Updated at: 04-03-2024 - By: Jane Brody

Cats, no matter how harmless and adorable they may be, are still indiscriminatory predators by nature. It’s not uncommon to find stray cats on the lookout for scraps among trash cans and whatnot.

However, what most feline owners find shocking is the possibility of their domestic cat participating in similar practices. Also known as scavenging, it is the act of feeding on the carcasses of other animals. Some domestic kittens and adult cats may not go that far – They may simply sneak away food materials scattered across the home.

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As of 2022, it was found that nearly 29% of American households owned at least one cat. As a proud cat owner, you want to be aware of strange yet common feline behaviors (that may be harmful). 

If you’ve ever caught your furry friend eating scraps out of rubbish or stealing food from the kitchen counter, it’s a problem that must be addressed at the earliest.

In this article, we will discuss pet nutrition from the scavenging viewpoint. Essentially, we will start with the reasons domestic cats scavenge, their dangers, and how feline parents can manage such behaviors.

Reasons Why Domestic Cats May Scavenge

It can be frustrating to discover that your pooch is scavenging (especially when you feed them high-quality cat food). Let’s look at some of the possible reasons behind this behavior in detail.


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As mentioned earlier, cats belong to a family of hunters or predators (being domesticated does not alter their nature). Hence, their scavenging may simply be an extension of their primal instincts (even if they’re being served regular meals). This is especially true of adult cats.

Seeking Attention

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Every cat owner is aware of their pet’s deep need to feel loved and cared for. Cats naturally want you to shower them with attention – body rubs, loving petting, regular playtime, etc. In case they feel they’re not receiving a steady supply of attention, your cat may participate in other behaviors.

These include scavenging as they may discover that stealing food gets them the attention they need. Even if it means you try to stop them, your pooch may interpret it as positive attention.


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This one may come across as a bit absurd. You just enjoyed some play time with your cat, fed them chicken fat and other nutritious items, and here they are, scavenging in trash cans two hours later. It could simply be a sign of boredom.

Just like humans, cats also like to experience a sense of purpose and keep themselves busy. If they’re not regularly stimulated, they may indulge in destructive behaviors, including hunting for scraps. Signs of boredom include excessive grooming, attention-seeking, increased vocalization, and overeating/lack of appetite.

Nutritional Needs

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If you frequently catch your cat stealing human food, it could be a sign of nutrient deficiency in their diet. Being obligate carnivores, cats must have meat as a part of their daily food intake. It may be in the form of pork liver, lamb meat, chicken fat or heart, and other organs.

In any case, a cat’s diet must include a healthy balance of carbohydrates, fats, amino acids, vitamins, and minerals. They also need variety to thrive, which makes wet cat food a highly favorable option.

Health Issues

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Though rare, a domesticated cat’s scavenging tendencies may point towards deeper health issues. These may include hyperthyroidism, diabetes, or digestive discomfort. If you suspect this is the case, get them checked by their vet immediately. Depending on the condition, the cat must be fed high-protein or high-fiber cat food.

Anxiety or Curiosity

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In some cases, your cat may simply be acting on their instincts of curiosity. The texture, appearance, and taste of human food may excite them. Otherwise, they could also be suffering from anxiety.

Some common signs of anxiety in cats include crouching defensively, meowing excessively, changes in appetite, and destructive behaviors (like scavenging).

Dangers of Such a Behavior

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In short, scavenging or hunting for scraps can become a feline health hazard. This is because it increases the chances of consuming anything that is not wholesome cat food. But we cannot completely ignore the cat’s background and history.

For instance – If the cat was previously a stray, it may continue to exhibit scavenging behaviors that helped it survive. This could be a sign of anxiety as to where their next meal would come from. As they adjust themselves and trust their owner for regular meals, such behaviors might stop.

In any case, scavenging threatens the cat’s digestive health. For instance – Cats love the chicken liver flavor (after cooking). Raw meat usually has a metallic flavor. Plus, cooking softens the organs enough to promote easier digestion. No scavenged meat can come close (even if it’s discarded cooked meat).

The strain on their digestive system can lead to inflammatory bowel disease, vomiting, or diarrhea. Furthermore, if they consume toxic human food items like onion or garlic, they may develop anemia or stomach upsets.

How Cat Owners Can Stop Their Pets from Scavenging

Now that we’ve discussed the common reasons behind domestic cat scavenging and its dangers, let’s see how pet parents can manage such destructive behaviors.

Feed a Highly Nutritious Diet Regularly

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The very first thing to ensure is that you always feed your cat a nutritious diet. To rule out any serious health conditions, take them for regular vet check-ups. In case of any abnormalities, your kitty must be fed a relevant prescription diet.

The food items included in such a diet are designed to manage or treat a specific condition. For example – Cats with digestive issues must feed on Hill’s i/d canned cat food, which improves digestive health and stool quality.

Being canned, it retains more water for proper hydration and flushing out of toxins. According to PetCareRx, what makes the formula digestive is the prebiotic fiber used for a healthy gut microbiome. Similarly, cats with skin issues must be given food specifically designed for skin sensitivities.

Besides wholesome cat food, divide the total daily intake into three fixed meal times (with two intervals for treats). This should prevent scavenging that results from nutrient deficiency.

Avoid the Practice of Treating Too Often

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Some feline parents try to prevent scavenging by treating their cats more often. They believe that more treats would instruct their pet to stop looking for food among scraps. However, it may have the opposite effect.

Cats are very intelligent creatures and may escalate destructive behaviors in hopes of a reward (treats). Now, we did mention previously that the pet nutrition schedule can include treats at most twice a day. The key is to establish a fixed time (and stick to it).

In case of scavenging, gently discourage your cat and ignore them afterwards. You can also redirect their attention to a designated food area or toys. However, do not double up on treats (as this will train your cat to continue negative behaviors).

Keep Food Items Out of Reach

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If your pet’s problem is that they just can’t keep their paws out of the kitchen counter, a reason may be open food. The minute your cat gets a whiff of chicken liver flavor (or anything similar), they will start their hunt.

Being extremely agile, cats can easily access tabletops and counters. So, you must ensure that all food items are stored out of reach. Use secure containers and refrigerator cabinets. Also, thoroughly clean any spills or crumbs that may tempt your pet to steal.

Finally, if your cat is engaging in scavenging due to boredom, curiosity, or lack of discipline, they need greater mental stimulation. Kittens and adult cats need at least two sessions of playtime daily. PetMD recommends an hour of playtime each day for adequate brain stimulation.

Moreover, the play sessions should be one-on-one as cats also desire their owner’s attention and care. This coupled with regular nutritious food should minimize and stop scavenger hunts. Even so, it is important to get an expert (veterinarian) opinion first.

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