Why Do Cats Put Their Toys In Their Food And Water?

If you’re a cat owner, you’ve probably witnessed your furry friend dropping their toys into their food and water bowls. It could be a fluffy ball, a stuffed animal or even a feathered wand toy that they’ve been playing with all day. You may have wondered what the heck is going on in their little kitty brains, and why do cats put their toys in their food and water?

At first glance, it might seem like a bizarre and pointless act, but there’s actually a method to the madness. This behavior is deeply ingrained in cats’ DNA from their wild ancestors. Domesticated cats still have many of their hunting instincts intact, and burying prey in dirt or water is something that wild cats do.

You might notice your cat pretending to hunt down their toy prey before “killing” it with a swift pounce. Once they’ve vanquished the enemy (even if it’s just an innocent chew toy), they may drag it over to their food bowl and drop it in as if they were presenting you with the spoils of war.

So, why do cats put their toys in their food and water? Is it just an instinctual reflex or something more profound? In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into this curious behavior and explore all possible explanations behind it.

Cats’ Instinctive Protective Nature

If so, you may have wondered why they do this. As an expert on cats’ behavior, let me tell you that this is just one example of their instinctive protective nature.

Cats are known for being territorial creatures, and their possessions are no exception. By placing their toys in their food and water bowls, cats are marking these areas as their own and protecting their belongings from potential threats or intruders. This behavior stems from their natural hunting instincts, where they must protect their catch from other predators or scavengers.

But it’s not just a matter of protection. Cats may also be using this behavior to mark their territory. Their paws contain scent glands that they can use to leave their scent behind, claiming ownership over the area. By leaving their scent on their toys, they’re letting other cats know that this is their space.

It’s not limited to just toys either. Cats may place other objects such as socks or paper in their food and water bowls because they value these items and want to keep them safe.

Additionally, playing with wet or moist objects can be a fun sensory experience for cats. The smell of food or water on the toys might even make them more appealing to play with.

Understanding our cats’ instinctive behavior can help us create a safe and secure environment for them. It’s essential to respect their need for protection and allow them to mark their territory. As long as the behavior isn’t harmful, there’s no need to worry about it.

Hunting Instincts and Caching Behavior

As you watch your feline friend bring their toys to their food and water bowls, you may wonder what’s going on in their head. But fear not, this behavior is entirely normal for cats and is rooted in their hunting instincts and caching behavior.

Cats are natural-born hunters with a deep-seated drive to hunt and catch prey. Even though domesticated cats don’t need to hunt for their food, they still have a strong urge to do so. As a result, they exhibit various instinctual behaviors, including caching.

Caching behavior is a survival mechanism wild cats use to store food or objects for later use when prey is scarce. Domesticated cats display the same behavior by hiding or storing food, toys, or other objects in various places around the house.

So why do cats put their toys in their food and water bowls? One reason could be that they see their toys as prey and bring them to their “hunting ground” to relive the experience again. Another reason could be that cats are trying to protect their prized possessions from other animals or humans who might take them away. By placing their toys in their food or water bowl, they’re ensuring that they’re safe and secure.

As a cat owner, it’s vital to recognize and embrace this natural expression of your cat’s instinctual behavior. You can provide your cat with a variety of toys and hiding places to satisfy their hunting drive. Some ideas include interactive toys like wand toys or puzzle feeders that simulate the hunting experience and give your cat an outlet for their instincts.

Sensory Experiences with Wet Objects

It’s not just a playful act, but actually an exploration of sensory experiences with wet objects. Cats have an impressive sense of smell, and they use it to navigate and comprehend the world around them.

When cats put their toys in their food or water, they’re not just satisfying their curiosity, but also investigating the textures, smells, and tastes of these wet objects. It’s like a mini-science experiment for them. And let’s not forget the joy they get from feeling the sensation of wetness on their paws and fur. Who doesn’t love splashing in puddles on a rainy day?

But there’s more to this behavior than just scientific exploration. In the wild, cats bury their prey to protect it from predators or save it for later. By placing their toys in their food or water, they may be attempting to create a similar association between the two objects.

It’s important to keep in mind that not all cats exhibit this behavior. Some prefer dry toys or have no interest in exploring wet objects. However, for those that do, providing them with safe and appropriate opportunities to explore different sensory experiences can be enriching and stimulating.

Potential Dangers of Toys in Food and Water Bowls

Watching them bat around toys and pounce on imaginary prey can be endlessly entertaining. However, it’s essential to be aware of potential dangers associated with their playtime, particularly when it comes to their food and water bowls.

While it may seem harmless for your cat to toss their toys into their dishes, this behavior can pose several risks. Let’s explore some of the reasons why you should discourage your cat from putting toys in their food and water bowls.

Firstly, small or breakable toys can present a choking hazard to your curious cat. If they accidentally swallow a toy piece, it can cause blockages or internal injuries that require immediate medical attention. Keeping an eye on your cat’s playtime and removing any small or easily breakable toys can prevent this risk.

Secondly, if toys are not regularly cleaned or made of materials that can harbor bacteria, they can contaminate the food and water bowls. This type of contamination can lead to your cat falling ill or contracting infections such as salmonella or E.coli. Make sure to wash your cat’s toys frequently, especially if they have been playing outside or with other animals.

