What Causes Cats to Eat Grass & Plants?
Cats are carnivores, however, it is not uncommon for felines to consume grass. Eating small amounts of grass is considered normal behavior, and in moderation, grass will not harm a pet. Eating large amounts of grass, however, usually results in vomiting and/or diarrhea, but it will not cause long-term or serious damage to the animal as long as the grass does not contain pesticides or other chemicals. There are several reasons why cats eat grass including digestive issues, dietary deficiencies, compulsion and boredom.
Relief from Hairballs
Some veterinarians believe that cats will eat grass when suffer from a hairball or another form of digestive upset. Since cats are carnivores, they lack the digestive enzymes necessary to properly digest plant matter, which results in vomiting. When a cat regurgitates the grass, other indigestible matter like hairballs are also eliminated from the body, providing relief.
Cats that obsess over non-food items often suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). In addition to grass and plants, cats that suffer from OCD may also chew or suck on non-food items like clothing, fabric, plastic, and electrical cords. Cats with OCD feel a compulsion to chew, which means they cannot stop themselves. Behavior modification alone is often ineffective, and medication is usually required to help cats with OCD.
Some experts believe that cats eat grass and plants because they suffer from some type of nutrient deficiency in their diet. There are other experts who do not subscribe to this theory, however, as scientists have not spent much time studying the reasons why cats eat grass. Owners who are concerned about the dietary nutrition of a cat that eats grass should consult with their veterinarian, who can perform a full blood workup.
A bored cat will look for ways to entertain itself. Leaves that dangle from plants and grass that sways in the breeze may be very enticing for curious and playful cats, much like the fluttering feathers that adorn cat toys. Kittens may be especially drawn to eating grass as they explore the world around them. Other cats may learn that eating grass is an instant way to attract an owner’s attention.
Preventing Cats From Eating Grass & Plants
If a cat occasionally eats grass, it can be a nuisance for owners, but since it is considered normal behavior. Feral, or cats that live in the wild, eat grass almost every day, and most domesticated cats, if given the opportunity, will eat grass and plants in the home. When these plants and grasses are harmless, owner’s need only worry about their plants. However, many household plants are poisonous to cats and should always be kept out of the home. A safe alternatve for indoor cats is to consider growing a small plot of lawn grass or wild oats that their cat can access or, if this is not possible, they can provide an occasional side dish of green vegetables like string beans. If the cat has become obsessive about grass eating, it will be necessary to take steps to prevent the behavior.
Know Your Plants
If you enjoy keeping plants around the house, you must educate yourself on the types of plants that are safe for cats to eat and those that are not. Cats that are determined to eat plants will often find ways to reach those plants, even if you put them out of reach. Remove all plants from the home that are poisonous to cats, to eliminate the chances of an accident.
Some of the most common plants that are harmful to felines are:
- Autumn Crocus
- Castor Bean
- English Ivy
- Peace Lily
- Sago Palm
- Spanish thyme
- Tulip bulbs
- Narcissus bulbs
If you fear your cat has ingested a poisonous plant, immediately call the ASPCA’s pet poison control line at (888) 426-4435.
Limit the Cat’s Access to Grass
Cats that are allowed outdoors during the day should be kept indoors for several days to several weeks, especially if they have become obsessive about eating grass. Houseplants should be kept out of reach on high surfaces or behind closed doors.
If a cat’s outdoor access is limited to a fenced yard, owners should accompany the cat outdoors. When the cat begins to eat grass, clap loudly to startle the cat. A can full of pennies is also very effective at distracting a cat from bad behavior. When owners are consistent with the noise, the cat will begin to associate the act of eating grass with a loud, unpleasant sound, and will stop the behavior. Owners should not swat the cat, hit the cat, or scold the cat for eating grass. These techniques only instill fear, and encourage the cat to continue to eat grass as long as their owner is not around.
Provide Safe Alternatives
Pet supply stores sell a variety of pet grasses that are safe for cats to eat that belong to wheat, oak, barley, and rye families. It may take a few tries to find a pet grass that the cat will respond to. These plants can be placed around the house for grazing purposes, or occasionally presented to the cat as a special treat.
Hange Your Cat's Diet
Many cats eat grass and plants because they are suffering from some type of deficiency in their diet. You may wish to visit the vet to run some blood tests, or you might try switching your cat to a premium food that offers balanced nutrition. Additionally, you can purchase a variety of cat grasses and place them in various locations around the house. These plants will provide your home with greenery, and give cats a safe way to consume the plants they crave.