As our cats head into old age, it can be hard to know what is normal or when to call the vet. If your old cat seems to be more hungry than usual, read on to find out possible causes, and to learn what you should be doing.
Why does my old cat keep begging for food?
You may have noticed your old cat hassling you for food more often than usual, waking you in the night due to hunger, or even stealing food. If so, you’re probably wondering whether you should be worried. While there are some relatively harmless causes of increased appetite in older cats, such as a recent change in diet or a side-effect of a medication, it’s more common for a medical condition to be the culprit.
Possible causes of an increased appetite in older cats include:
Roundworms and tapeworms can cause your cat to feel hungry, since the worms are basically stealing their food! It’s important to note that you won’t always see evidence of worms in your cat’s stools. Also, it’s not just hunters who suffer from worms! Fleas can transmit tapeworm too, even to indoor cats.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which too much thyroid hormone is produced. In cats, this is usually due to a benign (non-cancerous) tumour of the thyroid gland. The excess thyroid hormone speeds up metabolism, causing a variety of symptoms including weight loss despite an increased appetite. Other symptoms include increased drinking and weeing, muscle wastage, increased vocalising or crying, hyperactivity, sickness and diarrhoea.
Simply put, diabetes is a condition where there is a lack of insulin, or the insulin isn’t working properly. Insulin is needed for cells in the body to be able to use glucose for energy. This means a cat with diabetes has high levels of glucose in their blood, but they cannot use this glucose for energy.
Diabetes in cats can cause an increase or a decrease in appetite. Other signs of diabetes in cats include drinking and weeing more than usual, weight loss and lethargy (low energy).
Various diseases or conditions involving the guts can cause a cat to be unable to absorb nutrients properly, leading to malnourishment and increased hunger. Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer are relatively common examples. With these conditions you would usually also see diarrhoea and weight loss, possibly with vomiting.
When to call the vet
If you notice your older cat eating more than usual, or asking for food more than usual, it’s important that you book a consult with your vet. Many cat parents mistakenly think an increased appetite signals a new lease of life, when unfortunately this is rarely the case.
While the cause may be something relatively harmless, if it’s due to a medical condition, the sooner this is diagnosed the better. Let your vet know if you’ve noticed any other symptoms too, and when they started.
Your vet will start by asking you some questions, then will examine your cat. If your cat is found to be otherwise healthy, they may suggest worming, environmental enrichment (to prevent boredom eating) or a change in diet. They will likely recommend blood and urine tests to start with, as these can rule in or out many conditions. Further tests may then involve imaging of the abdomen, for example x-rays or ultrasound.
Take home message
An increased appetite in older cats is often a sign of an underlying health issue, especially if it’s accompanied by other symptoms, such as weight loss.
You know your cat better than anyone! Trust your gut. If you notice any new or unusual symptoms in your cat, book a consult with your vet. Many medical conditions can be successfully treated or managed, giving your cat a good quality of life. Often, the sooner a condition is diagnosed, the better the outcome.