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The Curious Case of the Hungry Cat

Excessivley Hungry CatsKristi from Madison Wisconsin e-mailed the podcast that Dr. Karen Louis and I do called Veterinary Advice, Animal News and Views, about her 3 year old male cat that has an out of control appetite.   This kitty’s appetite is so bad that he resorts to stealing and eating potato peals and on one occasion, he consumed toxic levels of garlic!  I would encourage you to listen to the episode posted above as Dr. Karen and I go through the menagerie of diagnostics and possible causes to determine what could be the source of such an unusual case of extreme hunger.

Although most cases of unusually excessive appetite do not reach the extreme of Kristi’s cat, excessive hunger is not an uncommon presentation in feline veterinary medicine.  If you have a kitty that seems to have an unusually big appetite, it would be wise to have him checked out, as it could be an indicator of systemic disease or even a psychological problem.  Before going to the veterinarian be prepared to ask the following questions.

Is there weightloss despite the excessive appetite?

Excessive hunger in cats that are actually losing weight may indicate endocrine disease, such as hyperthyroidism or diabetes.  This presentation may also be the result of internal parasites, malabsorption of dietary nutrients, or protein loss.  Protein loss can occur at the level of the gut or in the urine due to kidney disease.  Low protein may also not be due to protein loss, but due to liver insufficiency and subsequent inability to synthesize vital plasma proteins.

Are the stools normal or soft or runny?

Excessive hunger in cats with soft or runny stools commonly suffer from internal parasites or diseases of the intestine that prevent absorption of dietary nutrients.  Intestinal diseases that lead to malabsorption include varying presentations of inflammatory bowel disease, food allergy, and cancer of the bowel.

We determined that given the lack diagnostic abnormalities through thorough testing (as well as follow up from Kristi that her cat is actually overweight and has normal stools), that her cat likely has a psychological obsession with food and likely has a unique form of obsessive compulsive disorder.  However, please do not ever make the mistake of assuming an excessively hungry cat is that way due to a behavioral issue, as it is statistically far more common that there is a medical issue driving the hunger.

My basic diagnostic work up for hungry cats begins with stool analysis, bloodwork (complete blood count, blood chemistry, and thyroid level) and urinalysis.  If no disease processes are found there, in cases where there are other mitigating signs such as soft stools or nausea, the diagnostic process may extend into imaging of the abdomen via x-rays and ultrasound and possible biopsies of several regions of the intestinal tract via endoscopy or abdominal exploratory surgery.

Dr. Roger Welton is the President of Maybeck Animal Hospital in West Melbourne, FL, Chief Editor of the Veterinary Advice and Information Website, Web-DVM, and founder/CEO of Dr. Roger’s Holistic Veterinary Care.


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