Why Do Cats Eat Grass? Plus Related Questions
By Chyrle Bonk, DVM June 03, 2019
You may have noticed that when your cat ventures outside, they seem to enjoy nibbling on your lawn. While your cat won’t be putting as much effort into grazing as a horse does, they might selectively work over any grassy patch. Since you feed your cat high quality cat food, what could he or she possibly need from grass? The answer may be many things.
Why Do Cats Eat Grass?
Eating grass can be an important way for cats to regulate and alleviate minor gastrointestinal upsets. Munching on grass can also provide vitamins and other nutrients that may be low in your kitty’s diet and provide a way to curb boredom or anxiety. Finally, some curious cats will explore their environment through different routes, including taste.
Reasons Cats Eat Grass
- Aid For Passing Indigestibles
Just like other leafy greens, grass is high in fiber. We all know that fiber is good for clearing out the digestive tract. Kitties that suffer from hairball induced or other forms of constipation can really benefit from a fiber jump-start to their system. Since cats lack the enzymes necessary to digest grass, a lot of the grass that is consumed makes its way to the lower gastrointestinal tract to help bulk up and move out feces and indigestibles like hairballs. Snacking on grass may be a cat’s way of naturally avoiding an enema.
- Aid For Vomiting Indigestibles
When people experience a little indigestion or upset stomach, we tend to pound the antacids. Since our kitties can’t open the childproof bottles, they need to seek relief in other ways. As previously mentioned, kitties don’t have the ability to digest grass leading the body to get rid of it one way or another. Most grass that is eaten by your kitty is actually vomited back up shortly after consumption. Along with the grass comes hair, and if your kitty is a hunter, then bones, fur, feathers, and anything else that may be upsetting their stomach. Instead of thinking that your cat is eating grass because he or she may actually enjoy vomiting, look at it as an ingenious way to fix what ails him or her.
- A Natural Supplement
The juice in grass is like nature’s green smoothie. Even though cats’ can’t digest grass, the biting and chewing of grass shoots releases enough juice for cats to get folic acid. Folic acid is a B vitamin and gains a lot of importance in pregnant women in the prevention of neural birth defects. But, it is also necessary for cellular growth and the production of red blood cells in growing kittens and adult cats. Red blood cells’ main function is to carry oxygen to tissues throughout the body. A low number of red blood cells is called anemia and can be seen as lethargy and poor growth. So your kitty’s grass snacking habit may come from a dietary deficiency.
- A Grass-fed Curiosity
It’s no secret that cats are curious. If you don’t believe it, try leaving an empty paper bag or box on the floor. Then see how long it takes for your cat to come investigate and then get completely inside of it. To a kitty that spends a lot of time indoors, grass and other outdoor foliage becomes something that they may only get to fantasize about. When kitties get the chance to explore outside, they use all of their senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and yes, taste. Nibbling on a blade of grass here and there gives cats information about their environment. It gives your cat a way to experience the world that he or she watches through the window. Even though cats are obligate carnivores (meaning they crave a diet high in protein), that doesn’t mean that they’re satisfied with meat alone. We all need to shake things up every once in a while. Grass provides some different texture and flavor than their normal dinner.
- A Nervous Appetite
Even though your kitty may seem pretty chill while napping the day away, it doesn’t mean your cat doesn’t experience his or her share of stress and anxiety. Eating grass may be a way of coping. Just like those people that have to constantly chew gum or bite their fingernails, a kitty’s biting and chewing can be a form of oral fixation. These kitties may start by eating grass or chewing on blankets when stressors like a move or the arrival of a new feline friend occur. Also, being natural born hunters, the act of attacking a blade of grass may take them back to their roots, release some pent-up anxiety, and calm those rattled nerves.
Do Cats Eat Grass In The Wild?
Yes. Wild cats are the kings and queens of self-medication. So while it may be funny to imagine a lion or tiger out grazing on the savannah, it absolutely does happen. It is probably more common than with our domestic kitties because these big cats normally consume prey, hair, bones, and all. As we said before, eating grass and then vomiting back up helps clear those unwanted items from the stomach. Grass also forces any indigestible products that made it through to the intestine out to the other side as excrement. With the amount of undesirable material that a wild cat eats, eating grass is more the norm than just an occasional snack.
Safe Grasses for Cats to Eat
Before you go turning your feline friend out to graze, be sure that the greens that you have are safe. Fortunately, normal lawn grasses like Kentucky Bluegrass, fescue and Bermuda grass are all safe. If your kitty doesn’t have the luxury of going outside, you can indulge his or her grass-eating desires by planting small patches of wheat, oat, or barley grass, commonly referred to as cat grasses. Kitties may also enjoy lemongrass, catnip, or cat thyme for a little extra pick-me-up. For a more elegant touch, try growing some mint! Cats not only enjoy the taste, but the aroma as well.
Is Eating Grass Bad For My Cat?
So it may seem that your cat’s appetite for grass is no big deal, and in most cases it’s not. However, eating grass becomes a concern when he or she is allowed to nibble on some that has been treated with fertilizers, pesticides, or herbicides. If you use any of these chemicals on your yard, then it is important to follow the manufacturer’s directions for when it is safe to let pets come in contact after application. You can also consider using a pet-safe option to help eliminate this concern.
Another potential complication to letting your cat eat greenery is the consumption of toxic plants. Know what’s growing in your yard and house. Either replace toxic plants with cat-safe foliage or block your cat’s access. If your kitty eats any toxic or even suspicious plants, then be sure to contact your veterinarian immediately.
A final reason to monitor your cat’s grass consumption is to track the frequency and amount. It’s perfectly normal for your kitty to nibble or sample a few blades here and there every couple of days. It may also be normal to see him or her mowing down a patch of cat grass once a week. What is not normal is if your cat is begging to get outside and immediately chowing down for several minutes every day or seems to spend the entire day grazing. This could indicate a severe stomach problem that should be looked at by a veterinarian.
Should Your Cat be Allowed To Eat Grass?
To sum it all up, in general it’s not bad for a cat to eat grass. A little grass snack here and there is a great natural way to relieve minor stomach irritation or mild constipation. Your cat might also like the extra enrichment that stalking and attacking a blade of grass brings. Your kitty may enjoy this delicacy in his or her diet and benefit from the extra vitamins as well.
A major downside to your cat’s curiosity for grass would be if he or she were to get a toxic plant or greens that have been treated with toxic chemicals. Always be sure to supervise your kitty when he or she is outside, even if you don’t think there are any plants to worry about. For indoor kitties, keep them on the safe side by planting cat-friendly grasses like the ones discussed above and make sure all toxic plants are out of bounds.
Do You Need To Stop Your Cat From Eating Grass?
Most cats can have free access to yard grasses and cat friendly pots. The only time you should curb your cat’s grass appetite is if they are starting to get curious about other plants in your yard or home that might not be safe. Also, you will want to stop their snacking if they are starting to venture out of your yard in search of, well, other grass.
Our kitties have some strange and sometimes amusing habits of which eating grass is definitely one. It is important to remember that your cat is not channeling his or her inner herbivore. He or she may actually be taking care of minor health issues in a homeopathic way, or even getting back to his or her wild, hunter roots. Before turning your cat out to pasture, be sure that your yard is safe from toxic plants and chemicals that could make your cat sick. You’re then free to sit back and watch your kitty play out a hunting fantasy or simply help nature take its course.