Your cat will display habitual behavior around mealtime when it is hungry, and many cats can be quite demanding that they are served. But cats aren't as motivated by food as dogs, so acting hungry all the time, begging, or whining for food between feedings may point to a medical issue.
Understanding how and when cats act hungry can help you know when to see your veterinarian and what to report.
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 mealtime. 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 its 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 its food.
Whining 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
Cats can easily jump onto a counter or table and snatch a piece of chicken or lick a 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 mealtime 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.
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 mealtime resulted in 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 quickly 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 in their digestive tracts, which can form a hairball. If a cat is not able to pass a hairball in its feces, then the fur will either come out when your cat vomits or it will become stuck in its stomach or intestines. If a hairball is lodged in your cat, then it will vomit its food, since the food will be unable to digest. If you suspect your cat has a hairball or other item that is stuck in their gastrointestinal tract, take your pet to the veterinarian. X-rays will show whether your cat needs to have a swallowed item or hairball 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 it eats. Try spreading its food out on a cookie sheet or place objects that are too large to eat inside your cat's food bowl. You can buy special food bowls with finger-like projections or nubs meant to make your cat work around them and therefore eat slower.
Eating and Gaining Weight
If your cat is crying for food and is gaining weight, then this is 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 it 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. These include:
- 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 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 its feces done by your veterinarian. Many monthly flea and heartworm medications also contain intestinal parasite deworming 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 feel hungry. Simple blood tests done by your vet can diagnose a cat with this illness. It can be treated with medication.
- Diabetes: In diabetes, the pancreas isn't producing insulin properly and as a result, the cat can't use the sugars produced from digesting food for energy. Your cat will feel hungry because its body lacks the energy needed despite eating. A cat with diabetes may need insulin injections. Its appetite will return to normal once the disease is controlled.
- Cancer: If other illnesses have been ruled out and a cat is still always hungry and not gaining any weight, cancer will be suspected. Your veterinarian will recommend further 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, it isn't vomiting, having diarrhea, or acting strangely, it is most likely just a food-motivated feline.
How Often Should You Feed Your Cat? Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020
Vomiting. Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020
Obesity. Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020
Feline Diabetes. Cornell University College Of Veterinary Medicine, 2020