What does it mean when your cat begs for food like a dog, and is it abnormal?
Cats begging for food can be normal, especially around mealtime. It is also normal if you reward the behavior by giving your cat extra food or frequently feed them people food.
If your cat begins begging randomly or shows aggression, you should bring them to the veterinarian for a check-up.
These could be indicators of health problems or food that isn’t meeting their nutritional needs.
The truth is, many people have a very narrow box that they try to fit cat behavior into. Cats who are “acting like dogs” are sometimes just acting like cats, but humans without enough experience don’t understand their behavior as normal.
On the other hand, if you know your cat well and begging is abnormal for them, or they seem hungrier than usual, this can indicate medical issues that should be addressed by your veterinarian.
Normal Begging Behavior in Cats Typically Occurs when they expect to be Fed
Normal cat begging happens when your cat expects to be fed. My nine-cat household gets a little chaotic around dinner time when I pop open a can of food. They’re like an orchestra when they start meowing all together!
Your cat might also beg for food when you’re eating something that looks good to them. This is especially true if you feed them human food regularly, because they know they can reap rewards for their begging.
The same goes for if you give into your cats begging outside of mealtimes. They’ll keep doing it, because it works!
You don’t necessarily need to do anything about begging in these cases unless you dislike the begging or your cat is putting on too much weight.
Cats shouldn’t regularly be fed off your plate, but “human foods” like unseasoned meats are great for them in moderation.
If you don’t mind your cat’s begging but don’t want to feed them from your plate, then little bits of meat, a couple pieces of kibble, or cat treats are a good alternative. Just be sure not to overdo it.
On the other hand, if you want your cat to stop begging, you have to feed them only at meal times. Eventually, they will learn when their meals will come and stop begging the rest of the day.
Have patience, and don’t expect a cat who’s used to being free-fed to wait all day between meals. Try a handful of smaller meals throughout the day instead.
Not Getting Enough Nutrients
No matter how much your cat eats, they may still crave food if they aren’t getting a balanced diet with all the nutrients they need.
Homemade meals in particular are difficult to get right for cats, as they have very specific dietary needs that can be hard to meet. This is also true if you feed your cat a lot of human food—they need cat food that’s made properly with all of the ingredients they need to thrive.
If you’re worried about your cat’s diet isn’t meeting their nutritional needs, speak with your veterinarian. It might be helpful to bring an empty package of your cat’s food with you so that they can see the ingredient list for themselves.
If your vet decides your cat needs a different diet, they should be able to recommend brands that are better suited to them.
If your cat is begging for food, the most likely reason is that they’re hungry. But if your cat has no health problems, is getting proper nutrients, and still begs for food and eats constantly, it’s possible they’re bored.
Elderly cats may be even more prone to this behavior as they become less active.
Luckily, there are plenty of ways to entertain your cat and keep their attention focused on something other than their next meal!
Play with your cat Daily to Prevent Boredom
If you think your cat is only eating out of boredom, first check that you’re playing with them daily for at least 30-45 minutes. Break this time into smaller intervals throughout the day. Ideally, your cat will be interested in the toy for the entire play session.
Kittens may need more play, but elderly cats should still get the full time—even if they don’t do a lot of moving!
Playtime is important for cats of all ages, because it keeps their minds active as much as their bodies. Much of a cat’s hunting regime consists of being still and watching their prey, so don’t be discouraged if your cat isn’t running and jumping around.
I like to play with my cats for 10-15 minutes right before meal times, so they can “hunt” their toys and then eat afterwards.
Other great times to play with your cat are before you leave for work or before bedtime. This way they’re tired out during the times when you cannot play with them.
If there’s a time of day your cat is particularly active, try playing with them during that time since you know they’ll be ready to go!
Set up an Interesting Environment for your Cat
Playing with your cat every day is great, but you can’t expect 30 minutes of entertainment to tide them over until tomorrow.
They need ways to play and entertain themselves on their own when you’re not around. These can include:
- A birdfeeder outside a closed window, so your cats can sit and watch the birds without getting outside or harming native wildlife
- Independent play toys such as chasers, catnip toys, track toys, and puzzle toys
- Scratching posts and pads of varying materials
If you don’t feel like spending money, try making your own catnip toys out of used fabric such as old t-shirts or socks, and allowing your cats to play with everyday objects they enjoy. For example, my cats love bottle caps from Coca Cola bottles.
Just make sure you don’t let your cat play with anything small enough to be a choking hazard, especially when you’re not around to look after them.
If your Cat is Suddenly Begging, See a Veterinarian
Any time your cat’s behavior changes, it’s good to speak to your veterinarian. This is because cats hide illness very well, and catching an early symptom like excessive begging or increased hunger could save your cat’s life.
Below we’ll look into some common health problems that cause your cat to be hungrier, and therefore beg more often.
However, be aware that this isn’t an extensive list, nor should you try to diagnose your cat on your own. For a formal diagnosis and treatment, take your cat to the veterinarian.
Parasites such as roundworm can leech nutrients from your cat, leaving them nutrient-deficient and hungry. Cats contract roundworms through ingesting their eggs.
Cats with roundworm typically have swollen abdomens and may experience weakness. If your cat begs for food and then vomits it back up, they may have roundworm. You may find worms in your cat’s vomit or stool.
Loss of appetite is another symptom, though your cat likely isn’t experiencing it if you’re reading this article!
Your veterinarian will likely diagnose roundworms (or other parasites) by having you bring in a stool sample. They will also examine your cat for swelling in their abdomen, one of the common symptoms.
Roundworm is treated with medication or, much more rarely, surgery.
You’ll want to have roundworm treated right away if your cat has it. These parasites won’t just harm your cat, but are also contagious to other cats, dogs, and people in your household.
