Do Cats Eat Grass and Plants Because They're Sick?

Posted on 09 Dec 2015 00:43 by EricT

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Both outdoor, indoor, and in-between cats will occasionally eat plants. Grass tends to be a favorite, but as cat people will tell you, they will nibble on all sorts of plants, including house plants.

The prevailing wisdom is that "cats eat plants because they're sick." Many cats seem to prefer grass, so they may also say that cats eat grass because they're sick.

It is true that many cats chew on grass when they can get it. Feral cats or wild cats will eat grass most every day. When cats eat other plants, it could be simply because this is the only alternative they have.

Why would a cat who is sick eat grass or other plants? Is your cat an amateur herbalist who knows what plant will cure what ails her? Often, the supposition is that when cats have upset stomachs they feel a need to throw up and know that plants will make them throw up, and thus feel better, so they seek out the nearest vegetation.

Quite often, a cat will vomit right after eating some grass or another plant. So, it does seem an apt observation: My cat must have been nauseated and needed to throw up.

What is the Real Reason Cats Eat Grass?

We really do not know why cats eat plants. It is highly unlikely that they eat grass or plants to cure themselves of a stomach-ache, especially since they show little selectivity in what plants they choose. Cats will even nibble on poisonous house plants. In fact, most house plants are toxic to a cat.

If a cat throws up after eating a bit of plant leaf, it may well be because he ate a plant he should not have eaten. Some plants can be mildly toxic, leading to an upset stomach and vomiting. Other plants can be very toxic, and depending on the amount eaten, fatal.

domestic cat eating grass outdoors

Emetic Effect: Causing Vomiting

Even harmless plants may have an emetic effect (causing vomiting). You know all about how cats "cough up" hairballs. You also know that they are not coughing them up, they are vomiting them up. It could be that cats are instinctively attracted to roughage to aid in the purging of hair balls from their stomachs. The fiber may also help the hairballs pass through the digestive tract. Only some of the hair that your cat ingests while grooming stays in balls in the stomach. Some of it ends up in the gut and passes through into the feces. Green fibrous plants may help in this process.

Plants for Vitamins and Minerals

It could also be that cats are attracted to plants for nutrition reasons, to get vitamins and minerals they wouldn't normally get from meat. Cats do eat animals that are plant-eaters, and will sometimes partially consume the plant-based stomach or bowel contents. Perhaps cats develop a taste for plant-matter from this, or derived nutrients from it, and then are instinctively attracted to this occasional food source. This would, however, mean that cats crave a food based on nutritional need, something that doesn't even happen in humans (I.E. this is a myth). As well, a cat's basic nutritional needs do not really include vegetables.

Cats may just like the taste and texture of green food now and again. We simply do not know.

Whatever the case, the cat's predilection for munching on plants means that you should keep them away from houseplants. You may be wondering what house plants are toxic for cats. Poinsettas are often mentioned. You will also find short lists such as pilodendrons, diefenbachia, ivy, etc. but there are so many common houseplants that can harm your cat you are better off assuming that all house plants are off limits. If you need a comprehensive list, check the ASPCA's list of toxic and non-toxic plants for cats.

You can, of course, provide some greenery that is safe for your cat to nibble. She will probably appreciate it. Most pet stores have little pots of cat grass for sale, as well as seeds for growing your own.


cat eating possibly poisonous houseplant

Cat's may munch on houseplants like the cat in this photo. This
is something you want to avoid, as many common houseplants,
not just the exotic ones, are toxic to cats!


What is Cat Grass?

Cat grass is not a special kind of grass for cats. The term simply refers to any grass that is grown indoors for cats to eat. Most of the time, these are young grasses, meaning that a cat likes young, tender, grass shoots, so you can buy a pot and let your cat nibble away, and then buy another.

Or, you can grow your own pot and when the grass shoots up but is still young, provide this for your cat while having another post growing, so it will be ready when your pet is done with the last pot. Growing your own grass for your cat may seem a bit much, but these grasses germinate from seed within a week and you'll have a pot full of tender grass with very little effort.

You can purchase multiple grass kits for growing your own cat grass. These kits, such as the SmartCat Kitty's Garden Edible Grass Planter, come with a variety of seeds such as wheat, oats, barley, and rye. Once the grass is done, you can purchase a refill to get another batch going. You may want to buy two kits to get started, so you can have one ready to go once your cat is finished with the first one. Do not expect to have an immortal pot of grass growing. You will have to replant, but it only takes 4 to 6 days to grow. One reviewer reported a bug infestation with the seeds. This is common with organic products, both soil and seeds. Although this problem is uncommon, you can place the seed in the freezer for a while to kill any bugs, before planting.

the common varieties of grass that are used for commercial cat grass are oat grass, barley, wheat grass, Japanese millet, and bluegrass. Cats also love rye grass. Fescue is another option.

Remember, some grasses are poisonous for cats! Make sure you know exactly what kind of grass you are giving your cat and that it is safe. Sorghum, for example, is poisonous to cats.

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