Do Cats Need Grass?
Certainly those of us with houseplants and cats know our feline companions can do a good deal of damage snacking in the windowsill garden. My beloved cat, Symba, ascribed to the Morticia Addams school of floral design when it came to roses. He would gently behead every flower until the vase contained only stems and the floor below was littered with blossoms.
Whether you have an indoor or outdoor cat, one thing is for certain: your feline friend has probably nibbled on grass on more than one occasion. While it might seem like strange behavior — especially when your cat throws up afterwards — there’s really nothing to worry about. Not only is there no evidence to suggest that grass will harm your cat, but many experts theorize munching on those long green blades can be beneficial for your cat.
Cats regurgitate when they eat grass because they lack the necessary enzymes to break down vegetable matter. Does this mean your cat likes to throw up? Well, while it’s doubtful that kitty enjoys the act, this up-chucking sensation may eliminate all indigestible matter from the cat’s digestive tract, making it feel a whole lot better. This is important because cats eat their prey as is, including both the edible and inedible parts (fur, bones, feathers, etc.).
From a nutritional standpoint, cats do not have a nutritional requirement for the carbohydrates contained in grass. They are obligate carnivores, meaning they are biologically designed to consume, digest and obtain all their nutrients from meat. Cats do not have the flat wide teeth for chewing grass like cows do; the feline dentition had evolved to efficiently eat meat, not chew grass. Cats have a very short digestive tract as meat is more readily digested than grass. Unique to the cat is their requirement for the amino acids, arginine and taurine, which are found only in meat.
It’s in the Juice
Much like mother’s milk, the juices in grass contain folic acid. This is an essential vitamin for a cat’s bodily functions and assists in the production of hemoglobin, the protein that moves oxygen in the blood. Think of it as a wheat grass shake for your kitty (let’s hope they like it more than you do).
Just because they don’t have a requirement for carbohydrates doesn’t mean they can’t utilize the nutrients provided by carbohydrates. Most commercial cat foods contain some carbohydrate source helping to create a balanced diet for your cat. But cats don’t need the carbohydrates or cat grass for that matter.
Even if they don’t need a cat salad, some cats really like to eat plants. No one knows exactly why, but we can speculate. Since cats do typically not digest grass, they often vomit it back up with a hairball or two. The theory is the cat uses the grass to rid itself of hairballs. But not all cats that eat grass vomit.
Another theory is that grass acts as a natural laxative, counteracting any cases of indigestion. As any cat owner knows, cats regularly throw up and leave lovely, wet little fur ball presents around the house. But when the fur moves deep into the digestive tract, kitty needs a little help to break it down and pass it out the other end. Call it a sixth sense or just intuition, but your cat knows that a little bit of grass may just go a long way in cleaning out its system (and may save you a trip to the veterinarian).
The next theory is cats consume grass because they have a nutritional deficiency. In my clinical practice at the Animal Medical Center, nutritional deficiencies are rare because cat foods are highly researched and government regulated to assure cat owners they are feeding a complete and balanced diet. I actually think cats may simply like to chew on plants because they taste good or because they are fun to eat. My plant-eating cat especially liked spider plants and would bat at the leaves and then pounce on the moving ones before he ate them level with the dirt in the pot.
So if your cat craves a salad, go ahead and feed her one. Just be sure it is a safe salad. Certain houseplants such as lilies, amaryllis and crocus can cause kidney failure in cats. More on plants toxic to pet can be found on the Animal Poison Control website.
All in all, ingesting grass is not a bad thing. Some even believe cats eat grass to relieve sore throats. We would like to point one thing out, though. Regardless of whether you have an indoor or an outdoor cat, you should make sure that all your household plants are of the non-toxic variety. You may also want to buy a small tray of grass just for the cat, or start an herbal home garden. This will give your cat an alternative to the outdoor grass and landscaping, the eating of which could lead to accidental ingestion of pesticides, herbicides, or chemicals that may have been used to treat your (or your neighbor’s) yard.