Cats have strong personalities and like to do things their way, even when it comes to how they treat their food. Sometimes, a cat might decide to cover their food as a way of hiding it. But why would they do this? There are four common reasons to consider.
The 4 Reasons Cats Cover Their Food
1. They’re Saving the Food for Later
Instinctually, cats never want to let any food go to waste. If your cat doesn’t have unlimited access to food, they may try to cover and hide any leftovers after a meal in case they don’t get another meal anytime soon. Even if they are fed at the same time every day and they know that there is always more food to come, they still might feel the need to cover a few bites of food to save for later.
The covering of the food is meant to help hide it from others that might want to make a snack out of it. Outdoors, covering the food would help keep it fresher, as the sun would make it rot quickly. While indoor cats don’t have to worry about that with their commercial food inside the house, they still feel the need to preserve any food that they want to save for later. Experts refer to this behavior as “food caching.” Dogs are better known for this behavior (burying a bone), but the practice is somewhat common in cats, especially those that live both indoors and outside.
2. They’re Trying to Clean Up After Themselves
If your cat is like most, they like to keep their living space clean and tidy. They groom themselves regularly, and they turn up their noses at dirty litter boxes. Most cats also have a desire to “get rid of” old food before it rots and starts stinking. The instinct to do this is similar to the instinct to cover up poop in the litter box.
If a cat in the wild were to allow food to rot, it would attract other animals that could be predatory, and the cat’s life would be endangered. The rotting food could also cause illness, which cats always try to avoid. So, if there is leftover food in their bowl or dropped on the ground and you haven’t picked it up promptly, your kitty might try to clean it up by covering it.
If you manage a multi-cat household and one of your pets decides to cover their food, they may be doing so to avoid having to share with others. Whether there is a threat of their food being taken by another cat or not, their perception of risk is all that’s necessary for their hiding instincts to kick in.
This behavior might be temporary when a new cat enters the household for the first time, or it could be ongoing if other cats in the household eat more quickly. Some cats start hiding food right away to ensure that they’ll be able to finish it when all the other cats are done eating. Others wait until they’re full and decide whether to hide it based on what’s left and how long they can expect to wait before they are offered more food from you.
4. They Simply Don’t Like the Food
If you switch to a new type of food and you notice that your cat has started to cover it up and hide it, it could be because they don’t like the food and don’t want to have to smell and look at it. Try going back to the old food or sampling another option to see if that fixes the problem.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Many people have questions about their cats covering their food, so we sought to answer the most common ones.
Is It Normal for a Cat to Only Cover Food Occasionally?
The consistency in which your cat covers their food will depend on the reason that they are doing it and whether they create a habit out of it. If covering their food doesn’t become a habit and your cat is fed at scheduled times each day, there is a chance that the behavior is only occasional.
Is It Safe for Cats to Eat Food That They’ve Been Covering Up?
It depends on how long that food has been covered up. Commercial dry food can last for days, if not weeks, before getting moldy and rotting. So, your cat will likely eat it before the food becomes dangerous. Still, it’s always a good idea to double-check when you find your cat eating food that they’ve covered up, just to make sure it’s still in good shape. To be on the safe side, your best bet is to replace the covered food with fresh food.
How Can This Behavior Be Stopped?
You may be able to control your cat’s food-covering behavior by limiting the amount of food that you give them at mealtimes and immediately picking up the food afterward. The longer that food is allowed to linger, the greater chance that your kitty comes back and tries to cover it up. If your cat starts covering their food right away and doesn’t seem to be eating it, you may need to contact your veterinarian for advice.
There are a few different reasons that a cat might be covering their food, so the trick is to figure out the reason that your specific cat does it. Only by doing so can you work to put a stop to the behavior if that’s what you want to do. Keep in mind that if it doesn’t bother you and is not a risk to your cat, there is no reason to stop the behavior.
Featured Image Credit: Nils Jacobi, Shutterstock