Is your cat eating everything in sight? Is your cat old or a kitten, overweight or underweight?
There are many medical and behavioral reasons why your cat might be hungry but the actual condition of excessive eating or increased appetite is called polyphagia.
Your veterinarian can best determine the reason, but there are several clues to consider.
Common Reasons for Polyphagia in Cats
If your cat is over seven years old and wants to eat everything in sight, hyperthyroidism might be the cause. This disease is very common in older cats wherein their metabolism seems to increase out of control and no matter how much they eat, they still lose weight.
Hyperthyroidism in cats is characterized by the overproduction of a thyroid hormone called thyroxine by an overactive thyroid gland which also manifests in increased appetite.
Hyperthyroidism can be easily diagnosed by your veterinarian using a blood test. Then, your cat can begin a medication which will block the excess thyroid hormone.
Getting just the right dose of this medication can be tricky, but once this is done, the disease is relatively easy to manage. Once stabilized, the thyroid can be surgically removed or treated with radioactive iodine. Some owners, though, will choose to maintain their cats on chronic medication.
All kittens are born with intestinal parasites (a.k.a “worms”). Adult cats can pick up parasites later in life too. Kittens that seem especially hungry are typically carrying parasites that steal nutrients.
Adult cats can also be constantly hungry from intestinal parasites such as roundworms or tapeworms, but this is rarely the cause of constant hunger in a well-cared for, indoor-only cat. Cats with a worm burden might have a swollen belly and skinny ribs or they can look completely normal.
Microscopic examination of the feces is suggested to know what kind of parasite is lying within your cats’ intestines. Medications are available for treatment, but better than treatment is prevention.
Kittens should be dewormed every two weeks from 2 to 12 weeks old. (1)This will help your kitten grow and get all of the nutrition needed from food and milk.
Adult cats should have a fecal sample tested annually for parasites and dewormed based on the results.
If your cat constantly acts hungry but has a full bowl of dry food, it might actually be because of thirst. Unlike people and dogs, cats don’t have a strong instinct to drink water when they are thirsty.
In the wild, cats get all the moisture they need from the prey they hunt. This can cause some issues in the home.
Cats that are thirsty will often beg for their wet food meal, beg for table scraps or eat off dirty plates in the sink. It is recommended to feed cats wet food daily to help keep them hydrated.
You can also mix in additional water to the wet food to help increase the moisture content.
Diabetes is common in overweight cats, as the pancreas has to work extremely hard to produce enough insulin. Insulin is a product that decreases the blood sugar level of the cat.
However, when the pancreas is overworked, it stops being able to produce enough. Therefore, the blood sugar level rises above the normal range which can initially cause the cat to feel hungry in the early stages.
Diabetes Mellitus is a condition wherein there is a shortage of insulin due to either the pancreas being genetically deficient (Type 1) or the pancreas being overworked (Type 2).
Insulin signals to cells to take sugar out of the blood which can be used for energy. After the initial symptom of hunger, it can quickly progress to loss of appetite, vomiting, increased urination and drinking, and even death if left long term.
Diabetic cats can’t effectively get glucose energy into their cells. This tricks the body into thinking that it is starving. They will begin breaking down muscle for energy and often have an increased appetite.
In the early stages of diabetes, most cats are obese. But uncontrolled diabetes will eventually lead to underweight cats.
Diabetes can be easily diagnosed with a urine sample. So, if you are concerned about your cat, ask your vet for some non-absorbent kitty litter so that you can collect a urine sample to be analyzed. Your veterinarian can also diagnose diabetes through a blood glucose test.
On the other hand, once diagnosed, some cats can recover from diabetes with careful dietary management. Other cats will require insulin shots on a regular basis.
If you are injecting insulin on a daily basis, an increased hunger might be a signal that you are giving too much. This can be dangerous as an overdose of insulin can lead to the cat having seizures and even going into a coma.
Unfortunately, vomiting is all too common in cats. Some have finicky stomachs. Some just eat too fast. Other times, vomiting can be a sign of an underlying issue such as food allergies or irritable bowel syndrome.
Regardless of the reason, frequent vomiting will end up your cat needing to eat more to make up for the lost food. Be sure to speak to your veterinarian to find the root cause.
Certain medications, most often steroids, cause an increase in appetite. (1) If your cat is on any medications, be sure to ask the vet if increased hunger is a side effect.
Your veterinarian may also be able to switch medications or change the dosage if hunger becomes an issue.
#7: Normal Cat Behavior
Cats are born to be hunters which means that some will hunt all day long for birds and mice. They are designed to catch and eat small prey constantly; not eat a few large meals as dogs do. They will do this whether they are hungry or not as their natural instinct tells them that they don’t know when their next meal will come.
Cats in the wild will hunt at least eight small meals every day. When cats are forced to live in our modern human lifestyle, they may have some difficulty adapting. When they are fed exclusively in meals, they will likely feel very hungry in between.
In the same way, some cats take the opportunity to eat as often as they are offered food. Therefore, if they are fed ad-lib, they may continuously eat and can easily become obese.
