There are several answers to this question. Your cat may be dealing with an underlying health issue that’s affecting their hunger cues, or a cat overeating may be a sign of boredom. In any case, it’s important to get to the bottom of it so you can take the right steps to settle your cat’s hunger and make sure they’re feeling they’re best.
Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?
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Why Is My Cat Always Hungry? 8 Possible Reasons
Diabetes is a disease that interferes with your cat’s metabolism and blood sugar control. It prevents cats from using dietary glucose for energy due to a lack of insulin, or an inability to properly use insulin, according to Dr. Allison Mazepa, DVM, DACVIM, at BluePearl Specialty and Emergency Pet Hospital in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Insulin takes glucose (i.e., sugar) from the food your cat eats and brings it into the cells where it can be broken down into usable energy. Cats who lack insulin will be unable to use this energy. One of the classic signs of diabetes mellitus in cats is increased hunger. Increased thirst, increased urination and weight loss (despite excessive eating) are also common.
If you notice these collective symptoms in your cat, you should take your kitty to the vet for a check-up, especially if you have a middle-aged to senior cat.
Your vet will run a blood test and urinalysis, looking for signs of high blood sugar and excess glucose in the urine.
If your cat is diagnosed with diabetes, your vet will likely recommend a high-protein diet along with at-home insulin injections, according to Mazepa.
Hyperthyroidism is a disease in which your cat’s thyroid gland functions abnormally, resulting in the excessive release of thyroid hormone. This increased hormone production elevates your cat’s metabolic rate, according to Dr. Brad Hinsperger, DVM, director of Kingsdale Animal Hospital in Kitchener, Ontario.
That means that all the energy the cat is taking in through their diet is being burned through very quickly. And so, it’s extremely common for the cat to become very hungry and even start to lose weight because they can’t eat enough to keep up with those energy needs.
In addition to increased appetite, hyperthyroidism can cause the following other symptoms, per Dr. Hinsperger:
- Increased thirst and urination
- Weight loss
- Elevated heart rate
- Dry coat
To diagnose the disease, your veterinarian will likely start with a blood test that assesses the cat’s thyroid hormones and perform a physical exam. They may feel an enlargement of the thyroid or hear changes in heart rhythm, such as a heart murmur or arrhythmia.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism involves dietary changes, medication and possibly radiation therapy to address the thyroid gland’s hormone overproduction. Dr. Mazepa adds that Hill’s Prescription Diet y/d Thyroid Care cat food can help, too. This food is lower in iodine and typically results in a reduction in thyroid hormone after several months, she says.
3Inflammatory Bowel Disease
Intestinal problems can cause both decreased and increased appetite, but if your cat is hungry all the time, it may be a result of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), according to Dr. Hinsperger.
IBD is characterized by inflammation of the gastrointestinal tract. If the inflammation is severe, it can lead to malabsorption, which is the inability to properly absorb important nutrients.
To prevent a nutritional deficiency, your cat may instinctively try to overcompensate by eating more. If IBD is the cause, weight loss will often accompany increased appetite.
Diagnosis involves a thorough medical exam and blood test to check for low B12 concentration, along with an ultrasound or other imaging to look for evidence of intestinal thickening or enlarged lymph nodes.
Treatment depends on the cause but may involve diet changes and/or immunosuppressive medications like steroids, antibiotics and probiotics.
Along with the gastrointestinal tract, the pancreas secretes digestive enzymes to help digest food after a meal, Dr. Mazepa says. If a cat has a disease called exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI), the pancreas is unable to secrete those enzymes.
This results in maldigestion of food, which leads to increased hunger. Other signs of EPI include vomiting, severe diarrhea often with greasy stools, an unkempt haircoat and weight loss.
To test for EPI, your veterinarian will order a blood test called a TLI (trypsin-like immunoreactivity), according to Dr. Mazepa. If the TLI is low, then the diagnosis of EPI is made.
Treatment involves supplementing the cat’s food with powdered digestive enzymes with each meal for life.
Intestinal parasites can also make a cat hungry all the time, according to Dr. Danny Cox, DVM, Chief Veterinary Medical Officer of online pet care service Petzey. Certain parasites, like tapeworms, consume all the nutrients from your cat’s food, leaving the cat perpetually famished, he says.
If your cat has parasites, they may also have diarrhea and an unkempt coat and seem more irritable than usual.
To diagnose intestinal parasites, a veterinarian will test the cat’s stool to look for eggs and larvae. Treatment usually involves deworming medications.
The natural changes that happen with aging can make older cats hungry all the time, too. As animals get older, their ability to digest fat and protein decreases while their energy requirements increase. Typically, this happens at around age 13.
Fat provides twice as many calories in every gram as protein or carbohydrates. If your cat can no longer properly digest and absorb fat, it can result in a calorie deficit. This, in turn, may prompt your cat to start eating more in an attempt to increase their calorie intake.
Before attributing an increased appetite to the normal aging process, your vet will investigate other potential underlying health problems.
