While many cats and dogs are simply food motivated, an increased appetite can also be the sign of an underlying health issue.

By Roxanna Coldiron
December 18, 2020
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Dog holding food bowl
Credit: James Brokensha Photography / Getty Images

Does it seem as if your pet is always begging for another portion of food, even after mealtime? It's a familiar sight to see cats and dogs looking disdainfully at their owners and back at their halfway full bowl. But if it seems like your pet is never satisfied with the amount of food they're offered, then you may wonder what is going on. "We always recommend checking with your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical issues," says Lambert Wang, co-founder of Cat Person. "However, if your pet receives a clean bill of health, environmental factors may be at play."

Underlying Medical Issues

Several medical issues that could affect your pet's appetite include diabetes, intestinal worms,  Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD), hyperthyroidism, and old age. These conditions can decrease the nutrients that your dog or cat absorbs whenever they eat so the pet never feels full. In fact, they could be eating more than usual and still be losing weight.

Signs of unusual eating patterns and sudden weight loss should prompt a trip to the veterinarian as soon as possible. Your vet will perform tests to diagnose the medical problem and prescribe treatments for the condition. Some conditions can be cured, while others will need to be carefully managed to keep your pet as healthy as possible.

Boredom

Indoor pets do not have the same stimulation and lifestyle as their outdoor counterparts. "Indoor cats can often lack the environmental enrichment that their outdoor peers experience when they stalk prey and climb trees," explains Wang. "Owners can misinterpret bored indoor cats' pleas for attention and think they're always hungry and asking for food." And if we get into the habit of giving our cats more food when they're bored, they will accept the offer and overeat.

The good news is that we can curb their boredom and enrich their indoor environment to reduce or eliminate boredom. Wang recommends creating mazes and indoor hiding places with the boxes that we receive from online shopping. "Your recycling is your cat's playground. Tape boxes together to create cat tunnels or mazes. Cat Person's shipping boxes take this one step further, easily transforming into a puzzle box, cat chalet, or cat condo," he says.

Another way to ease your pet's boredom and take their mind off of food is to "bring the outdoors in." Nature videos meant for cats or dogs can provide them with visual stimulation. For cats, you could also create a catio space with plants and shelves for climbing. Play games with your pet that cultivate their natural instincts and provide toys that give them the opportunity to pounce.

Food Quality

Your cat or dog may not be getting everything they need from their food. Consult with your vet to better understand your pet's nutritional needs. "If the food is of poor quality and your cat is not eating enough of it, they can end up begging for food outside of their meal times," Wang says. Pet food that has more filler ingredients than meat, for example, will leave your pet feeling hungry even after they have eaten.

And if your pet has high energy, they may have higher protein needs than an animal that has less energy. Some pets may only need to eat once or twice a day with a high-quality diet. Others may need to have a few additional meals to accommodate their energy needs. Portion sizes will be important if you are feeding a few times a day. But the right combination of protein and feeding frequency will depend on your pet, their age, their size, and their general health.

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