Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM August 22, 2019
Your cat greets you at the door every evening with pleasant meowing and rubbing against your leg. You think it’s sweet until 45 minutes later she is still meowing. But now the meows are louder and the rubbing has turned in to pushing. It gets worse when you go near the kitchen or her food bowl. Out of pity and to try to reclaim your sanity, you give her dinner early. Everything is perfect for about 10 minutes and then she’s at it again. It seems that the incessant need for food never stops when you’re at home. How can your cat be hungry all of the time? There are many reasons for excessive hunger in cats. One of those reasons could be that your cat is not actually hungry at all! Snack on that thought for a while as we delve into reasons why your cat may want to eat all of the time.
Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?
Cats may experience constant hunger for a variety of medical reasons including hyperthyroidism, diabetes, and certain types of cancer. It’s also important to note that your cat might not be hungry at all but instead is seeking attention from you. Always discuss any changes in your cat’s behavior or appetite with your veterinarian.
There are many medical possibilities that can leave your cat feeling hungry all of the time, but we’ll get to those in a minute. Sometimes cat parents misinterpret their kitty’s need for attention for hunger. Let’s first look at behaviors that are often mistaken for hunger but are actually about something else entirely and how you can tell the difference.
Meowing, yowling, scratching, and rubbing are common attention seeking behaviors, but they may also be used when a cat is hungry. With both hunger and attention seeking, your cat is merely trying to get you to acknowledge their presence, so it might be difficult to tell the difference. However, you will notice hunger behaviors increase around mealtimes and when you come close to the feeding dishes, the refrigerator, or wherever your cat’s food is kept. With hunger, you may notice your cat trying to steal food from the kitchen counters or dinner table as well. It’s important to know that cats can develop addiction-like behaviors for treats or other foods just like humans do, so incessantly begging for their tuna flavored snacks might not necessarily mean that they are hungry. Cats that are trying to get your attention should calm down after some much needed love and affection from you while this might only make hungry kitties more incessant.
Causes of Excessive Hunger in Cats
If you’ve determined that there’s more to your cat’s behavior than just wanting your attention, then it’s time to start looking for reasons why your cat may be hungry all of the time. Again, discuss any changes in your cat’s behavior or appetite with your veterinarian.
The thyroid gland is responsible for secreting thyroxine, a hormone that helps determine your cat’s metabolism. In cases of hyperthyroidism, thyroxine is overproduced. This is most commonly due to a non-cancerous tumor of the thyroid gland. Excessive thyroxine causes a cat’s metabolism to skyrocket, meaning they burn energy very quickly. The cat’s appetite increases to try to compensate, and it can reach levels where the kitty almost goes berserk to find food. Hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a blood test and it can be treated using either surgery to remove the affected gland, medication to block the production of thyrosin, radioactive iodine therapy to destroy the affected thyroid tissue, or by limiting the amount of iodine in the diet to prevent production of thyrosin.
Cats can suffer from two types of diabetes, just like people. In Type I diabetes, the pancreas isn’t producing the necessary insulin to move sugar from the blood to the cells where it is used for energy. In Type II diabetes, the cells don’t respond normally to insulin, and sugar is left in the bloodstream instead of being moved into the cells. In both cases, the body’s tissues and organs are starved of the energy that they need even though your cat is eating regularly. Your kitty responds by ramping up their food consumption to try to compensate.
- Intestinal parasites
These little worms live inside your cat’s intestines and steal nutrients from your cat as they pass through. With heavy parasite loads, your cat can actually end up feeding more to the worms than they are to themselves, causing weight loss and excessive hunger. Intestinal parasites are acquired from fleas, the environment, and from eating infected prey. Most worms are easily killed with anti-parasitic medications.
In some cases, your cat’s digestive tract may be to blame for their excessive hunger. Exocrine pancreatic insufficiency is when the pancreas doesn’t produce the necessary digestive enzymes to break down fats and other valuable nutrients. Those nutrients then pass through the digestive tract unused and your cat’s appetite will increase to try to cover that loss. Most maldigestion disorders can be treated by supplementing digestive enzymes.
Malabsorption issues occur when there is something blocking the absorption of nutrients in the intestine. Inflammatory bowel disease or types of intestinal cancer don’t allow those nutrients to soak through into the cells where they can be utilized. Instead, your cat ups their food intake to try to get the nutrition that they need. Depending on the cause of malabsorption in your cat’s GI tract, certain medications may help.
How to Prevent Excessive Hunger in Cats
The first thing to check on when you notice an increase in your cat’s appetite is the amount and quality of food you are feeding. Cats are obligate carnivores meaning they need a high protein diet to be healthy. Good quality cat foods should contain greater than 35% protein. Protein in the 40s is even better. The amount of protein alone isn’t enough; that protein needs to be high-quality, meaning that it comes from real, whole meats rather than plant-based sources. Meat proteins are more complete and easier to digest, so your cat gets more out of them.
Next you’ll want to look at how much you are feeding your cat. Check the feeding labels on the back of your cat food cans or bags. You want to feed for the weight that your cat should be, not the weight that they are. This means that for weight loss, you’ll want to feed less. For weight gain, you’ll want to feed more. If you need help determining a healthy weight for your kitty, consult your veterinarian.
After you’ve determined the recommended amount of food your cat should eat in a day, divide that amount between meals. Some kitties prefer to graze throughout the day while others like to eat at set times. You can try splitting those one to two meals into three to four smaller ones to try to keep your cat’s hunger at bay for longer. Assess your cat’s weight while you’re feeding them the recommended amount. More active cats might need a bit more than what is listed, while lazier cats should have a bit less to maintain an ideal weight.
Remember to take treats into account when you’re figuring out your cat’s daily food amount. The more treats you feed, the less food they should get per meal. Instead of feeding high-calorie snacks, you may try to substitute low-calorie foods, like green beans, lean meats, or oatmeal to keep your cat’s hunger in check. You’d be surprised, some kitties actually really like these foods!
If you’re still having trouble controlling your cat’s ravenous appetite, it’s time to seek veterinary advice.
When Should My Cat See a Veterinarian For Excessive Hunger?
As we said before, anytime you notice a change in your cat’s behavior or appetite, you should see your veterinarian. Also, if you’ve tried the above options to curb your cat’s appetite and they still seem ravenous, then you should definitely see your veterinarian. Your vet will take a history and do a thorough exam plus run any other necessary diagnostics to rule out medical conditions that could be causing excessive hunger. Moreover, your vet can also assess your cat food and make recommendations for a good, high-quality diet that will keep your kitty satiated for longer.
It’s always nice to have a little back and forth communication with our kitties. However, sometimes that communication can turn into an annoyance when it gets excessive. Hopefully this article will help you differentiate between attention seeking and hunger behavior and have you quieting that growling tummy in no time.
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