Is My Cat Actually Hungry or Just a Drama Queen?


We all know the drill. You’re sitting down to enjoy your sandwich when suddenly your cat is at your feet, meowing insistently and staring up at you with pleading eyes. Even though you just filled their bowl an hour ago, they seem desperate for more food. What gives?

As any cat owner knows, our feline friends often act like they’re starving even when their nutritional needs are met. Cats beg for food for a variety of reasons that may have little to do with hunger. While it can be cute and pitiful at times, giving in to feline demands often leads to overfeeding and obesity.

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind why cats beg, signs your cat is truly hungry, and tips to discourage attention-seeking behavior at mealtimes. You’ll learn when it’s okay to give your cat extra treats, proper portion sizes to feed, and how to create a routine that works for both of you.

Natural hunting behavior

Cats are natural hunters who eat many small meals throughout the day. In the wild, cats spend a lot of time hunting, foraging, and searching for food. Domestic cats retain this strong natural drive for frequent meals, even when food is readily available to them.

Cats have a reputation for being great hunters. Their natural instincts and abilities – including their sharp vision, lightning-fast reflexes, and silent, stealthy movement – make them well-equipped for catching prey. These hunting behaviors developed as an evolutionary advantage to help wild cats survive.

Though domestic cats don’t need to hunt to find food, their natural tendencies remain strong. Pet cats often exhibit hunting behaviors, such as stalking, pouncing, and batting at toys or moving objects. This shows their continuing drive for the kind of frequent, small meals they would naturally eat when hunting in the wild.

Signs your cat is truly hungry

If your cat is losing weight or becoming underweight, it’s a clear sign they may not be getting enough food. According to the ASPCA, you should be able to feel but not see your cat’s ribs without pressing down (source). Weight loss could mean your cat is truly hungry and needs more food.

Increased vocalization and begging behaviors can also be signs of hunger. A hungry cat may meow insistently or follow you around vocalizing more around meal times, according to Catster (source). Cats that pace, hang around their food bowl, or paw at where food is stored when hungry may be exhibiting food-seeking behaviors.

These behaviors indicate your cat may need more regular feedings or larger portions at meal times. It’s important to ensure your cat is getting adequate nutrition and not being underfed if you notice these signs of hunger.

Reasons for Begging Behavior

Cats often beg for reasons other than hunger. Common causes of begging behavior include:

Boredom and desire for attention – Cats are intelligent animals that need mental stimulation. If your cat is bored or lonely, they may beg for treats or food as a way to get your attention and interaction.

Enjoyment of treat foods – Many cats enjoy the taste of treats and human foods. So they may beg just because they find these foods delicious, not because they are hungry.

Opportunistically seeking food – Cats naturally opportunistic eaters. So they may beg for food even when not hungry, just in case an easy meal becomes available.

Cats like routines – If your cat is used to getting treats or table scraps at certain times, they will beg at those accustomed times expecting their “scheduled” treats.

Risks of Overfeeding

Overfeeding cats can lead to serious health issues. Obesity is one of the most common problems caused by overfeeding. According to ScienceAlert, overeating causes weight gain that puts extra strain on a cat’s joints and internal organs. Overweight and obese cats are more prone to diabetes, arthritis, breathing difficulties, liver problems, and dental disease.

Overfeeding can also reinforce begging behavior and picky eating habits in cats. When owners constantly give in to begging, cats learn that they can demand food at any time. This makes it harder to maintain a consistent feeding schedule. Cats may even refuse their regular meals in hopes of getting tastier human food.

Eating too much too quickly is another risk. Cats that bolt down large meals can suffer from vomiting and digestive upset. Their stomachs can get overstretched from taking in more food than they can comfortably handle at one time. This is especially problematic for free-fed cats that graze all day long.

