Some cats can easily be finicky eaters, while others happily dine, munch, and snack on any available treat. But if your cat’s appetite never seems satisfied, it is important to discover the cause of your pet’s hunger to be sure its nutritional needs are met and there are no underlying health problems.
Is My Cat Really Hungry?
A meowing cat in the kitchen is not necessary an automatic sign of a hungry pet. A cat that is truly hungry may have a certain type of insistent meow, or may hang around pawing at its food bowl or where its food may be stored. When food is offered, a hungry cat will eat quickly.
If other issues are the problem, however, a cat may be more interested in the attention it gets during feeding time than in the food itself. While it may not turn down a treat, the cat could eat only after sniffing and playing with the treat a bit, rather than gobbling it down. A cat could also steal bites of human food that may be more appealing than its own food, which is not necessarily a sign of hunger, but just of food taste preferences.
Certain health conditions, however, do affect a cat’s appetite. Even when properly fed, the cat may continue to show signs of hunger and excessive eating, and understanding the causes of these problems can help cat owners address their pet’s needs more effectively.
Reasons Your Cat May Seem Hungry
There are a variety of reasons why a cat could be persistently hungry, even when it has regular meals.
- Aging A cat’s nutritional needs change throughout its life. As a cat ages, particularly after it is 12-13 years old, its digestion becomes less efficient and it cannot absorb as much nutrition from protein and fat. Because of this, the cat may seem overly hungry as it tries to make up the deficit by eating more. A diet with added carbohydrates can help address this digestion change.
- Diabetes Overweight cats or those with blood sugar disorders can develop diabetes and insulin resistance that impacts how they convert food to energy. A diabetic cat may still have a good appetite, but may lose weight or be lethargic instead of playful and active. Increased thirst is another sign of diabetes, as is increased urination.
- Hyperthyroidism If a cat’s thyroid is overactive, that hormone imbalance will increase the animal’s metabolism and give it a feeling of hunger even after eating suitable meals. The cat will also likely lose weight even on the proper diet, and may show other symptoms such as excessive thirst, vomiting, or diarrhea.
- Pancreatic Disease The pancreas regulates enzymes in a cat’s body, including enzymes essential for digestion. If the pancreas is not functioning properly, a cat’s appetite can dramatically increase. Other symptoms of pancreatic disease include poor coat condition, vomiting, and greasy stools or diarrhea.
- Intestinal Problems A variety of intestinal difficulties, from irritable bowel syndrome to different types of cancers to a severe case of worms, can affect a cat’s appetite because it cannot get enough nutrition from its regular diet. Other symptoms can include bloating, poor coat condition, enlarged lymph nodes, or worms in the stool, depending on the intestinal problem present.
- Emotional Distress Like humans, cats may eat simply for comfort or reassurance. A cat that is bored, lonely, anxious, depressed, or has other emotional distress may eat more and seem exceedingly hungry. Other behavioral problems, such as excessive spraying, aggression, or destructive behavior can also be signs of emotional turmoil.
- Poor Nutrition A cat that receives overall poor quality nutrition or not enough food will show signs of hunger. A cat’s nutritional needs change with its overall health, activity level, age, and conditions such as pregnancy and nursing, and the animal’s meals will need to be adjusted to ensure it gets adequate nutrition to curb its appetite.
Regardless of the cause of your cat’s excessive hunger, it is important to consult with your veterinarian for proper nutritional advice and to ensure any possible underlying problems are resolved. In addition to regular checkups, seek out veterinary care if your cat’s appetite changes suddenly, as that can also be a sign of problems.
To keep your cat from being constantly hungry, provide it a healthy, nutritious diet suitable for its needs – including how those needs change over time. Good exercise and mental stimulation will help ease emotional distress to keep your pet on a healthy diet, and the more attuned you are to your cat’s behavior and activities, including its eating patterns, the more quickly you will notice any changes that could indicate concerns before they become serious problems.