Why Do Cats Carry Their Food Away from Their Bowls

Why Do Cats Carry Their Food Away from Their Bowls?

Cats are curious creatures in lots of ways and some of their most peculiar behavior is related to their eating and drinking habits. Does your cat scoop water from its bowl and lick it from its paw? Does your cat scoop its food from its bowl with its paw to eat it? Some cats prefer to eat their food from the floor next to their bowl, while others carry it across the room or further before eating it. Some appear as though they are trying to bury it and others just play with it as though it’s a toy! What does all of this strange behavior mean?

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Instinctive Behaviors

The cats we share our homes with now have a pretty easy life, with regular meals provided by their humans. But the instincts they have inherited from their wild ancestors haven’t disappeared and many of the behaviors we observe in our domestic pets have been passed down through generations of cats. There are several reasons why our cats may carry their food away from their bowls and they are all deeply ingrained, instinctive behaviors.

Protecting Their Catch from Rivals

Our cats don’t usually have to work too hard for their meals but for their wild ancestors, things weren’t always quite so easy. Our cat’s ancestors had to spend a lot of time and energy catching their prey and once they had caught a tasty meal they didn’t want to give it up in a hurry! Our cats will instinctively remove their food to a safe place where it can’t be stolen by another cat or other rival animal.

Cats Carry Their Food Away from Their Bowls

Protecting Their Food from Littermates

The instinct to protect their food kicks in even before cats are catching their own prey. If you have ever observed a cat nursing a litter you will know that kittens can become very competitive to get to their mother’s milk, with kittens scrambling all over each other. This behavior is instinctive from birth and stays with a cat throughout its lifetime.

Saving Their Catch for Later

If your cat looks as though she is trying to bury the food, it may be that she is not hungry right now but wants to save the food for later. Burying it in the ground is a good way of keeping it hidden from her rivals.

Protecting Themselves

Our cats’ wild ancestors would also have been prey themselves to larger carnivores. For this reason, they would often have taken their food away somewhere else to keep themselves safe while eating to avoid being eaten by another, larger predator!

Eating with Their Paws

In the wild, our cats’ ancestors would have used their paws to catch and hold on to prey. It may be that cats take their food out of their bowls with their paws because they have an instinctive desire to use their paws to eat.

Eating Away from Water

Cat behavior experts have observed that in the wild cats do not like their food to be near a water source. Cats are naturally very clean animals and are very sensitive to things that taste or smell spoiled and water can be easily contaminated. Our domestic cats will often instinctively carry their food away from their water bowl for the same reasons.

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Wrong Shape of Bowl

If the cat’s food bowl is too deep and narrow, the cat may be more likely to remove the food from the bowl with its paws to avoid touching the sides of the bowl with its sensitive whiskers which most cats find unpleasant. A shallow, wide food bowl is better for cats.

cats eating together

Seeking Protection from Humans

If the cat brings its food to a human, it may be seeking protection from the head of its pride!

Is Carrying Food Away a Problem?

Most of the time, this perfectly natural, instinctive behavior is no problem at all – apart from some an unwanted mess on your floor! However, if you have multiple cats in your household you may need to make some adjustments to your feeding regime to avoid any fighting. Even if your cats appear to be getting along well, they may still feel uncomfortable eating their meals side by side. In the wild, cats are solitary hunters and naturally very protective of their food and it would be unusual for them to eat a meal so close to another cat. There are a few ways that you can help cats in a multi-cat household to eat their meals in peace.

  • Ensure each cat has its own bowl.
  • Place each bowl in the same place for every meal.
  • Space the bowls far enough apart so that they don’t feel threatened. Sometimes, this may even have to be in a completely different room.
  • Observe your cats closely while they are feeding and if you notice any aggressive behavior or any of the cats start to carry their food away, move their bowls further apart or to another room.
  • If you leave food out for your cats to nibble on throughout the day, set up multiple feeding stations around your home so that your cats can each feed without crossing another cat’s path.
  • Food-dispensing toys may help your cat to feel more relaxed at meal times as it encourages more natural behaviors. However, be cautious using food-dispensing toys in multi-cat households for the reasons above.

In summary, carrying food away from the food bowl is a perfectly natural, instinctive behavior for cats as a result of thousands of years of evolution. Carrying food away from the bowl happens for many reasons and shouldn’t cause any problems for your cat. However, if you have multiple cats in your household you may wish to make some adjustments to your feeding regime to ensure that your cats feel relaxed and comfortable at mealtimes and to limit any aggression between your feline friends.


  1. Dr. Marty Becker DVM, Why Does My Cat… Eat Away From His Bowl?, Vetstreet

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