Tips to discourage begging

It can be challenging to resist your cat’s pleas for food when they seem desperate. However, giving in will reinforce the behavior. Here are some tips to discourage begging:

Feed set meals rather than free-feed – Stick to a routine of feeding your cat at the same times every day rather than leaving food out at all times. This will help them understand that food comes at specific times.

Provide enrichment activities when bored – Boredom can trigger begging. Give your cat stimulating toys and activities between meals so they’re entertained and less likely to bug you for food.

Ignore begging behavior – As hard as it is, don’t give any reaction when your cat begs. Look away, leave the room, or distract them with play. Any attention rewards the behavior.

Distract with playtime instead of food – When your cat begs, initiate play with toys like feather wands, laser pointers, or treat puzzles. This shifts their focus to fun rather than food.

Keep treat foods for special occasions – Don’t give table scraps or high-value treats except occasionally. Reserve them for things like vet visits or holidays so your cat doesn’t expect them daily.

When to give in

While it’s important not to overfeed your cat or give in to begging behaviors, there are some instances when supplemental feeding is warranted. If your cat is showing signs of significant weight loss or you notice other red flags like lethargy, illness, or lack of grooming, it’s a good idea to provide some extra food even if they were begging previously. In these cases, your cat’s health takes priority over training.

It can also be ok to provide the occasional treat or share small tastes of human food as a special bonding time. As long as these extras don’t exceed 10% of your cat’s daily caloric needs, they shouldn’t undermine your training efforts. Just be sure to factor the treats into your cat’s meal plan so you don’t end up overfeeding.

The key is finding balance between discouraging begging behaviors and meeting your cat’s needs. Providing scheduled meal times, sticking to portion guidelines, and limiting snacks will help prevent obesity and behavior issues. But being flexible enough to provide extra nutrition when your cat’s health demands it is equally important.

Portion guidelines

When determining the appropriate amount to feed your cat, there are several factors to consider including age, weight, activity level, and health conditions. Generally, the daily caloric requirement for an average adult cat weighing 10 lbs is about 250 calories per day.

Kittens have higher caloric needs and require about 100 calories per pound per day. Senior cats are less active and only need 180-200 calories per day. Very active cats or cats who go outside may need closer to 300 calories per day.

A good starting point is about 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup of quality dry food or 5.5 oz of canned food spread over 2-3 meals per day. However, every cat is unique. Monitor your cat’s body condition and adjust amounts gradually as needed. Consult your veterinarian if you are unsure about proper feeding amounts, especially for kittens or cats with medical issues.

Weighing portions and tracking intake can help determine ideal serving sizes. Stick to the same food volume each day rather than free-feeding. This will make it easier to monitor appetite and know if your cat is actually hungry.

Creating a Routine

Cats thrive on consistency, so creating a routine around feeding times and locations can help curb begging behaviors. Try keeping your cat’s food bowls in a separate room from where they play or lounge. Feeding them in a closed room with their food and water bowls can help reinforce that the kitchen or living room is not an appropriate place to beg or eat.

When introducing any new routine, have patience with your cat. Cats tend to resist change, so gradual adjustments to their schedules may have the best success. Start by pushing back their mealtime by 15 minutes each day until you reach your desired schedule. Only feed them in their designated meal room to reinforce the new routine.

While your cat may meow or act out when you start a new feeding routine, be consistent and don’t give in. With time and patience, they will learn that begging and cries for food outside of mealtimes will not be rewarded with snacks. Stay strong and soon you’ll have a cat that waits patiently for their meals according to your new schedule.


In summary, while begging can be annoying, it’s important not to ignore your cat’s needs. Look for cues like meowing, rubbing against legs, and staring to discern true hunger from attention-seeking behavior. Discourage begging without overfeeding by sticking to a routine, dividing meals, using puzzle feeders, and avoiding people food. But the occasional treat won’t hurt, especially for senior or underweight cats. It’s a balancing act to keep your cat healthy and happy. For more tips, consult your vet or reference sites like The bond between owner and cat can be rewarding with understanding and patience on both sides.

Scroll to Top