A good way to prevent roundworm is to keep your cat indoors. If you bring new pets into the household, always keep them isolated until you can get their health checked by a veterinarian.
Hyperthyroidism is when your cat’s thyroid is overactive and produces too much thyroxine. If your cat is eating a lot and also losing weight, hyperthyroidism may be the cause, especially if they’re over 10 years old.
Because your cat’s digestive system is in overdrive, they’re digesting their food way more quickly and thus are always hungry.
Other symptoms your cat may experience are increased thirst, urination, panting, or shedding. Your cat may seem to be more hyper than usual, or do a worse job at grooming themselves.
To diagnose hyperthyroidism, your veterinarian will probably run a series of tests. These will also help them to rule out other diseases with similar symptoms.
Your veterinarian may suggest one of three treatments which are oral medications, injections, or surgery. They can go over the advantages and disadvantages of each with you, and help you to choose the option that’s best for your cat.
Diabetes can cause your cat to be very hungry and thirsty. Because they are drinking more, they will also urinate more frequently. They may also lose weight despite their increased appetite.
Cats with diabetes feel hungrier because they can’t process their food the way they need to.
This is a serious condition, and if you think your cat has it, you should bring them to the veterinarian right away for a diagnosis and to begin treatment. Diabetes isn’t an instant death sentence for your cat, and they can live to old age if it’s managed properly.
To diagnose your cat, your veterinarian will likely take a blood and urine sample.
They will likely treat your cat’s diabetes with insulin and a change in diet. Your cat will likely need more frequent check-ups as well to manage their condition.
Diabetes is a lifelong condition, though it can go into remission in some cats.
Though this can seem financially scary, treating diabetes in cats only costs $20-30 a month on average.
Gum Disease & Tooth Pain
Cats with gum or teeth problems may beg for food but eat very little, if any, of it. It’s like when you have a toothache—you may be hungry, but if your mouth hurts you won’t be eating much!
You’ll likely notice weight loss in a cat with tooth or gum pain if it goes on long enough.
If you can, it’s best to bring your cat to the veterinarian as soon as you notice the decrease in appetite. This is because your cat is in pain, and you don’t want to prolong it more than necessary.
When I took my cat in for a gum disease, the veterinarian examined his mouth to diagnose him. In his case, he needed tooth surgery and lifelong medication, and may need future surgeries to remove teeth down the road.
However, there are a wide range of tooth and gum disorders in cats. Your cat might need anything from a tooth cleaning to medication to removal of all teeth.
Your veterinarian might even recommend holding off on some treatments, especially if your cat is older.
In our case, my cat will likely need another surgery down the line—but because he’s 12 years old, my veterinarian recommended that we wait until multiple teeth are affected or he shows symptoms of pain. This works for us, since he’s already on medication to help his condition.
Depression can cause an increase or decrease of appetite in cats, just like it affects different humans differently.
Your cat is more likely to become depressed if they are inactive, not properly cared for, are in pain, or have just had a major life change.
For example, one of my cats was depressed when we first adopted him because his owner had died and he’d been moved to a new, unfamiliar place. That loss took him around a year to recover from fully.
Your cat might also become depressed if they’re given nothing to do around the house, or if you don’t play with them regularly.
Try giving them 30-45 minutes of playtime daily. Even if they just watch the toy without pouncing or running around, that’s a good sign and you should keep going.
Your cat should have stimulus in their environment as well. This can be as simple as watching birds through the windowsill or playing on their own with cheap toys.
Cats with depression can display a range of symptoms, and every cat seems to be different in this regard. They will probably show less interest in things they used to enjoy, such as play.
If you suspect your cat has depression, you should go to the veterinarian. They can help you rule out physical illnesses, which is super important.
Self-diagnosing your cat with depression might mean you’re ignoring symptoms of a serious condition that your veterinarian could diagnose and treat given the chance.
Your veterinarian will also be able to give you more specific tips as to why your cat may be depressed, and how to address the problem.
Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behavior
Psychogenic Abnormal Feeding Behavior occurs when a cat is obsessed with food and displays aggressive behavior when begging for it.
This may be caused by stress, or just by your cat getting their way when they ask for food aggressively. It’s sometimes accompanied by Pica, which is when a cat compulsively eats non-food items.
Like depression, psychogenic abnormal feeding behavior is a mental disorder. You should bring your cat to your veterinarian to rule out physical disorders causing problems first.
There isn’t much about this disorder out there, and I think it’s unlikely that your veterinarian will diagnose your cat formerly. They will simply rule out other causes.
Based on the studies I’ve found, you can treat your cat’s behavior by implanting better training techniques and changing their environment in positive ways, such as providing more playtime and more stimulation in their environment by adding scratching posts and independent play toys.
If your cat is on medication, their increased hunger could be a side-effect. You can likely look up the specific medication your cat is on for a list of side-effects and see if increased appetite is listed.
Especially if you’ve recently begun your cat on a new medication, you should talk to your veterinarian about their begging and any other behavioral changes you’ve noticed. They can tell you how to move forward.
They might suggest changing your cat’s medication if possible, or find another solution if your cat needs to have that medicine specifically.
Other Medical Conditions
There are so many medical conditions that can affect a cat’s appetite, it’s impossible to list them all here. If you have doubts, it’s best to check with your veterinarian who is trained to diagnose your cat.
After all, you can browse the internet looking for information all day long, but you’re very likely not educated to diagnose your cat properly—never mind treat their condition.
Especially if your cat’s begging is new behavior, you need to get them in for a check-up to find the underlying cause.
I wish you and your cat good luck with your veterinarian visit and good health!
I am a freelance writer who specializes in the pet industry. My full bio