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Cats exhibit many strange behaviors their pet parents can only hope to understand. However, some of these behaviors are more frustrating than others. For example, if your cat is flipping their food bowl, you might find kibble or wet food on your carpet or flooring, creating a huge mess. Of course, you clean it up and give your cat more food, only for them to do it again.

If your cat keeps knocking over their water bowl or flipping their food bowl, you might wonder why they're doing it. If you're asking yourself, "Why does my cat tip over their water bowl," or "Why does my cat flip their food bowl," you've come to the right place.

Ultimately, there are many different reasons why cats flip their food and water bowls, ranging from boredom to instinctual behavior and more. Let's discuss the most common reasons your cat flips their food bowl and what you can do about it.

Reasons cats flip their food bowls

Reasons Cats Flip Their Food Bowls

If you're wondering, "Why does my cat knock over their food bowl?" you might be disappointed to learn that there are many different reasons. It may be attention-seeking behavior or something much more concerning. Whatever the case, determining the cause for this behavior can help you find a solution that ensures your cat eats without making a mess.

Here are a few potential reasons why cats flip their food bowls:

Boredom

Cats may play with their food when they're bored because it's mentally stimulating. If your cat is bored, they may engage in destructive behaviors like flipping their food bowl or scratching furniture. Cats need regular enrichment to prevent boredom because it provides physical and mental stimulation.1 Luckily, you can turn mealtime into playtime by using an enrichment cat feeder that turns feeding time into a puzzle.

Enrichment can help prevent undesirable behavior, including aggression and destruction, because it gives your cat something to do throughout the day. Additionally, it can reduce attention-seeking behaviors, such as tipping over their food bowl. If your cat wants your attention, they'll do anything to get it, including making a mess, so you'll walk over and say something to them while cleaning it up.

Unfortunately, rewarding your cat with attention after they've tipped over their food bowl will only reinforce their behavior, teaching them that they'll get attention every time this occurs.

Territorial behavior

Some cats flip their food bowl to hide it from other animals in the household. If you catch your cat taking a mouthful and eating it elsewhere, it may be because they don't want to share it with another cat in the house. Cats are territorial, and like other pets, they may choose to guard their resources. If another cat regularly eats their food, they may flip their bowl and try to hide their food under it or take it to another room where they can eat in peace.

Medical issues

Unfortunately, if your cat is flipping their food and not eating, it could indicate a medical illness. Some cats experience a reduced appetite when they're not feeling well. Many health conditions can cause your cat to stop eating due to nausea or lack of appetite.2 If your cat is experiencing any other signs of illness, you should take them to the vet as soon as possible.

In addition to medical issues, your cat may be experiencing whisker fatigue due to the depth of their bowl. Whisker fatigue, also known as whisker stress, occurs when your cat's food or water bowl touches their whiskers, making it challenging for them to reach the bottom of the bowl.3 It's theorized that whisker fatigue can cause cats to dump their food bowls or refuse to eat.

However, a recent study of 40 cats demonstrated that while some preferred whisker-friendly dishes, there were no notable differences in eating patterns and behaviors between cats with a regular dish and those with a whisker-friendly dish.4

Instinctual behavior

If your cat is flipping their food bowl, it might be due to their instinctual, predatory behavior. Some cats like to play with their food like it's prey because that's what they'd do in the wild. While your domestic cat likely doesn't behave like a wild feline, they still have instincts that determine their behavior.

If you notice your cat sliding kibble across the floor, they might be hunting it. Luckily, this type of behavior can be beneficial because it provides them with physical and mental stimulation. Additionally, running after their food can help keep them at a healthy weight, improving their overall health.

Anxiety

Cat anxiety can make your pet exhibit strange behaviors as a way to self-soothe. For example, some cats may knock over their food bowl when stressed because they find it calming. Other cats may hide their food when anxious.

This can happen when there's a change in your cat's daily routine, such as a move or bringing home a new pet. Instead of feeling confident in their environment, your cat may flip their food out of frustration or hide it so another animal won't eat it.

Cat preferences

If your cat keeps knocking over their water bowl or flipping their food bowl, it might be because the food or water is no longer fresh. For example, if your cat's water has gone stale, they might flip it over in protest to get new water. Meanwhile, if their food has been sitting out and is no longer fresh, they might flip their bowl to tell you they need new food.

Like humans, cats can be picky. So while freshness might cause your cat to flip their food bowl, their behavior may be because they simply don't like the food. If your cat is knocking over their food bowl and/or playing with it and not eating, you might have to re-evaluate what you're feeding them.

Cats are obligate carnivores, so if you feed them anything other than cat food, they might tip over their food bowls because they're not interested in eating what you've provided. In this case, you must learn how to feed a cat to ensure your feline friend gets all the essential nutrients they need to stay healthy and happy.

How To Stop Your Cat From Flipping Their Food Bowl

There are several possible answers to the questions, "why does my cat tip over their water bowl," and "why does my cat flip their food bowl." Unfortunately, it might take trial and error to determine the cause. However, identifying the root cause is the best way to prevent the behavior in the future. Therefore, the first thing you should do whenever your cat exhibits a new or strange behavior is consult your vet to rule out any medical conditions.

