Why Is My Cat Always Hungry? What Affects a Cat’s Eating Habits
Have you ever wondered, “why is my cat always hungry?” If you have, you are not alone. I know I have asked this question to myself and my cats.
There are many reasons why a cat may seem like she is always hungry or begging for food. Find out more about the possible causes in this 2023 article.
So Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?
If you’ve taken steps to keep your cat happy and fed but he or she still acting hungry, there could be a few explanations for why this happens. The cause could be anything from boredom to diseases.
Take Your Cat to the Vet
The best way to determine why your cat is always hungry after you’ve tried to address this issue is by taking her to the vet. The vet will assess your cat’s health and determine if diagnostic tests like a blood test are needed to rule out medical conditions and get to the root cause of your cat’s excessive hunger.
Catching diseases in their early stages is critical in resolving the problem and keeping the cat healthy. They can also advise us on the best cat’s diet, as well as the appropriate portion sizes, and meal schedules, and even determine the calorie deficit of your cat if needed.
My Hungry Cat Experience
Have you noticed that your cat has been begging for food more than usual lately? Is your cat constantly meowing beside her food bowl? I know what that’s like. Two of my cats would always run to their bowls begging to be fed as soon as someone walks through the door. This led me to increase the portion sizes of their meals.
Aside from meowing beside their bowls, the pair would often gobble up as much dry food left in their bowls once they see any of their human family members walk in. It’s as if they are trying their best to empty their bowls so that we would refill them.
While my hungry cat experience may not necessarily be identical to yours, I’m hoping that it would help you get started on the quest to find what makes your cat hungry all the time. I highly recommend seeking veterinary advice, especially if eating a good amount of food does not seem to satisfy your cat.
I’ve observed that my two cats only do this when they think that someone is in the room to see them and listen to their begging. They don’t do it when there is no human in sight. Yes, I tried spying on them.
They would also run to their bowls and beg for food even if there is food in the bowls. This lead me to think that maybe it was attention that they were craving and not the food. This troublesome twosome is, therefore, not genuinely hungry.
I made several adjustments to the two kitties’ meals. At first, I tried increasing the size of their meals. But they still seemed quite hungry.
Next, I tried free feeding. Because I know that many cats are grazers, I just pour some dry food into their bowls and would serve them wet cat food once a day. They have the rest of the day to graze on dry cat food.
However, they seem to still beg for food, and the whole free-feeding approach just led to some weight gain. Because of the weight gain and my conclusion that they were not really hungry, I’ve decided to put my foot down, stop the free-feeding, and portion out their meals. I gradually moved them to portion sizes according to their target weights.
Changing The Food Bowls
Changing the cats’ food bowls seemed to help. I bought cat bowls that were slightly tilted so that the food would fall closer to one side. This seemed to address the “empty dish” or empty spot issue that many cats seem to have with food dishes that lay flat on the floor. The tilted dishes made it appear to the cats that they always have food whenever there are leftovers.
Giving Them More Pets and Love
When the pair would run to their bowls to try and eat everything hoping for a speedy refill, I began giving them pets and belly rubs instead of adding a few kibbles to their bowls. Because they’ve trained us to give them more food by just meowing near their bowls, I’ve turned the tables on the cats by giving them pets and love every time they do that.
As I’ve concluded that they were not really hungry and were probably just bored, or maybe they just enjoyed the on-demand meal service, I figured I’d save them from an unhealthy weight gain and just give them more attention and playtime.
A combination of adjustments seemed to address the issue. Because they kept begging even when they were free-fed, it was quite obvious that they were not hungry cats. It is likely they were just bored or enjoyed the experience of being served food whenever they’d ask.
The portioned meals throughout the day helped with weight management. The change to tilted cat bowls ensured that they can see leftovers in their bowls. The increased play time and switching to pets instead of food top-ups definitely helped them feel more loved and still get the attention they craved.
Possible Explanations Why
If you have a different experience from mine, the following may help you find clues as to what makes your cat hungry all the time.
The Grazing Cat
Many cats are grazers and prefer to eat small amounts throughout the day. If they ask for food sometime after their meal, it could also mean that they just want a little snack in between meals.
However, if your cat finishes an entire meal and is still begging to be fed afterward, it could be time for an appointment with the vet as this does not seem like a sign of just a healthy appetite. Your vet can also help you create a meal plan to space out smaller portions of food if your cat is a grazer.
The Bored Cat
Just like us, cats have different personalities. While we can all agree that cats are adorably weird, some are just weirder than others. In the same way, some cats turn to snacks when bored. I do exactly the same thing.
Two of my cats seem to have picked up on this less-than-ideal habit of mine. So much so that they started associating the presence of human family members with snack time and run straight to their bowls for a chorus of “feed me now” meows.
However, I noticed that the two cats do this even when their bowls aren’t empty and would even try to finish the food quickly to get a refill. It became obvious that they were not really hungry, but were little gluttons who quite enjoyed the on-demand meal service. Well played kitties. Well played.