In the wild, cats stalk prey, climb trees and hunt and gather their food. But indoor cats who don’t have access to these stimulating activities can get bored or depressed.
If your cat is meowing a lot or acting very needy, they may be asking for attention, according to Dr. Cox. But often, cat parents misinterpret their cat’s cues and think they’re always hungry and asking for food. And when you offer up the food bowl, they will usually happily take it.
When cats eat out of boredom, they may exhibit no other clinical signs apart from weight gain, according to Dr. Mazepa. In some cases, you may also notice other behavioral problems, such as overgrooming (often on the belly or legs) or inappropriate urination (i.e., spraying or urinating outside of the litter box).
A cat who always seems hungry but is otherwise healthy may need more stimulation and to be kept busy throughout the day.
8Poor-Quality or Not Enough Food
Finally, the cat’s food itself—or the lack of it—could be why your cat is always hungry. If the food is of poor quality or the cat isn’t eating enough of it, this could lead to incessantly begging for food, Dr. Mazepa says.
You might think you’re feeding the appropriate amount of food, yet it may not be enough for your cat to maintain their weight, so they feel hungry. Other signs of malnutrition include weight loss and a lackluster coat.
To diagnose this issue, veterinarians typically rule out other causes of increased hunger. They also ask pet parents specific questions about their cat’s diet and the volume of food fed each day. Once identified, it’s then addressed with some education about your cat’s needs and how you can make sure you’re giving them enough food daily.
Is Increased Appetite in Cats a Medical Issue?
Increased appetite in cats isn’t always a medical issue, but it could point to several medical conditions such as hyperthyroidism, diabetes or other metabolic disorders, according to Dr. Cox.
Excessive hunger can also indicate the presence of parasites, or it could just be a sign that your cat’s eating habits need some revamping.
While an occasional or short-lived increase in hunger might be normal, consistent or sudden changes in appetite (especially when accompanied by other symptoms or behavioral issues or changes) warrant a visit to the vet, says Dr. Cox.
How Veterinarians Diagnose the Cause of Increased Appetite in Cats
Diagnosing the cause of increased appetite in cats is a multi-step process that involves assessing your cat’s health from all angles.
1To start, your vet will typically take a detailed medical history and perform a thorough physical examination.
The veterinarian will assess your cat’s overall body condition, assess for hindlimb weakness, check the thyroid gland for any enlargement, listen to the heart to assess the rate and rhythm, and perform an abdominal palpation, according to Dr. Hinsperger.
They’ll also ask questions about how much your cat eats and their activity level.
2From there, your vet will likely order diagnostic tests.
These diagnostic tests can include blood work, urinalysis or imaging (X-rays and/or radiographs).
Dr. Hinsperger says that, typically, diagnostic testing will start with blood work, which can easily diagnose diabetes and hyperthyroidism.
There might be biomarkers in the blood, like low blood proteins (albumin and globulin) or low vitamin B12, that can point to inflammatory bowel disease, but if your vet suspects IBD, they’ll order a biopsy next.
How To Prevent a Cat From Overeating
If your cat has a medical issue, the first thing you need to do to regulate your cat’s appetite is to get proper treatment for the condition. If health issues have been ruled out, here are some other steps you can take.
Practice Portion Control
Start with portion control, says Dr. Cox. Measure the cat’s food according to the guidelines on the cat food packaging or as advised by your vet, ensuring the cat receives adequate nutrients without excess calories.
You can use a regular measuring cup or transfer food to a separate container, like the food storage container and measuring cup set from Hanamya.
Adopt Scheduled Feedings
Instead of free-feeding, schedule small frequent meals throughout the day.
Hinsperger recommends three to four portion-controlled meals. This can help regulate your cat’s appetite and prevent overconsumption.
Introduce Interactive Feeders
Interactive feeders, like PetSafe’s SlimCat, can also be beneficial, as they not only slow down eager eaters but also provide mental stimulation by making cats work for their meal, according to Dr. Cox.
You can feed them multiple small meals throughout the day using a treat-releasing toy, and put them all around the house so the cat has to hunt to get the food.
You can also use this approach for treat time. The KONG Active Treat Ball, for example, lets pet parents fill its hollow interior with treats, and its unusual shape makes it roll and move in unpredictable ways to bust cat boredom.
Monitor Meal Times
For households with multiple cats, it’s crucial to monitor them during meal times, which might involve feeding them in separate areas, says Dr. Cox. This ensures that one cat isn’t consuming another’s portion.
Feed a Higher Fiber Food
If your cat is truly hungry, a high-fiber food can keep them fuller for longer, says Dr. Hinsperger.
Royal Canin, for example, makes kibble and wet food options—Royal Canin Feline Care Nutrition Appetite Control Care Dry Cat Food and Royal Canin Feline Care Nutrition Appetite Control Care Thin Slices in Gravy Canned Cat Food—that can curb a hungry cat’s appetite while meeting their nutritional needs. Of course, always consult your veterinarian for specific recommendations.