Why Do Cats Try to Cover Their Food?

Lisa Selvaggio
by Lisa Selvaggio

Has your cat ever pawed around her food dish, acting as though she wanted to cover the dish and whatever was in it, just like she’d move litter in her litter box? It turns out that this peculiar behavior is quite common amongst felines. But what’s it all about? Here are some of the reasons why a cat would try to cover her food.

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A Protective Instinct

A lot of your cat’s behaviors are instinctual, and covering food is one of many things that kitties just know they should do. Why is that?

According to experts, cats who fend for themselves in the wild will cover leftovers after eating. This is done to prevent other animals (predators, prey, and other cats) from being able to track them more easily. Basically, this step helps keep them safe from predators and competitors, as well as hidden from prey so they can continue hunting effectively.

Some experts also think that burying food allows cats to return to it and eat more of it later. But others disagree, stating that cats aren’t scavengers and, therefore, wouldn’t feel inclined to eat the same meal again.

Why Indoor Cats Try to Bury Their Food

You can’t read your cat’s mind. But, by considering the information above while observing your pet’s actions, you may be able to figure out where this behavior is coming from. Here are some examples:

  • Your sweet little indoor kitty doesn’t need to worry about scary predators finding her, nor does she need to be concerned with stealthily hunting down prey, so you’d assume there’s no reason for her to cover her meal. But, if you have more than one cat and they feel like they need to compete for food or protect their meal for any reason, one or more of them might attempt covering their leftovers.

  • If you tend to put too much food out for your cat and she isn’t able to finish it all, she might try to cover it so she can hide it or save it for later.

  • Take a look at what’s around the food bowl when your cat tries covering it. If pieces of food spilled out, it might be her adorable attempt at cleaning and hiding the mess and odor.

  • If your cat tries to cover food when you give her something new, it might be her way of saying, “Ick, this isn’t to my liking, take it away,” especially if she doesn’t eat any or only eats a tiny amount and doesn’t go back for more later. Bear in mind, too, that cats have a strong sense of smell. So, if your feline doesn’t like the smell of a food or she thinks that she needs to hide the odor, she might try covering it up. You might see her sniff the food and then try to cover it right away, without showing any interest in tasting it, and this might also be a clue that she doesn’t like it. However, many cats will try to cover their food even if they like it and have eaten some of it. Again, it goes back to that instinct to hide leftovers for protection, so the behavior doesn't always indicate that she’s dissatisfied.

What to Do If Your Cats Try to Cover Their Food  

Although odd, if your cat makes the motion to cover her food, it usually isn’t a problematic behavior – unless she’s grabbing objects and pulling them over the bowl, making a bigger mess.

To help ensure your cat won’t feel the need to cover her food, consider doing the following:

Change the Feeding and Cleanup Routine

Pick up your pet’s food bowl once she’s done eating and remove any pieces of food that fell on the floor so she won’t be inclined to cover anything up.


If there’s often a lot of leftover food, give your kitty smaller portions so she’ll eat enough without leaving too much behind. You might find that your cat does well by consuming several small meals throughout the day. 

If you live with more than one cat, make sure each one has her own space where she can eat in peace and won’t feel like she has to compete for food or conceal a meal to prevent another kitty from eating it.

Try an Automatic Feeder for Cats

Want a simpler way to feed the right portion of food at every meal, even when you aren’t home, so your kitty won’t have leftovers to bury? Consider an automatic feeder like the ones below.

Good for Multi-Cat Households: iPettie Automatic Stainless Steel Pet Feeder

This automatic cat feeder can be used to dispense the appropriate amount of dry food multiple times a day. It’s simple to set the feeding schedule, and you can even record a special message that will tell your pet when it’s mealtime. It also features an anti-clog design, and you have the option of using two bowls if you have more than one kitty. Plus, the stainless steel bowls and container are removable and dishwasher safe. And because it can run on batteries, you can set it up anywhere without having to plug it in. 

Good for Wet and Dry Food: Closer Pet Cat Mate C500 - 5 Meal Digital Automatic Feeder with Ice Packs for Cats and Small Dogs

This is a great option if you feed your kitty a combination of wet food and dry food and you want to take advantage of the benefits of an automatic feeder. It has five compartments for multiple meals, along with ice packs to keep the food fresh until it’s time for your cat to dig in. Just set the timer to feed your kitty several times throughout the day. It runs on batteries, so you can place it anywhere. And if you prefer feeding your cat from stainless steel bowls instead of plastic, you can buy the Cat Mate Stainless Steel Inserts x 5 for Five-Meal Automatic Pet Feeders.

Just Another Strange – but Normal – Feline Behavior

Generally, if your cat tries to cover or “bury” her food, it isn’t something that you need to be anxious about, and some basic changes to her routine and environment might help reduce or stop the behavior. However, if you notice that your pet is doing this and her appetite has changed or there are other behavioral changes or symptoms, it’s wise to talk to your veterinarian. 

Lisa Selvaggio
Lisa Selvaggio

Lisa Selvaggio is a freelance writer and editor, and our resident cats-pert, with certifications in pet nutrition and pet first aid. She enjoys producing content that helps people understand animals better so they can give their pets a safe and happy home.

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