This seemingly harmless reason for constantly asking to be fed can lead to health conditions. Overfeeding can cause obese cats, something that is quite common, especially among indoor cats.
Obesity can shave off a few years from your cat’s lifespan. Not to mention, health problems associated with obesity greatly diminish your cat’s quality of life.
What You Can Do for Your Bored Cats
There are ways to keep your cat entertained so they don’t turn to binge eating when bored. Aside from adding a few minutes to playtime with them, you can also use toys for fun mealtimes.
There are food puzzles, treat dispensing toys, and slow-feeders specially made for cats that can help slow down mealtimes and prevent them from gorging on their food. These toys also help stimulate their minds as they try to figure out how to get the dry food or treats out.
Not every meal needs to be served on such toys or slow-feeder. But doing this can help the cats feel satisfied with smaller portions rather than scarfing down a big serving and still wanting more.
The Food-obsessed Cat
In the wild, a cat doesn't have two square meals served at regular times every day. They need to hunt to eat, and attempts at hunting prey don’t always yield favorable results for the cats.
As the need to hunt for food is eliminated from the life of a house cat, so are the mental stimulation and physical activity that used to accompany meals. Some cats may just crave the extra stimulation or engagement that eating requires. For others, it may be a little different.
Some former stray cats who have been adopted by loving homes may demonstrate behaviors that could be labeled food-obsessed. When they were strays, they did not know when or where their next meal would come from. As such, they may feel the need to eat as much as they can while they can.
Being aggressive towards other pets approaching their food is another sign of being food-obsessed. Another way this can affect a cat is if the aggressor cat is constantly guarding the food bowl, or if the less dominant cat is being bullied into hiding all the time out of fear. This limits the bullied cat’s access to the food and may be the reason he or she begs for food when the pet owner is present.
If the vet has ruled out medical problems, it could be a psychological issue. Such behavioral issues can be addressed by eliminating stressors in the cat’s environment, providing additional enrichment, or adopting an appropriate behavioral modification program under your vet’s guidance.
Insufficient Nutrients/ Calories
Food that does not contain the amount of nutrients that a cat needs may also cause them to feel hungry all the time. Cats differ in nutritional needs based on their age, weight, and activity levels. Their meals must be complete and balanced to help keep them healthy.
Not enough food can also be a factor. This can happen if the portions are not correct, or if living with other cats is causing some of them to be left with less food.
If a cat’s meals are homemade, it can be a challenge to ensure that they get all the nutrients that they need at the appropriate levels, unless you are a vet or a nutritionist. Feeding them high-quality cat food that is appropriate for their age and activity level is one of the best ways to give them their dietary and caloric needs.
Use the feeding guide at the back of the cat food to give your cat the right meal portions according to her weight. Keep in mind that too many calories can cause your cat to gain weight. If your cat needs to lose weight, feed her the amount appropriate for the cat’s target healthy weight.
Some health issues and disorders can make a cat hungry all the time. If being always hungry or extreme hunger is unusual for your furry family member, take her to the vet for a check-up.
Here are some health conditions that can cause kitties to always be hungry:
Feline diabetes or Diabetes Mellitus (DM) is a medical condition where cat's body does not produce enough insulin (Type I diabetes) or does not respond to it in the correct manner (Type II diabetes). It causes blood sugar levels to go up and causes cats to have increased appetite/ increased hunger, thirst, and urination.
With both types of diabetes, the organs and muscles of a diabetic cat are not able to convert glucose into energy, thus resulting in high levels of glucose or sugar in the blood. Type II is the most common form of diabetes among cats.
Dietary therapy and/or insulin injections are usually prescribed by vets to manage feline diabetes.
Hyperthyroidism or thyrotoxicosis is a medical condition where an enlarged thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone. Excessive thyroid hormone production can cause the cat’s cells and body to go into overdrive.
This increases the cat’s metabolism which causes it to be hungrier than normal yet start losing weight. Aside from an increased appetite, other clinical signs are increased thirst, frequent urination, increased vocalization, hyperactivity, diarrhea, vomiting, and weight loss.
Hyperthyroidism and its other symptoms are usually treated by vets using medication, radioactive iodine therapy, surgery, and/ or dietary therapy.
Some gastrointestinal tract problems such as Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) and others may cause cats to have difficulty absorbing the nutrients present in their food. Because they don’t get the nourishment they need, they may feel increased hunger and suffer from weight loss.
Other signs of inflammatory bowel disease are diarrhea, vomiting, fatigue, flatulence, etc. It is more common in middle-aged and older cats but can affect younger ones too.
Cancers or tumors that affect the digestive system can also cause them to not absorb nutrients properly. Just like with IBD and other gastrointestinal issues, increased appetite or increased hunger is one of the signs of intestinal cancer. Despite the increased appetite, weight loss can also accompany this disease.
Cushing’s Disease or hyperadrenocorticism is a condition wherein the adrenal gland produces excessive amounts of an essential hormone called cortisol. A disease commonly accompanied by diabetes, Cushing’s disease can be caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland or the outer layer of the adrenal gland.
