wild cat instincts. It begs the question whether domestic cats can think rationally. I am not being critical of our cat companions but realistic and observant. Domestic cats have very many advanced behavioural characteristics such as emotions and feelings with the power to form close relationships with other species including humans. But as this hardwired instinctive behaviour overrides rationality we should remind ourselves to be cautious about anthropomorphising our beloved cat companions. They are not little, fluffy human members of our family but top predators a cat’s whisker away from their wild ancestor’s behavioural traits.