How Do I Curb My Cat's Messy Eating Habits?

CatChannel expert Jeanne Adlon, professional cat sitter, shares her thoughts about cleaning up cat food areas.

Posted: December 10, 2010, 3 a.m. EST

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Q: My cat has messy eating habits. What can I do?

A: Some cats are messy eaters. One of my house call cats, Harvey, enjoys eating canned food with his paw, which is really messy. This cat dips his paw in the food bowl and licks off what he can. The rest of the wet food drops to the floor and stays there — I guess he doesn’t care to eat off the floor, and I don’t blame him. When finished, he meanders off leaving wet paw prints. Another kitty I care for, Harper, likes to scoop out her dry food on the floor. She eats what she wants and leaves the rest, knowing that when she returns all will be cleaned up.

As a cat sitter, I have seen all sorts of cat food behaviors. You cannot do much about this, but most are harmless as long as your cat eats and drinks properly. Some cats eat some of their food and then scratch around their dishes, which puzzles us. Some people think they scratch to state an opinion — as in “I don’t like this food.” Others think it’s a symbolic way of burying food for later. If your cat scratches and does not come back to finish his food, consider feeding him smaller amounts of food at a time. If that doesn’t work, he may be bored with the menu. Try changing brands or flavors. My cats don’t like chunky or shredded canned food. They just lick the gravy and leave the chunks, which is very wasteful. I switched to a pate-style (finely chopped) cat food which has been a big hit. I add a little warm water to make gravy and all my cats love it.

I have seen some cats drop their toys into their food bowls which might mean he thinks it’s safe to stash them there. Owners often dislike this, this particularly if the bowl has food in it.

Please use appropriate-size cat food bowls. A cat’s water bowl should be larger than his food bowl. I once had a client whose cat had a water bowl the size of a custard cup and a food bowl as big as a casserole dish. Make it the other way around and choose ceramic, stainless steel or porcelain bowls. Plastic dishes can develop scratches and attract bacteria. Please wash all bowls daily. As always I welcome your stories and comments.

See more articles by Jeanne Adlon>> 

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Reader Comments

Michael    International

1/6/2014 7:51:44 PM

Solutions, Please!!! I have read at eat 5 different sites about CATS messy eating habits yet none offer a solution. My cat likes to pick up pieces of can food in het mouth and drop them a few feet from her dish and sometimes she eats what she drops but usually there are pieces of cat food on the floor...

Melanie    Ottawa, ON

1/7/2011 9:05:43 AM

Too bad the article doesn't provide solutions to the question. My foster kittens nibble and let big chunks drop into the bowl, and the moms don't like the food after that. They also like to dump their lightweight toys (round pompoms) into the water bowl. That's fun, when you get home from work and find a drenched toy.

Shari    Binghamton, NY

1/6/2011 3:43:49 PM

I have found that different breeds of cats have different eating habits. My prissy Siamese were extremely neat never any food out of the dish. Now as for the Norwegian Forest cats yes they are for the most part messy eaters and I have seen all of the behaviors you have described, food on the floor, toys in the water dish, I even has one that washes his paws in his drinking fountain after he uses the litter box. All of them however do make an attempt to cover the food up after they are finished eating. This is actually a wild behavior as the big cats will cover their food not only to save it but to keep it out of the sun and heat and it also covers up the odor so other predators will not find it.

karen    cheektowaga, NY

12/16/2010 1:03:50 PM

Interesting !!! My cat's like to play in their water dishes too !!!

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