Symptoms of this disease include excessive eating, increased thirst, increased urination, and weight loss/ gain. Other signs include fragile skin, unkempt appearance, and many others.
An infestation of intestinal parasites can affect your cat’s appetite. These parasites often consume the nutrients present in the cat’s food and leave very little for the cat to absorb. They can also cause irregularities in your cat’s stool and digestive health. One of the signs is greasy stools or blood/ mucus on stools.
Intestinal worms are quite common. The good news is they are not hard to eliminate. By deworming your feline friend regularly, infestations bad enough to cause malabsorption of nutrients can be easily avoided.
Other Factors That Affect a Cat’s Appetite
Most cats require more food per pound of body weight when they are young in order to support the growth of their bodies. Kittens aged 6 months and below need about three meals per day. Older cats can also be more prone to gaining weight.
The older the cats and the more sedentary their lifestyle is, the less amount of food they need. In my experience, my two kitties’ snack obsession was significantly reduced now that they are older cats. They still look forward to treats but are now pickier. They sometimes still run to their bowls when it’s feeding time, but no longer do it at random times to beg for food.
Dental Health and Overall Health
As previously mentioned, there could be several medical issues that could cause your cat to be hungry all the time. That said, another factor that can affect this is their dental health.
If your cat has teeth problems, it may be harder for her to chew dry kibble will of course affect how the cat eats. This may cause her to beg for food more than she used to. Give your cat wet food options that are easy to chew. If you suspect dental issues, take her to the vet for a check-up.
Dental problems can be prevented by having a regular oral hygiene routine. Brushing regularly is highly recommended. I know not all cats tolerate brushing. I use toothpaste or tooth gel for cats that don’t require brushing. I simply squirt the gel into their mouths, and my cats would do the rest by licking their teeth and spreading the gel that way. It helps improve their breath and control plaque.
I also use water additives for better dental health. Depending on the brand, a small amount is added to a bowl of fresh drinking water for your cat. However, such products cannot be used with water fountains.
Type of Food
The type of food we give can also affect a cat's appetite. Aside from the flavor of the food, its quality and portion size directly impacts how long one meal can satisfy a cat’s hunger. While most dry cat food are labeled nutritionally complete and balanced, poor-quality cat food that are full of fillers may cause a cat to get hungry before her next meal.
High-quality cat food should have a good amount of animal protein and fat. When cats get the ideal levels of animal protein and other nutrients from their food, you’ll notice that a little goes a long way. A high-protein diet keeps them energized and satisfied for longer, while cheaper ones can make cats want to gorge on food and be hungry again in less time.
You can also try adding nutrient-dense wet food or cat food toppers to increase the amount of protein, vitamins, and minerals in your cat’s daily meals.
What You Can Do To Help
Once medical issues like inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, etc. have been ruled out, switching up your cat’s mealtime routines may help them feel fuller or keep them from getting bored.
Portion Out Meals
Some cats may prefer to get smaller, more frequent meals as opposed to getting two big meals per day. With the help of your cat food’s feeding guide, you’ll be able to determine the ideal amount per day according to your cat’s weight or target weight.
You can try splitting the recommended amount of the cat’s food into 3-4 portions per day and see if that helps. If you have a busy schedule, consider getting a timed feeder for your cat. It may be just what your cat needs. If you have more than one timed feeder, you can also place them in different areas of the house to encourage your feline friend to move about.
Portioning their meals throughout the day helped with my hungry cats. It also seemed to have helped them lose some excess weight.
Meals + Activity
There are several ways you can combine some activity with mealtimes. The increase in activity can help keep your cat fit and mentally stimulated.
Puzzle Feeders and Slow Feeders
If your cat eats like there’s no tomorrow, toys such as puzzle feeders, as well as slow feeders can offer mental stimulation and make meals fun for your cat. The goal is to make your cat work for the food to help fight boredom and discourage gorging.
Slowing down your cat’s eating can prevent indigestion and help them lose weight. Slow feeders reduce the caloric intake of a cat by forcing it to eat more slowly over time. Overall, these toys and feeders are great tools that help make a cat’s eating habits healthier.
Tasty Hide and Seek
To switch things up, you can play food hide ‘n seek with your cat. You can leave food or treats in random places around your house. Not every meal needs to be done this way, but it can be a fun and rewarding activity for your cat. Not to mention, it also slows down their feeding.
Placing pieces of dry food on activity boards is another way to combine activity and mealtimes. You can get cat activity boards from pet shops or you can even make your own using pieces of cardboard or plastic containers around your home.
Whether you have a bored cat, a grazing one, or a cat that is simply in love with food, as pet parents there are ways that we can help our cats be healthy and happy without overfeeding them. Too much food or unhealthy eating habits can lead to multiple health problems that would make our cats miserable in the long run.
If you feel that you’ve tried many things but your cat is still always hungry, it is probably time to seek veterinary help. Vets can not only help determine the root cause of the problem but also advise us on what action to take for the best possible outcome.