Why Is My Cat Always Hungry?

cat always hungry
@Chalabala / Twenty20

Dogs are often seen begging for your dinner, crying for treats, and act as though they haven’t seen a meal in weeks when in reality, their last meal wasn’t very long ago. Cats, on the other hand, aren’t typically as food motivated and if they are, it may mean something. Distinguishing between whether your cat just seems like it's always hungry and if a serious medical issue exists is very important.

Crying for Food at Scheduled Meal Times

Cats are smarter than you may think and if you feed them around the same time every day, they'll know when it's meal time. Meowing, crying, and staring at you until you put food in its bowl are things a hungry cat is great at doing. No, your cat isn't starving but it probably is hungry. Just like humans, a cat's empty stomach sends signals to it's brain to tell it to eat and if you are the person that usually feeds it, your cat will make sure you don't forget it's food.

Crying for Treats

If you keep your cat's treats in a specific place and it sees you standing at that spot, then it may run over and start crying for a treat. This is even more likely to occur if you pick that bag or container up and give it a shake. Cats have excellent hearing and will come running if they hear a familiar, happy sound, especially if they are hungry. 

Stealing Food From the Table

Unless your cat has a medical problem where it does in fact always feel hungry, cats have been known to steal food from the kitchen counter or table when you aren't looking just because they want to. Cats can easily jump onto a counter or table and snatch that piece of chicken or lick that stick of butter. Once they get a taste of something good that isn't in their food dish, it'll be a bad habit you'll have a tough time breaking. Cats are just like any other pet–and many people–who can't resist a tempting treat, so make sure you cover your food if you plan to leave it unattended.

Cats that are especially active and those that are getting inadequate amounts of food during meal time may be more likely to steal food off the table. Increasing meal rations or feeding a food higher in calories may help keep your cat from counter surfing if this is the case.

Eating Quickly

Cats who have had to compete or fight for food are more likely to consume their meals quickly or ravenously. Some cats even grumble or growl while eating and seem to swallow their food without chewing it. This is common with cats who have a history of being strays, feral, or who have come from a large litter of kittens where meal time was also known as competitive eating if food was scarce.

Cats that have grown up or gotten into the habit of eating quickly may relax and learn that they need not worry about the availability of their food. After getting regular meals, most cats won't feel compelled to eat as fast as they can, unless they truly have a medical concern that makes them feel constantly ravenous.

Eating and Vomiting

Vomiting is not uncommon to see in house cats. They groom themselves extensively so they often have a lot of fur that needs to get out of their system and this usually happens in the form of a hairball. If a cat is not able to pass a hairball in it's feces, then the fur will either come out when your cat vomits or it will become stuck in it's stomach or intestines. If a hairball is lodged in your cat, then it will vomit it's food, since the food will be unable to pass. If you suspect your cat has a hairball or other item that is stuck in their gastrointestinal tract, it needs to see the veterinarian. X-rays will most likely be taken and your cat may need to have the item or hairball that is stuck removed. This removal is often done surgically but sometimes endoscopy is able to retrieve things from inside the esophagus or stomach.

Some cats vomit on a regular basis after eating and their food is still intact or whole. This act of vomiting whole food soon after eating is called regurgitation and it usually occurs because the cat ate too quickly. Thankfully, regurgitation is easy to stop by slowing your cat down while they eat. Try spreading food out on a cookie sheet or place objects that are too large to eat inside your cat's food bowl. Special food bowls with finger-like projections or nubs meant to make your cat work around them in order to eat are even available to purchase for your cat. These things are meant to force your cat to eat more slowly and hopefully keep them from vomiting or regurgitating.

Eating and Gaining Weight

If your cat is crying for food and is gaining weight, then this should be a sign to you that you should feed your cat less, despite what it is trying to tell you. Some cats, like some people, just really like food and the more you feed them, the quicker they'll become overweight and prone to a myriad of medical issues. Diabetes, joint issues, cancer, and more are all more likely to occur in overweight pets. Most cats only require about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of dry kibble a day but this can vary depending on your cat's activity level and how many calories your cat food contains.

If you have a female cat who has not been spayed and could have had exposure to a male cat who has not been neutered, your cat may be hungry and gaining weight because she is pregnant. If this is the case, make sure you are feeding a kitten formula to help provide maximum nutrition to the growing kittens inside your cat.

Eating and Losing Weight

Cats that seem to always be hungry and never gain weight are often diagnosed with some sort of an ailment.

  • Intestinal parasites - Commonly referred to as worms, intestinal parasites feed off of what a cat eats, stealing a large percentage of the nutrition from the food. This means a cat may eat and eat and eat and still feel hungry because it's feeding the parasites and getting very little nutrition for itself. Cats can get worms from eating fleas and from being outside, but medications can rid your cat of them. In order to know what kind of parasites your cat has, you'll need to have a microscopic examination of their feces done by your veterinarian. Many monthly flea and heartworm medications also contain intestinal parasite de-worming medication but do not protect your cat from all types of worms.
  • Hyperthyroidism - Cats with an overactive thyroid gland have hyperthyroidism and it makes them always hungry. Simple blood tests done by your vet can diagnose a cat with this illness, but if your cat seems to always be eating and never gaining any weight, they may need medication to help their thyroid gland.
  • Diabetes - If a pancreas isn't working properly, it won't be able to properly use sugar in your cat's body. When this happens, a cat always feels hungry because their body isn't using the sugar to make energy. This is referred to as diabetes. Insulin injections can be given to cats if they are diagnosed with diabetes and their appetites will return to normal once the disease is controlled.
  • Cancer - No one wants to think about cancer, but it is a real possibility if other illnesses have been ruled out and a cat is still always hungry and not gaining any weight. If your veterinarian suspects cancer as the cause for your cat's hunger and weight loss, they will most likely recommend testing options.

Thankfully, most cats just love to eat and their day revolves around naps and meals. As long as your cat's weight is stable, they aren't vomiting, having diarrhea, or acting strangely, they are most likely just a food motivated feline.