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Why Cats Overeat & What to do About it

Overeating has become a very common issue in cats, especially for the ones that live indoors. There are multiple causes that can lead cats to overeat.

A cat may overeat due to boredom, stress, a dry cat food diet, medications, and/or a medical issue.

It’s important to note that no matter how cute your cat is when they beg, or how annoying they can be when they want food, overfeeding is not going to benefit you or them in any way. Allowing your cat to overindulge sets them up for serious health problems in the future.

If your cat is overeating and begging from you constantly, this is a good indication that action needs to be taken regarding their diet and/or lifestyle.

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Boredom & Stress


Cats get stressed, just like people. Particularly by changes in their daily lives and routines, or by something that they perceive as a threat.

Stress can be a big influencing factor when it comes to appetite. It can cause cats to overeat, or not to eat enough. Stress can even cause vomiting, digestive issues, and cystitis.

A few examples of environmental stressors that can be affecting your cat’s appetite:

  • Another cat, or other animal, that they feel threatened by (They can also eat too much and too quickly if they feel like they must compete for food.)
  • Travelling
  • If you or someone in your household that they are used to seeing has left or is travelling
  • Changes in work schedule (or school schedule, etc.)
  • Changes in their feeding schedule
  • New people, or visitors
  • A death in the household
  • A new baby
  • Cats hanging around outside
  • Moving
  • A new cat or other animal’s smell or presence
  • & many more

There are various ways to try and combat stress in cats. Some ideas include:

  • Exercise and play therapy
  • Separate cats during feeding, if this is the issue (this means you must schedule feed)
  • Try to make every day as routine and predictable for your cat as possible
  • Do your best to eliminate/minimize environmental stressors
  • Use positive association for stressors that are beyond your control (clicker training, or desensitization combined with counter conditioning are wonderful ways to achieve this)
  • Use calming remedies, such as CatCalm (click here to learn more about this remedy)


Boredom is a very typical cause of overeating in cats. Stress and boredom go hand in hand. Not receiving enough mental stimulation and exercise can cause a cat to become stressed out. This can lead to obsessive eating, over-grooming, agitation, play aggression, and more.


Cats are born hunters. Whether they live indoors or not, their wild instincts dictate that they work for their food. Taking this instinct into account, and building a daily routine around it for your cat will improve so many aspects of their behavior and overall health.

When an indoor cat is not being stimulated regularly by interactive play, this is in direct conflict with their natural instincts. They become sedentary, depressed, bored, and overeating can certainly occur.

I talk about how create a play routine a little further down in this article, and also in:

What Every Cat Parent Needs to Know About Playing with Their Cat

Related Article:

7 Simple and Effective Cat Weight Loss Tips

Dry Cat Food Causes Overeating, Diabetes, Obesity, & More


A Little Bit About Your Cat’s Metabolic Function

To put it into very simple terms, cats have evolved to derive their energy and nutrients primarily from animal protein. In doing so, their systems have adapted to being non-dependent on carbs.

In fact, they lack sufficient enzymes and enzymatic pathways to metabolize excessive amounts of carbohydrates.

The diet a cat has evolved to eat consists of whole, raw prey. The only carbohydrate content in this diet comes from the prey’s stomach, and makes up a maximum of around 3% of the diet. To put this into perspective, dry cat food typically has up to 50% carbohydrates.

How the Feline Body Reacts to Excessive Carbs & Why It Causes Cats to Overeat

The high-heat process in which dry cat food is made causes the carbs to convert into simple sugars. When your cat eats this dry food, it causes a serious spike in blood sugar, that their systems are not equipped to handle.

This blood sugar spike causes the pancreas to pump out an excessive amount of insulin. After a while, cats build up a tolerance to the insulin, causing insulin-resistance.

“This is the reason why cats fed dry kibble are in a constant hunger state: the natural sharp insulin feedback mechanism is totally disrupted.” -Feline Nutrition Foundation

After eating, there is still a large amount of insulin in the bloodstream. This insulin is looking for more carbs to deal with, and therefore causes the cat to crave more food.  It becomes something the cat can’t control, much like a person who has a substance addiction, and has built up a tolerance.

This condition is a cause of pre-diabetes. When it goes on for too long, the pancreas can no longer continue to produce insulin. This is when the condition has developed into type 2 diabetes, and at this point insulin shots are required.

“These highly-refined and processed carbs slow down the metabolism and block many enzymatic pathways, produce inflammation and as a result contribute to diseases such as diabetes, early aging, allergies, periodontal disease, endocrine pathway shutdown and cancer.” -excerpt from Feline Nutrition Foundation.

