Categories: eating

Why do domestic cats sometimes use their paws to eat and drink?

If and when domestic cats use their paws to eat food or to drink water they do so in a very specific way. They scoop up the food such as dry food pellets or water from their bowl into their favoured paw and then take the paw to their mouth. Importantly, it is a scooping action. When domestic cats and kittens play they also use the same action (amongst other actions such as the “mouse-pounce” and the “bird-swat”). I would call the scooping action a “fish-scoop”.

Domestic cat (a Bengal) eating with their left paw. It is significant that this wild cat hybrid is using his paw because he has some wild cat genes in him. Video screenshot.

I hope that you immediately get the message namely that this scooping action is inherited from the domestic cat’s wild cat ancestor. As a reminder, the domestic cat was first domesticated up to a maximum of 14,500 years ago. The first domestic cats were domesticated North African wildcats (Asian-African wildcats).

These forerunners of the domestic cat (and they still exist, of course, in Africa and in the Middle East) sometimes scoop fish or amphibians from streams and the banks of water courses. I am not suggesting that fish are a mainstream prey item for the North African wildcat but they can be on the menu when circumstances allow. For example, in a survey in south-east Kazakhstan a small percentage of scats of the Asian-African wildcat contained the remains of fish.

To recap, domestic cats sometimes, perhaps quite rarely, use their paws to eat and to drink water because it is an inherited, wildcat trait carried forward over many thousands of years to the present. It appears to be employed even when they can get at their food without the need to scoop it up. This implies that it is a deeply embedded behavioural trait. It is done when they feel like it. I don’t see that they have to have a particular need to use the technique although when food is hard to get at there is a greater likelihood that it will be employed.

Please remember that sometimes videos disappear on this website because they are embedded from YouTube. Administrators at YouTube sometimes remove videos at source for one reason or another. I can’t control it and if this video had disappeared I apologise in advance.

Domestic cats appear to be ambidextrous. Although they favour one paw or the other. However, my experience tells me that there is a higher percentage of ambidextrous cats than there are ambidextrous humans. There are also more left-handed cats than left-handed people in my opinion.

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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