Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Food Bowls? [7 Reasons]

Cats are fascinating animals that exhibit a wide range of behaviors, including pawing around their food bowls.

While this behavior can be annoying to some cat owners, there are several reasons why cats do it.

First, cats may paw around their food bowls to establish ownership, marking their territory with their scent glands.

Second, it could be an instinct from hunting and foraging, as cats mimic the motion of digging through leaves, dirt, and grass to find hidden foods.

Third, it is part of a natural grooming process, as cats use their paws to remove foreign objects or residue from their fur.

Fourth, cats bring in scents from the environment by pawing around their bowls, which enables them to identify what is in the bowl and whether or not it is something worth eating.

Finally, pawing around the food bowl may help with bonding and territory marking, as cats use pheromones to mark the area as theirs, establishing a boundary between them and other cats.

To prevent cats from scratching their food bowl, cat owners can place a feeding mat under the bowl, use non-skid bowls and mats, reinforce good behavior with treats, discourage bad behaviors with spicy or bitter sprays, and train cats to eat from their paws instead of scratching the bowl.

Let’s take a closer look at each of these five reasons why cats paw around their food bowls…


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1. Cats Paw Their Food to Establish Ownership

Cats paw around their food bowl as a way of marking their territory. Cats have scent glands in the bottoms of their paws, so when they paw at their food bowl, they are leaving behind a scent mark that helps let other animals know who “owns” the food.

This behavior also gives your cat a sense of security, as they know other animals won’t come close to their food bowl if it smells like them.

2. Instincts from Hunting and Foraging Drive the Behavior

One reason why cats paw around their food is that they are trying to bury it.

This instinct is rooted in their wild ancestry, where they would bury their food to hide it from other predators.

Domestic cats may not have the same predators to worry about, but the instinct to bury their food remains.

This behavior can also be a way of covering their scent to avoid attracting other animals to their food. More on this below.

Cats are natural hunters, and when they paw around their food bowl, it’s a behavior encoded in their DNA from the days of stalking their prey.

3. It’s Part of a Natural Grooming Process

Cats paw at their food bowls as part of a natural grooming process.

They use this pawing behavior to help remove foreign objects or residue from their fur, which can be caused by spilled kibble and other particles that accumulate in the bowl.

Kittens learn this process from their mothers, who will also often lick the kitten’s paws before they dig into the food bowl to teach them how to groom themselves properly.

Therefore, cats “pawing” around their food bowl is more than just an instinctual behavior; it is also a habitual gesture they may have learned while growing up.

4. To Bring in Scents from the Environment

Cats naturally possess the ability to explore the scents in their environment. This includes those found near their food bowls.

By pawing around their bowls, cats are able to pick up on any scents that may have been left behind from their previous mealtime adventures or when they brushed against objects such as furniture and other items in the area.

This allows them to better identify what’s in the bowl and decide whether or not it’s something worth eating.

5. It May Help with Bonding and Territory-Marking

Cats are known for marking their territories, and that includes the ground around their food bowls.

By pawing around their bowls, cats can use pheromones to mark the area as theirs. This serves two purposes it helps them bond with each other, and it establishes a boundary between them and other cats.

Establishing these boundaries helps cats feel safe and secure in their home.

6. Checking Consistency in Their Food

Another reason why cats paw around their food is that they are trying to check the consistency of the food.

Cats are very sensitive to texture, and pawing around their food allows them to assess the texture and consistency of their food.

They may also be trying to find the most palatable pieces of food or trying to separate any undesirable parts.

7. Expressing Frustration

Interestingly, recent studies have shown that cats may also paw around their food as a way of expressing frustration.

Cats are creatures of habit, and they can become frustrated when their routine is disrupted.

If their food bowl is moved or they are given a different type of food, they may paw around their food as a way of expressing their displeasure.

Why Do Cats Paw Around Their Food Bowls?

Understanding these behaviors can help cat owners better understand their feline companions and provide them with a more comfortable and stress-free environment.

5 Tips to Help Prevent Your Cat from Scratching Their Food Bowl

Cats may have a natural tendency to scratch their food bowls when eating, but this can make meals messy and difficult to clean.

To prevent your cat from scratching their food bowl, follow these five simple tips to create a more enjoyable mealtime for everyone.

1. Place a Feeding Mat Under the Bowl

Placing a feeding mat underneath the food bowl will help to catch any crumbs and pieces of kibble that get knocked out from your cat’s scratching.

It will also protect the surface underneath from possible spills, making clean up easier and faster.

Choose a rubber or silicone-based mat for maximum protection against spilled food and water.

2. Use Non-Skid Bowls and Mats

Non-skid mats or bowls are great to help keep your cat’s food in place.

The extra traction on the bottom helps keep the bowl from slipping and sliding as your cat eats.

Many types of non-skid mats also have a raised lip around the edge, helping to contain spills for easier clean-up.

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3. Reinforce Your Cat’s Good Behavior with Treats

Rewarding your cat for positive behavior is a great way to help reinforce those habits.

Give them treats or small pieces of their favorite food when they are not scratching their bowl or playing with it.

You may even be able to train them to paw at the bowl without actually touching their food! Over time, they can learn that there are other acceptable ways to enjoy mealtime.

4. Discourage Bad Behaviors with Spicy or Bitter Sprays

Spicy or bitter-tasting deterrent sprays can be an effective way to discourage cats from scratching the food bowls.

Sprays with ingredients like citronella and lemon can safely keep cats away, so they learn to associate their negative attitudes with the taste and smell these sprays can create.

Simply spray the bowl before meals to help deter them from scratching it during mealtime!

5. Train Your Cat to Eat from Their Paw Instead of Scratching the Bowl

Training cats to eat from their paws is an effective alternative to scratching the bowl.

Providing them with a designated area for pawing and licking food can also help prevent them from wanting to scratch.

Reward your cat when they start eating from their paw instead of the bowl, with either treats or petting in order to reinforce this behavior.

When cats understand that pawing is preferable to scratching the bowl, this will help establish beneficial mealtime habits in the long run.

Final Words on Why Cats Paw Around Their Food Bowls

Cats paw around their food bowl for several reasons, including marking territory, hunting and foraging instincts, natural grooming, bringing in scents, bonding and territory-marking.

To prevent cats from scratching their food bowls and making mealtime messy, some tips include using a feeding mat, non-skid bowls and mats, rewarding good behavior with treats, using spicy or bitter sprays to discourage bad behavior, and training cats to eat from their paw instead of scratching the bowl.

Additional resources:

  1. Why Do Cats Push Things Off Tables?” by Michael Moyer for Scientific American – This article explains that cats have a natural instinct to hunt and play with their prey, which can be expressed through their behavior with their food.
  2. Why Do Cats Knead?” by Cheryl Lock for PetMD – This article discusses how cats use their paws to knead, which is a natural behavior that can be related to nursing and feeling comfortable.
  3. Why Do Cats Scratch?” by RSPCA – This article explores the different reasons why cats scratch, including to mark territory and to stretch, which can also be related to their behavior with their food.
  4. Why Do Cats Paw at Their Water Bowls?” by Amy Shojai for Be Chewy – This article discusses how cats might paw at their water bowls as a way to drink, or to test the water’s temperature or level.
  5. Why Do Cats Play with Their Food?” by Cats.com – This article explains that cats might play with their food as a way to stimulate their natural hunting instincts, or because they are trying to find the “perfect” bite.

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