Housecats are domesticated pets, yet their instincts can seem so primitive. Their behavior can be confusing and even baffling at times, but we must remember: cats are not dogs, and they certainly are not people, so it's no surprise that they show some strange quirks that defy explanation.
Cats live in groups and “prides” in the wild. They are, however, far more independent than dogs (which are basically pack animals that need a group of others to function). Housecats evolved from small wildcats and these ancestors quickly learned the benefits of human relationships. Humans also realized the importance of feline friendships, particularly in their talents for dispatching rodents. Eventually, charming wildlife became charming pets, and a new world began. Before long, we humans were attending to their every need, and cats had no further need to scramble for shelter or even hunt for their food.
And speaking of food…
What's Up with the Weird Cat Food Habits?
Cats do some very odd things when it comes to their dinner, and you've probably wondered what's behind all that strange behavior. Why does your kitty stare at you when you feed her, and then scoop the food out of the bowl with her paw to eat? Cats are known for sneaking away with their food to munch away, “dig” at the floor as if they were burying their dinner, or even batting their kibble around like it was a toy rather than a crucial source of nourishment.
Consider that you kitty's ancestors had to plot, plan, pursue, and pounce to get a meal. There was a lot that went into the question of “what's for dinner?” Well, those instincts are pretty strong, even scores of generations later. Kitty still may think paws are part of the protocol and use them to interact with her food. Also remember that even if there are no other pets in the area, your cat might think she has to remove the “kill” to her lair to consume it, lest SHE be consumed by another predator. On the other hand, as with my clutter of cats, removing food to a private area ensures a little privacy and discourages thievery. It limits the competition, particularly if there is a common bowl. As for the burying, your cat might be telling you she doesn't care for this flavor or she is full and needs to get rid of the evidence so a bigger hunter does not come along and find her den.
An interesting observation by behavior experts is that cats in the wild do not like their food to be near their water source. They will, in fact, drag their kill away from the water and avoid a water source that has been contaminated with the mess of a kill, feces, or other detritus. Cats are clean animals by nature and are especially sensitive to things that smell or taste spoiled. I wonder how many generations it took for them to figure out that sickness could be linked to fouled water. That's pretty smart, don't you think?
Why Cats Run off with Their Food
When kittens are still nursing, they usually learn where the best position is to get the most milk from Mama. It'd not uncommon for them to give their littermates a little push or shove to get the prime location and the most food. Once solid food is introduced, those instincts don't go away, so it's not unusual for kittens to grab the best food possible and run off to enjoy it in solitude. Simply separating pets at feeding time might ease pressure and give everyone some space for a more relaxed meal. This isn't the only possible explanation for this behavior, though. Maybe your cat does not like the type of bowl she has and would prefer a different type. Maybe she wants to have you near while she eats for protection or because you are the pride leader. Remember what I said about water sources? Your cat's preferences come into play here, too; my cats' water is in a separate room because that is how they seem to like it, and yours might too.(?)
Is My Cat Running off with Her Food a Big Deal?
Snatching food and taking it elsewhere to eat is not of great concern if you understand the reasons behind the behavior. I have a number of cats that never bother one another while eating. If you have cats who tend to scrap over food, you might try some of the above suggestions to modify the behavior. Cats are independent, and the expression that something is “as hard as herding cats” should tell you that you are not going to undo the primeval instincts that helped your kitty and their ancestors survive. When worse comes to worst, you might need to rethink feeding Kitty a nice smelly can of food on your good white carpet.
Observing the traces of the wild in your pet can become some of the most interesting times of your life with her, so learn and enjoy - cats really are treasures!