Your cat may gobble down food so fast that may lead to throwing it back up. Cats may eat as much as they can and stop, but then, not like the food once it has sat out and gotten stale. Or, your cat may eat full meals with no issue, but not feel a lasting fullness and end up begging.
These are all normal cat responses to eating infrequent meals, but certainly not the ideal ones. There are several steps you can take to prevent these behaviors.
Some cats will maintain a healthy weight despite dry food being left out to be eaten whenever they like. This, in addition to wet food meals at least once daily, is ideal.
The wet food meals will keep your cat hydrated and feel full longer than when eating dry food. Snacking on dry food between meals can also be encouraged.
If being overweight is an issue, leaving dry food out is not an option. Your cat will need to be fed in meals.
Feed at least three meals per day, but smaller is preferred. Feed one meal when you wake up, one meal when you get home after work, and one meal before you go to bed. This last meal is critical so that your cat doesn’t wake you up for food in the middle of the night.
Wet food meals are typically more filling than the dry variety. They are also lower in total calories and carbohydrates. The high levels of carbohydrates in dry food can cause glucose spikes and crashes that make cats hungry between meals.
In addition to this, competition with other pets can happen if there are more than one animal in the house. Cats should have separate feeding bowls in order to avoid aggression.
But some cats tend to eat the food on other cat’s bowl once they have finished theirs so you should give each of them their own space if you own two or more.
Less Common Reasons Why Your Cat's Always Hungry
#8: Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) is a chronic inflammation of the digestive system. This can prevent cats from digesting their food, and thus, making them very hungry. There are many presentations of this disease, but diarrhea would typically be present in IBS that causes hunger.
Diagnosis of IBS is difficult because many other possible diseases must be ruled out first. These include testing of parasites; ruling out bacterial infections, ensuring proper diet, x-rays, etc.
The cause of IBS isn’t well understood, but cat owners have had luck experimenting with different diets. Food allergies are thought to be one possible cause.
Clay litter or household cleaners are also possible irritants. Grooming means that nearly everything in cats’ environment ends up in their digestive system.
Kittens that don’t have the best start to life quickly learn that they must fight for their food. Those that have a history of being hungry might excessively beg for food, rush to the bowl, fight their siblings, and act starving at feeding time. Sometimes this can even lead to vomiting from eating too quickly.
Most cats outgrow these behaviors, but some never do. If your veterinarian has ruled out medical causes in an adult cat that behaves this way, it may be time to seek help from a behaviorist. Your cat could be experiencing serious anxiety around food.
#10: Exocrine Pancreatic Insufficiency
This is a disease where the pancreas does not produce enough enzymes to properly digest the food your cat eats. Almost all cats with exocrine pancreatic insufficiency (EPI) will have weight loss.
About half will have an increased appetite while the other half will have a significantly decreased appetite. Vomiting and loose stool can also be symptoms of EPI.
This disease can affect cats of any age. It can be diagnosed by your veterinarian using a special stool test.
EPI is relatively rare in cats. A history of pancreatitis or a blockage in the pancreatic duct is typically the cause.
This rare disease is caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland. Acromegaly shows up in older cats initially as diabetes. The cause is excess secretion of growth hormone in adult cats.
As with diabetes, your cat’s body will believe that it is starving due to insulin resistance. Diabetes caused by acromegaly can be managed with insulin, but long-term, the pituitary tumor needs to be addressed.
A CT scan will diagnose if a pituitary tumor is the cause of your cat’s diabetes.
#12: Cushing’s Disease
Similar to acromegaly, Cushing’s is also a disease of too much hormone production. It can also be caused by a pituitary tumor. Alternatively, it can be caused by long-term use of corticosteroids.
Ultimately, Cushing’s is when the adrenal glands – located just above the kidneys – produce too much cortisol. This disease is extremely rare in cats.
Symptoms are nearly identical to acromegaly. In-fact Cushing’s needs to be ruled out before an acromegaly diagnosis.
An ACTH-stimulation test is used to diagnose Cushing’s which involves stimulating the adrenal glands with a hormone to produce cortisol. Then, the veterinarian will measure the body’s response by drawing blood.
#13: Brain Tumor
Very rarely, a brain tumor will push on the part of the brain that controls hunger and satiation. This would need to be diagnosed by an MRI or a CT scan.
Depending on the specifics of the tumor, it can be treated with radiation, surgery and/or chemotherapy.
Seizures and other unexplained behavior changes would indicate that a brain tumor may be the cause of your cat’s uncontrollable hunger.
Last but not least, begging for food may simply be your cat’s way of asking attention from you. Your cat has possibly learned that begging for food was the best way to get affection from you.
Try determining if your cat is actually hungry or just wants your undivided attention.
How To Solve Your Problem?
As explained, it is likely that there is an underlying cause if your cat is extremely hungry. You must look for the reason why your pet behaves that way and seek treatment. Neglecting this may lead to weight loss and affect your cat’s welfare.
It is important to maintain your cat’s diet by feeding the right amount of food and nutrients that your cat needs. You should carefully follow the feeding guidelines on the packet of food to know how many grams you should give your cat.
Always check the label to make sure that the food meets the right amount of calories your cat needs based on weight. And if you are providing enough high-quality food and your cat is still hungry, then, seek the advice of your veterinarian.