Eating is the consumption of food for nourishment. For the domestic cat, this is normally some form of meat, either a commercially prepared diet in wet and/or dry form or a prey item such as a bird or small rodent. The process of eating consists of a number of stages:

To obtain food, a cat usually places its head over the source and lowers its head down towards it. The mouth is opened and the teeth and/or the tongue are used to transport the food into the mouth. For softer foods, the tongue is often used as it is covered in papillae (small backwards facing barb-like structures) onto which the food adheres.


Close up of tongue showing papillae

In addition, slight rolling of the tongue facilitates ingestion of food as shown in the following photograph where the cat is licking cream cheese from a finger.


Note rolling of tongue

Once the food has been transported into the mouth it will be chewed (see “chew food”). However, if the food item is sufficiently small and soft it may immediately be swallowed without chewing.

Saliva produced in salivary glands moistens and lubricates the food and aids in swallowing.

Finally the food is pushed to the back of the mouth by the tongue and is swallowed; in other words it passes from the mouth through the oesophagus to the stomach.

Cats most commonly eat crouched on all four paws

Eat direct from food source

See above. In the following photograph, a cat can be seen licking commercial cat food. The action of licking aids the transportation of the meat chunk from the bowl to the mouth. In addition, its crouched position and the lowering of the head brings the mouth closer to the food source.


Eating from a bowl

Both videos of cats eating chicken or commercial cat food demonstrate eating directly from a food source.

Eat from paw

Some cats will utilise the paw while eating. This involves placing the paw into the food source and extracting a piece of food using the paw and/or the claw(s). At this stage, some cats will place the food on the floor and eat from there. However, some cats will lift their paw to their mouth and eat directly from their paw as illustrated in the photograph below.


Eating chicken from a paw

Eating in close proximity (to another cat)

Two or more cats who are eating simultaneously and who are either in physical contact with one another or within one cat body length of one another (this definition is not scientifically validated but is one often used in behaviour research and has therefore been chosen by the authors for use throughout this site when describing close proximity).


Two cats eating from same food bowl


The double headed arrows illustrate that these cats are eating in close proximity as there is less than one body length between them