Remember, cats may flip their food bowl because they're nauseous or not hungry due to an underlying illness. Treating the illness should solve behavioral issues that it causes. For example, once your cat gets their appetite back, they'll be less likely to flip their bowl.

Once a medical illness is ruled out, you should try to determine if your cat is experiencing anxiety or stress. First, consider any changes they've had in their daily routine. You can prevent this behavior if it's caused by stress by feeding them at the same time every day to help them understand what to expect.

Ways to stop your cat from flipping their food bowl

As long as your cat eats their food and drinks water, flipping over their bowls isn't considered a serious concern. However, it can be frustrating and inconvenient for pet parents. There are several things you can do at home to prevent this behavior, such as:

  • Use a different bowl. If your cat is experiencing whisker fatigue, try using a shallow bowl and see if they prefer it. Additionally, you can invest in heavier bowls that can't be flipped and experiment with different dishes to see what your cat likes best.
  • Change their food. If your cat is flipping their food bowl and not eating and medical illnesses have been ruled out, consider changing their food. Cats can be picky eaters, so if you've recently given them new kibble or wet food, they may not like it.
  • Provide access to fresh water. If you're wondering, "Why does my cat tip over their water bowl?" it might be because the water is no longer fresh. If the water becomes stale, your cat might prefer a fresh bowl and flipping it over is the only way for them to get your attention. Similarly, if your cat is flipping their water bowl, you might try investing in a pet fountain for cats to ensure they have access to fresh water at all times.
  • Make time for enrichment. Since cats may flip their food bowl to play with their food, it may indicate that your cat needs more enrichment. Providing your cat with lots of daily play may help prevent this behavior.
  • Separate cats during feeding. Cats can be territorial over their food. If you have more than one cat in the household, separating them during feeding times is usually best to prevent stress and ensure both cats are eating well.

Cat Flipping Food Bowl: FAQs

Should I see a vet if my cat is flipping their food bowl?

If your cat is flipping their bowl, it can indicate a medical or behavioral issue. It's important to visit your vet if your cat experiences any odd behaviors, especially if it's accompanied by signs of illness, such as a lack of appetite. For example, if your cat is flipping his food bowl and not eating, it may indicate an underlying health concern.

Consult a vet if your cat is flipping their food bowl

Is it okay to let my cat tip their food bowl?

This is a personal choice. If your cat tips their food bowl and plays with their food, it can be inconvenient and signal that your cat doesn't like their bowl or food, is experiencing stress, or is bored. In most cases, your cat tipping their food bowl can be remedied by determining the root cause and finding ways to prevent the behavior.

Will my kitten outgrow flipping their food bowl?

Kittens are playful, so if they're flipping their food bowl and eventually eating their food, they might be playing with their kibble like it's prey. However, it can also indicate issues with the bowl. For example, if the bowl is too tall, your kitten might flip it over to make eating easier.

Final Notes

There are many possible reasons why your cat is flipping their food bowl. However, you should pay close attention to whether they eat their spilled food. For example, if your cat isn't eating food after tipping their bowl, it can indicate an underlying health issue or anxiety. Meanwhile, if your cat tips their bowl and plays with their food, they might need more stimulation throughout the day.

Discovering the root cause of your cat's behavior can help you prevent them from spilling food and water on the floor. Talk to a Dutch vet today to learn more about your cat concerns and solve common behavioral issues.

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References

  1. Jefferis, Liz. "Mental Stimulation for Cats." Baypath Humane Society of Hopkinton, 6 Mar. 2021, https://baypathhumane.org/mental-stimulation-for-cats/

  2. "International Cat Care." Encourage Your Cat to Eat | International Cat Care, 30 May 2022, https://icatcare.org/advice/how-to-encourage-your-cat-to-eat/

  3. "Evaluation of Whisker Stress in Cats." EveryCat Health Foundation, 22 Dec. 2020, https://everycat.org/cat-health/evaluation-of-whisker-stress-in-cats/

  4. Slovak, Jennifer E, and Taylor E Foster. "Evaluation of Whisker Stress in Cats." Journal of Feline Medicine and Surgery, U.S. National Library of Medicine, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32538246/.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Who is Dutch?

Dutch is an online veterinary pet telehealth service, created by pet parents and board-certified veterinary specialists. We use a science-backed approach to provide pets relief for their everyday physical and behavioral health issues. Dutch connects you with licensed veterinarians over video chat and messaging to help you get care for your dog or cat quickly wherever you are — without the stress or expense of a vet visit. We also partner with pharmacies who can deliver prescription medication (in applicable states only) and over-the-counter treatments directly to your door. Dutch isn’t a veterinary practice or pharmacy, but a company that helps facilitate these services for pet parents to make veterinary care more accessible to all.

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When booking a video call with a vet, you'll be asked a few questions about your pet’s health issue. Depending on the issue, you may also be asked to fill out a longer questionnaire about their symptoms and share photographs of them so our veterinarians can better understand what’s going on. You’ll then pick an appointment time that works best for you.

During your video call, one of our licensed veterinarians will talk to you about the symptoms your pet is experiencing, ask you questions, review your pet’s medical history if you’ve provided it, and answer any questions you have. The vet will ask to see your pet and their environment. And they may ask you to perform some simple checks on them if needed.

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