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Why Do Cats Put Toys in Their Food Bowl? Behavior Explained

Written by: Keri-Beth Clur

Last Updated on February 7, 2024 by Catster Editorial Team

little red ginger striped kitten playing with duck toy

Why Do Cats Put Toys in Their Food Bowl? Behavior Explained


Dr. Amanda Charles Photo


Dr. Amanda Charles

BVSc GPCert (Derm) MRCVS (Veterinarian)

The information is current and up-to-date in accordance with the latest veterinarian research.

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Cats are curious, funny little creatures that sometimes do the strangest things. They can stare at nothing, hide in the oddest places, bring unwanted gifts to their owners, and place their toys in their bowls. If you’re curious about this last behavior, you’ve come to the right place, as we’ve got a couple of possible reasons for this behavior. Of course, we can’t know for sure why your cat is doing what they’re doing, but we certainly can speculate.

Your cat may be hiding their toys in their bowl as a “safe” place, collecting them in one place, playing with them, dropping them there for convenience, giving you a lesson on hunting, showing you affection, or simply because they enjoy the attention you give them when they do it. We’re going to discuss this behavior further below, so keep reading.

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The 7 Reasons Why Cats Put Toys in Their Food Bowl

1. Their Bowl Is Their Safe Place

Cats love their food bowls. It is one of the few things that are solely theirs, and it’s where they receive their food. Because of this, your cat may associate their food bowl with being a safe spot that belongs to them.

Cats don’t see their toys as toys; they see them as prey which they pounce on, chase after, and bite. In the wild, cats take their prey back to their nesting areas to safeguard them. In the same way, your cat might be taking their toys to their food bowl to keep them safe and away from the other pets in the home who might want to steal them.

Elevated cat bowl wooden stand stainless steel cat eating
Image Credit: Ripio, Shutterstock

2. Your Cat Is Collecting Toys

Some cats steal and hoard objects, and some are driven to collect items and place them in one spot. It can range from jewelry to hairbands and, in your cat’s case, their toys. Although some cats do this, it usually isn’t done with a future plan in mind but rather out of a natural instinct.

3. They’re Playing With Their Toys

Your cat may have dropped their toy in their food bowl and created a game out of it. Dropping their toy into their food bowl means that they’ll have to fish it out again, and the movement of their kibble and the mess it causes could be entertaining for them.

Your cat may have also brought their toy to their bowl temporarily so as to have a quick nibble before continuing their play. If they walked off and left their toy in their bowl, it could be because they changed their mind about continuing their playtime and got distracted by something else.

maine coon cat with toy in his mouth
Image Credit: Alena A, Shutterstock

4. It Could Be Convenient

There might be no reason why your cat has dropped their toy in their food bowl other than for convenience. If your cat was playing with their toy around their food bowl and decided to end playtime to enjoy their dinner, it’s likely they may have dropped their toy right where they need to use their mouth next—in the food bowl.

5. They Think You Need a Lesson in Hunting

Cats are natural hunters because they used to have to catch their own food in the wild to survive. Although this was before they became domesticated, they still have those natural instincts. Mother cats would catch prey and bring it back to their kittens so that they could practice catching prey in a safe environment. As the kittens watch what their mothers do and copy them, they develop the skill of hunting.

Your cat might be trying to do the same thing to you by dropping their toys in their food bowl. They see their toys as prey and may think their “safe” environment is a good place for you to give hunting a go.

cat biting his toy
Image Credit: SikorskiFotografie, Shutterstock

6. They Like the Attention It Gets Them

Cats love attention, even if it’s negative. If you were surprised the first time your cat left their toys in their food bowl and your cat got some type of attention through it, they’ll likely associate your response with their action. This may compel them to do it over and over again to receive the same attention they got the first time.

Like dogs, cats will repeat the behavior if they receive a reward after doing it, and a reward to your cat comes in the form of treats or praise.

7. They’re Showing You Affection

You may have heard that if a cat brings you a dead animal, it’s a sign of affection, or they’re bringing you a gift. Well, this is true for their toys, too. Your cat knows that you’re the one who tops up their food bowl every day, and they may bring a toy to that bowl, knowing that you’ll find it, to show you that they love and trust you.

If your cat didn’t trust you, they would keep their toys far away from any area that you frequent in an attempt to protect them. So, next time you find a toy in your cat’s bowl, appreciate the moment because it could be your cat’s way of showing you affection.

tabby cat carrying a toy in its mouth
Image Credit: Mary Swift, Shutterstock

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How You Respond Matters

When your cat leaves their toy in the food bowl, they might be watching you to see how you react. The way you respond to their behavior will either reinforce it or cause them to lose interest in doing it.

If you don’t mind your cat leaving their toys in their food bowl, there’s nothing wrong with thanking your cat for the gift they left you. Your excitement and attention will likely encourage them to repeat the behavior.

However, if you don’t enjoy cleaning up after your cat and having to wipe the food off their toys, ignore their behavior completely. Only once your cat has left the room, go ahead and clean everything up. Your cat will get the message that their action wasn’t reward-worthy, and they’ll likely lose interest in it. If they do it again, respond in the same way.

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Cats are known to do strange things that keep their owners guessing. If you have a cat that puts their toys in their food bowl, you’re not alone. Although experts don’t entirely know why cats do this, they have a few ideas.

Your cat might be doing this out of instinct as they see their food area as a safe place to bring their ‘prey’, they might even be trying to teach you how to hunt! They may simply be in the middle of a play session and drop the toy in the food bowl when they get peckish. Cats often repeat the behavior because they are showing you affection or enjoy the attention they receive when they do it.

Featured Image Credit: MarinaTr, Shutterstock

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