Lastly, some toys can contain harmful chemicals that can leach into the food and water over time. Plastic toys containing BPA or phthalates can cause hormonal imbalances and other health problems in cats. Opting for non-toxic, natural materials like cotton or wool can help mitigate this risk.

To ensure your cat’s safety and well-being, it’s crucial to keep an eye on their behavior during playtime and designate safe areas for play. You may also consider using puzzle feeders to provide mental stimulation while keeping their food and water separate from their toys.

Disrupting the Behavior with Positive Reinforcement

This behavior can lead to serious injuries, contamination, and choking hazards. Fortunately, there’s a solution that doesn’t involve punishment or scolding – positive reinforcement.

Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool that can disrupt unwanted behaviors by rewarding positive actions. Let’s explore some tips on how to use positive reinforcement to stop your cat from putting toys in their food and water bowls:

  • Offer treats or praise: When your cat interacts with its toys in the desired way, such as playing with them on a designated mat instead of dropping them in the bowl, offer a treat or verbal praise. This reinforces the positive behavior and encourages your cat to repeat it in the future.
  • Provide alternative toys or activities: Give your cat puzzle feeders or interactive toys that satisfy their need for play and stimulation. You can also rotate their existing toys to keep them interesting and engaging. By offering these alternatives, you can redirect your cat’s attention away from their food and water bowls.
  • Be patient and consistent: Positive reinforcement may take time to work effectively. Avoid punishing or scolding your cat for negative behaviors, as this can actually reinforce the undesired behavior by giving it attention. Instead, focus on rewarding positive behaviors consistently over time until they become habit.

It’s important to note that positive reinforcement should be used consistently and with patience. It may take time for your cat to learn new behaviors, but persistence pays off. It’s also crucial to avoid punishing or scolding your cat for negative behaviors as this will only reinforce the undesired behavior.

Redirecting the Behavior to an Appropriate Place

For instance, they often carry their toys around, and sometimes, they drop them in their food and water bowls. This can lead to dirty water and food, which can make cats sick. Redirecting this behavior to an appropriate place is crucial.

One solution to redirect a cat’s behavior is to provide them with a designated play area that is separate from their feeding area. This area should be easily accessible to the cat and filled with plenty of toys. By creating a separate play area, the cat will learn to differentiate between playtime and mealtime.

Another option is to incorporate puzzle feeders or treat dispensers into mealtime. These types of toys tap into the cat’s natural hunting instincts while also rewarding them with food. Using these toys during mealtime will decrease the likelihood of cats dropping their toys in their food and water bowls.

It’s important to note that redirecting a cat’s behavior takes time and patience. Consistency and positive reinforcement are key to successfully redirecting their behavior. Rewarding the cat when they play with their toys in the designated play area or interact with puzzle feeders is crucial.

Alternatives to Toys for Cats to Play With

Cats are natural hunters and playful creatures, but they can get bored with the same old toys. As a responsible cat owner, it’s important to provide your furry friend with stimulating alternatives to traditional toys, especially if they have the habit of putting their toys in their food and water bowls.

Here are some fascinating alternatives to toys for cats to play with:

  • Puzzle feeders: These toys dispense treats or kibble as your cat plays with them, providing both mental and physical stimulation. They come in various shapes and sizes, such as balls, cubes, and mazes. Puzzle feeders are an excellent way to encourage your cat to use their natural hunting instincts while also keeping them occupied.
  • Interactive toys: Cats love chasing after moving objects, so interactive toys that require human participation are perfect for providing playtime between cats and their owners. Examples of these types of toys include wand toys, laser pointers, and remote-controlled mice. This not only keeps your cat entertained but also strengthens the bond between you and your furry friend.
  • Catnip: Most cats love catnip. This herb contains a chemical called nepetalactone that stimulates pleasure centers in a cat’s brain, making them more playful and energetic. You can provide your cat with catnip-laced toys or sprinkle some dried catnip on a blanket or scratching post for them to play with.
  • DIY toys: If you’re feeling creative, there are numerous DIY options for cat toys that can be made at home using household items like cardboard boxes, paper bags, and even toilet paper rolls. Homemade toys can be just as effective in keeping cats entertained as store-bought ones.


In summary, the peculiar behavior of cats putting their toys in their food and water bowls is a fascinating insight into their natural instincts. This behavior is rooted in their protective nature, hunting instincts, and caching behavior. By marking their toys as their own and safeguarding them from potential threats or intruders, cats are simply following their innate instincts.

However, this seemingly harmless behavior can pose several risks to our feline friends. Choking hazards, contamination, and exposure to harmful chemicals are just a few of the dangers that can arise when cats mix playtime with mealtime. It’s essential to keep a close eye on your cat’s behavior during playtime and designate safe areas for play.

To prevent your cat from dropping toys in their food and water bowls, redirecting this behavior to an appropriate place such as a designated play area or incorporating puzzle feeders into mealtime can be helpful. Stimulating alternatives like interactive toys, catnip-laced toys or homemade DIY options can also provide hours of entertainment while satisfying your cat’s natural hunting instincts.

Understanding your cat’s instinctive behaviors can help you create a secure environment for them while strengthening the bond between you and your furry friend. Using positive reinforcement with patience and consistency is key to successfully redirecting undesired behaviors while rewarding positive actions.