You often ask me, “Why is my cat digging the floor next to her its food? Is it a sign that something’s wrong?” Admittedly, this is one of our most bizarre behaviors of us cats in people’s eyes because there doesn’t seem to be any practical reason why the cat digs what can’t be dug (the floor) without being some other move indicative of the practicality of this behavior.
I, Chicho, am used to digging the floor next to the bowl with my food, especially when there’s a piece of paper under the bowl. But I’ve noted that I don’t dig when there’s no paper under the bowl. Usually, I do this before or after my meal.
First of all, let me tell you that this is an instinctive behavior that can’t be taught by the kittens’ mother (after all, I, Chicho, was only 10-days-old when they found me in the trash, and until then, I only nursed my mother). The intensity of this behavior ranges from very intense to subtle. Let’s see why this happens!
In the wild, (stray) cats often bury food waste (and feces) as a protective measure so that their enemies cannot easily detect them. Buried food doesn’t emit such a strong smell, and so hunters aren’t attracted.
For similar reasons, the cat mothers will do the same to prevent other cats from finding their children (more about the relationship of the cat mother with her young ones here). Similarly (for safety reasons), unneutered male cats, being invasive creatures, will spray their territory with urine to keep hunters away.
Such behaviors are observed in all cats of the world and are plausible.
But why do cats dig the floor inside the house, next to their food bowl?
1. To secure its food
One of the basic reasons is to hide and secure their food and probably later eat the leftovers! This greatly resembles the behavior of big cats, which hide and secure their food. The most capable of the large cats in this area is surely the leopard. It hides its food high in the trees to keep it away from hyenas and lions, while the North American Lynx covers its prey with everything it finds to conceal it from other animals.
Similarly, a cat will dig to hide its food, even if it has to dig through the kitchen floor tile. For greater realism, put some newspaper sheets under the bowl, and your cat might try to dig through them (they are easier to dig… better than the tile) and bring them over the bowl, trying to cover it as well as possible.
2. To cover its tracks
It’s also possible for the cat to dig, trying to hide food or other objects that it doesn’t like to cover its tracks. After all, the same applies to its bathroom routine when it buries its feces, eliminating its smells so that they’re not easily discovered by the skillful predators of the living room!
3. To tidy up its space
Many cats tend to sleep close to where they eat, and as good homemakers, they ought to dig and bury the food waste to clean up their personal space and enjoy their sleep afterward.
4. For cleaning purposes
Cats are the second most clean creatures in the world, and this behavior indicates their tendency to clean up. It’s very likely that when cats nervously dig next to or inside their bowl, they feel that this is not clean enough. Be sure to keep their bowl clean.
5. Because their bowl doesn’t suit them
Cat mustaches are particularly sensitive, and if the food bowl is not suitable, it constricts them, causing them a great deal of discomfort. If you see your cat digging in or around the bowl, it can indicate her discomfort for this unsuitable bowl you’ve chosen. Usually, shallow, oval-shaped bowls are more suitable for your cat!
6. To see the water
Cats don’t see well at close distances. It’s especially difficult to distinguish transparent water (read my article ‘Everything for the cat’s eyes’). That’s why it tries to dig into the water to create undulations that will allow it to see the water in its bowl.
It’s highly likely that some of the above behaviors don’t make much sense when talking about cats living in the house without threats and plenty of food, but this is exactly the definition of instinct. The cat is not consciously trying to achieve anything but rather automatically engages in behaviors that might save its life in nature.
My cat digs the floor next to its food – Should I be worried?
We need to make it clear that this instinctive behavior of the cat isn’t dangerous to her or you, so you don’t need to be concerned. All that may be at risk is your floor, your carpet, or various objects near the place where it digs. I guess you don’t appreciate the wear and tear of these objects. This brings us to the solutions.
How can I prevent my cat from digging?
If for some reason, you’re annoyed by your cat’s habitual digging, there are some things you can do:
- Place the food on hard surfaces away from objects that may be damaged or dragged to cover the bowl
- Stay with your cat while it eats and remove the bowl after finishing its meal. After all, if it’s liquid food, it’s good to take it away from your cat because it can spoil easily.
- If your cat starts digging, try to distract it with a game.
In any case, never punish your cat for this behavior because it’s a completely spontaneous, instinctive, and natural behavior, so punishment can only result in more problematic behavior and hinder your connection with your cat!
Finally, it should be noted that digging is different behavior from the cat’s paws.