Categories: Cat Behaviorhunting

See the Wild Cat in Domestic Cat Eating Habits

The domestic cat shows us her wild side in her eating habits. When it comes to food the wild cat is there for all to see.

There are two behavioural traits that my cat Gabriel consistently performs (a) he tries to bury the food bowl if the food is not too his liking perhaps because he is full up and (b) he drags chunks of food from the bowl to about 6 inches from it and eats it there.

Burying Food

I should think people know the reason why domestic cats try and bury their food. Wild cats hides partially eaten food. The cougar comes to my mind. They cover carcasses with whatever is available such as leaves and return later to finish.

“Prey killed in the open is almost always dragged into some bush or dense thicket before the puma begins eating…Pumas that intend to return to a carcass sometimes cover the remains with leaves, grass, sand, snow or whatever is available….Many hunters and woodsmen have written of spending the night out in the forest wrapped in a blanket, only to awaken the next morning covered with a pile of leaves.” (Wild Cats Of The World by the Sunquists).

This excellent book does not refer to the food burying habits of the direct wild ancestor of the domestic cat: the North African wildcat but I am sure it happens. The puma is the outstanding proponent of this behaviour.

Dragging Food off the Bowl

Wild cats will drag their prey to a safe place where it can eaten without disturbance. Leopards take their prey into trees as we know.

I can refer to the magnificent puma again. Although relatively slightly built compared to the other large wild cats the puma is very strong and capable. Here is an example told by M.E. Musgrave of a puma in Arizona:

“A horse weighing eight or nine hundred pounds which a mountain lion has dragged twenty-five or thirty feet, as proven by tracks in the snow”

The reason for both these forms of cat behaviour is to preserve food to finish eating later and avoid the attention of other predators – both to enhance survival. This is hard-wired into all cats including the domestic cat. I don’t expect all domestic cats do this because it is unlearned through domestication. In fact, it may be unusual to exhibit both behaviors.

Perhaps Gabriel’s semi-feral background makes him more likely to do it.

Note: you can see I am free-feeding. I supply more than he needs. He does not overeat. If he did, I would ration. One of the wet foods I put down he has rejected so that bowl is dead. The dry food is for grazing at night. He sometimes prefers it to wet but rarely.

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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 71-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I have a girlfriend, Michelle. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare.

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  • My 11yr. old cat "Theo" shows her distaste by doing this scratching habit around her feed bowl; if she dislikes the smell ?
    Sometimes, she will do this after finishing her "special made for cats digestion" -cat milk.ps-cats do not digest regular milk easily.Pss-and NEVER give a cat any almond milk; because they are allergic to nuts .

    She will also scratch at a dish if she disapproves of where I've placed it !!!

  • My guess is that about 70% of the cats in my world cover or try to cover their food if they haven't finished it. But, there are only a few that aren't some degree of feral.

    Covering is most common with my colony ferals, but it also happens with a lot of the outdoor and indoor/outdoor ones. About 1/2 of my indoor cats try to cover although there is nothing to cover with unless they drag a kitchen towel down or (Oh, Lord!) pull the tablecloth off and use them. After most every feeding, there is a massive scratching of the kitchen floor going on. I have not much choice except to pick up all of the feeders.

    At least with the colony ferals, I believe that they cover mostly to hide and mask the smell of the food so it's not found and stolen.

    • Dee, it is interesting to add some percentages to this. Very useful. Thanks. Charlie never did it and I don't recall Binnie doing it. Too domesticated.

      Perhaps we can use this behaviour as a test as to how domesticated a cat is?

  • My 5 year old tomcat "Matata" displays all the predatory instincts of the "Big Wild Cats" including ferocity and territorial possessiveness.Sometimes i give him chicken bones to strengthen his teeth which he drags to his favourite corner in the house and munches quietly.Reminds me of the leopards that drag their "Kill" onto a tree or a safe place from other predators.

  • Interesting. Yes, I do think that cats bury their food because it's not at their liking at that time, and they may want to eat it later. However I don't think the eating outside of a bowl has got anything to do with the dragging off of prey. It's more that most foodbowls are not wide enough for the whiskers to fit. Cat's whiskers are very sensitive and the sensation of having to dig into a bowl may be disturbing during eating.
    Of course there will also be learning involved. If a cat once has learned that eating outside the bowl is more pleasurable, it will continue to do so.
    Just my 2 cents on this.

    • Osker, thanks for your 2 cents worth - it's worth more than 2 cents ;) . It is welcome. You could be right.

      I hope others comment so we can see what the consensus is.

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