Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Food Bowls?

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I could write a book on the strange stuff my cat does, but when I switched her food from dry to wet recently, she started doing something really weird: She’d maneuver her way around her food dish, pawing the ground as she went. Her behavior was odd enough that it warranted investigation. What was she up to?

Though most seem to agree that my cat is trying to bury her food when she paws around her dish, opinions differ as to just why she wants to bury her food.

One theory is that my cat doesn’t just have a lion-sized attitude—she also shares some of her bigger relatives’ instinctual behavior. In the wild, big cats bury their food to save it for later, hide it from scavengers and throw other predators off the scent. So when my cat eats some of her food first, then begins to paw around the dish, she’s following an instinct that doesn’t make much sense for her circumstances (she is, after all, a house cat with little competition for her food) but is so deep-seated that she does it anyway.

And then there’s the theory for what she’s doing when she paws around her dish without eating any food first. In that case, she’s fulfilling that finicky cat stereotype, because what she’s telling me is that her food stinks—just like the stuff she buries in her litter box—and that she’d prefer something else, thanks.