Q: Why does my cat put toys in his food bowls?
A: I think some cats feel their food area is a safe and secure place and therefore the right spot to store their toys. One of my long-term cat sitting charges, Pete, piles his toys in his water bowl and makes a complete mess when trying to get them out. His parents have learned to live with this behavior and now keep his water bowls in the bathtub! However, Pete’s storage system doesn’t always guarantee he will retrieve his toy. Sometimes when I arrive to care for him, all the water is out of the bowl and a soggy toy is still lodged in the dish.
Another question I get asked is why cats sometimes scratch around their food bowls. I have found that this is not unusual and think there might be two possible answers. One is that the cat is stating a clear opinion about the selection of its food, as in “no thanks.” The other is that, though it is a domesticated feline, there are times when the cat’s wild ancestry asserts itself. By eating some food and then scratching around the bowl afterward, the cat symbolically might be “burying” some food for later.
No one knows for sure why cats do this, but I do not think it signals a serious problem, unless your cat is not eating its food at all. If your cat shows any signs of distress or refuses to eat after a short time, make sure you take it to the vet. Meanwhile, when trying a new flavor or brand of food, I suggest slowly introducing the new food by mixing old and new in the bowl over the course of a few days until eventually only the new food is in the bowl.
As with many things relating to our feline friends, what might seem like strange behavior to us seems to make perfect sense to them, and they’re not telling us any differently — not yet anyway.