For a very in-depth explanation of this process, check out this incredible article from Feline Nutrition Foundation: What Dry Food Does to Your Cat’s Appetite

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Related Articles:

Homemade Cat Food: The Art of Feeding Your Cat for Optimal Health and Longevity

7 Ways Raw Cat Food Improved My Cats’ Health

Medical Issues

If Your Cat is Suddenly Hungry All the Time

If your cat is overeating, but seems to be losing weight and has sudden bursts of energy, this is an indicator that they may have hyperthyroidism. In this case, your cat should be taken to the vet as soon as possible.

Other Factors that Cause Cats to Overeat

Cold temperatures can cause a cat to eat more food

Diabetes, or pre diabetes (as explained above) can be the underlying cause for overeating. So can digestive problems, pregnancy, cold temperatures, and increased physical activity.

Certain medications can cause cats to overeat. Check the side effects that are associated with the medications your cat is taking, and talk to your veterinarian about finding an alternative.

Tips to Stop Your Cat from Overeating

1) Switch to High Quality, High Moisture, High Protein Food

I promise, you will not regret this decision! This is the best thing I have ever done regarding the health of my beloved kitties. If I could go back, I would have my cats eating a raw diet from the very beginning.

A gently cooked diet is alright, but raw is even better. It’s proven to be more digestible for cats, and is the closest to what they would eat in the wild.

If your budget doesn’t allow a high quality pre-made food, check out my post:

Homemade Cat Food: The Art of Feeding Your Cat for Optimal Health and Longevity

Also check out this post for more info on raw cat food:

7 Ways Raw Cat Food Improved My Cats’ Health

2) Minimize Stress

Use the tips mentioned above, in the “Boredom and Stress” section of this article.

3)Play with Your Cat and Set up Activities to Mentally and Physically Stimulate Them

Interactive play is an incredibly important aspect of a cat’s life. This simulates the hunting experience, and satisfies that predatory urge that dominates their mind.

Playing with your cat daily, at least twice a day for 10-20 minutes each time is ideal. This may seem like a lot, but it can be easily fit into even a very busy schedule. And the benefits you will see from doing this cannot be overstated!

If you don’t know much about interactive play, please check out my post:

What Every Cat Parent Needs to Know About Playing With Their Cat.

Using a Puzzle-Feeder, like this one or a cat maze, like this one are wonderful options that encourage your cat to work for their food. It is an amazing way to stimulate them mentally, and get those kitty instincts engaged in a fun, productive way!

Don’t forget, no dry kibble! These freeze-dried minnow treats go very well with either one of the puzzle feeders above, and my cats are seriously obsessed with them. I use them as training treats.

4) Stop Free Feeding

used as an visual example of free-feeding

We’ve been talking a lot about the “natural cat,” and satisfying those natural cat requirements. Not only what you feed your cat, but also how you feed them is a key aspect of this.

Free feeding goes against the natural rhythm of a cat. Cats are not grazers, they are hunters. They typically eat a meal of small, whole prey up to 12 times a day.

Now, let’s be honest, that is a little excessive, even for me….

I feed my cats three times a day. Morning, afternoon, and evening. This works with my schedule, and my cats do well with it. I believe 3-4 times a day to be a sufficient amount. (Although a vet I follow and respect very much advises 6 times. So if you can swing it, go for it!) Cats should never eat less than twice a day.

Free-Feeding also encourages cats to overeat, especially if they have nothing better to do.

Schedule-feeding gives you complete control over how often and how much your cat is eating.

Using a slow feeder, like this one will help slow your cat down while they are eating. It’s great if you have a kitty who wolfs down their food, like my cat Doja.

5) Create Routines

The best routine for your feline is as follows:

  • Interactive play session
  • Eat a meal
  • Sleep
  • Repeat

*This routine should take place close to the same times every day. It also needs to be supplemented with other types of play and enrichment.

I know that playing before every meal can be hard to fit into a schedule. But if you can get in a good play session (even if it’s ten minutes) followed by a meal, twice a day, this should make a drastic improvement in your cat’s behavior and well-being.

6) Take Your Cat to the Vet

If you are concerned that your cat’s overeating due to a medical issue, taking them to the vet to see what’s going on is the best option.

In Conclusion

Cats overeat for many reasons. Shaping your cat’s daily life according to their instinctual needs is so important when it comes to their health and behavior. There is a huge payoff when we work with our cats’ natural way of being, rather than against it.

Feeding them a species-appropriate diet, playing with them daily, stimulating them mentally, and creating a routine they love has profound effects!


What Dry Food Does to Your Cat’s Appetite- feline-nutrition.org

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