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Feline Friday: Why Does My Cat Eat Grass?

Does your kitty--or dog--graze on grass? (Image Copr Elise Feinstein)

Not long ago a fun and interesting discussion on my Facebook page generated an Ask Amy video about why dogs eat dirt so it’s not that much of a stretch to ask why does my cat eat grass? Yep, Seren does it too. I suspect many kitties relish the taste of fresh greens. You’ve already seen this Ask Amy about why cats love catnip. The veggie munchies is something different, but what? And why?

I mean, dogs are considered omnivores like humans–able and even eager to eat a variety of foods and derive nourishment. Heck, the Magical-Dawg would munch used Kleenex and socks if we let him (no, those are NOT in the doggy foods list!). So it makes a weird kind of sense that dogs sometimes crave grass since they eat green stuff as a matter of course.

But kitties are obligate carnivores. They MUST eat meat to derive the correct nutrients to live and thrive. So what’s the deal with grazing? Most times after munching, the kitty hurls–oh goody, more stains on the white carpet. That’s because since they are carnivores, kitty digestion isn’t suited to breaking down grass so it gets purged. The tickle-going-down probably adds to that effect.

Does the cat know eating grass will make him hurl? Actually there have been some studies that indicate cats DO very quickly associate eating (X-FOOD) with feeling (good-bad-sick-whatever). In other words, a cat that eats a favorite meal and then gets diarrhea or painful constipation (even though it’s from parasites) may blame the food and thereafter snub a previous favorite treat. Huh. So maybe cats DO know grass will make them hurl–and they use it to purge?

Grass also contains some nutrients the cat’s body CAN use–like folic acid. Oh, and grass or other veggies can help push nondigestibles on through the body, sort of a kitty colonic. Hey, better the cat goes with a DIY, don’t you think? As a former vet tech I’ve been on that (ahem) other end of cleaning out a plugged up kitty and it ain’t fun for anyone!

Do your cats eat grass? Do you provide gazing ops? Here’s a bit more in this latest Ask Amy.

I love hearing from you, so please share comments and questions. Do you have an ASK AMY question you’d like answered? Stay up to date on all the latest just subscribe the blog, “like” me on Facebook, listen to the weekly radio show, check out weekly FREE PUPPY CARE newsletter, and sign up for Pet Peeves newsletter with pet book give-aways!

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About amyshojai

Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified animal behavior consultant, award winning author, and spokesperson to the pet industry.

16 responses »

  1. I used to have an areca palm, but my cat ate it. All of it. It had like seven stems six-ten inches high. Even though we tried to keep it out of her reach, the kitty still found a way onto the microwave and devoured the thing in like five minutes. She didn’t vomit, though.

    Reply
    • Yikes! There’s a reason I have no indoor plants–same thing. When I bring home the palm branches from Palm Sunday services the cat gnoshes and even if I set out of reach she’s after ’em.

      Reply
  2. I actually have a cat question. I live in an apartment on the bottom floor. A new family recently moved in to the apartment above and their little boy throws the most horrendous tantrums. It scares my cat really bad and she freaks, running around the house before finally hiding under the bed for an hour. But it’s also making her more skittish and anxious in general. She jumps now at little noises (she bumped her head doing so once). She’s also not relaxed eating and often drops food when there’s a noise. (Too bad she doesn’t pick it up again, but goes for a new piece, so the floor is covered in cat food.) I feel really bad, but I won’t be able to move for like another six months to a year.

    So do you have any tips for calming her down or easing her anxiety?

    Reply
    • Hi Angela–So very sorry about this situation, the poor kitty! I’d be skittish, too (kids are from MARS as far as some cats are concerned). Baby cries often to cats sound like feline distress calls so that’s almost a normal reaction to become upset. I’ve a whole series of articles on helping ease kitty anxiety–probably the Feliway diffuser and harp music are my top tips for your situation. Here’s a link to the other articles and they’ll have some how-to advice as well:

      http://cats.about.com/od/Fear-Stress-Anxiety-in-Cats/Amy-Shojai-On-Feline-Fear-Stress-And-Anxiety.htm

      Reply
      • It was my understanding that the grass was usually in lieu of hairball medicine? Our late indoor-outdoor cat used grass in addition to the occasional hairball medicine and did not have very many hairballs over the years.

        Our veterinarian’s office said they give the clinic cat hairball medicine a couple of times a week so that was the general recommendation as it worked well for hrer. Our indoor cat had a huge hairball some months back and now I have been diligent with giving him hairball medicine minimally once a week mostly since. Laxatone was what the vet sold and they named a couple of them I can get other places. When he wants something and cannot decide what it is while sitting near the food bowl I calculate his last hairball medicine and it seems to be working, seems to be what he has needed when he is undecided what he is trying to convey.

        Reply
        • Hi Brenda, Different cats have a range of issues with hairballs. Yes, fiber CAN help move a hairball through the digestive system so it’s in the litter box and not something you find barefoot at three in the morning! Just grooming the cat also helps enormously to reduce the amount of fur swallowed during grooming.

          Reply
      • Thanks Amy. When would I play the harp music? It wouldn’t work during the actual tantrums (he makes the walls shake). But would you suggest it as background during the day to help ease her general anxiety?

        Reply
        • Hi Angela,

          Actually the harp music would help during the tantrums, too–it has a natural sedative effect. But certainly it would help as a general anxiety relief during the day, too, as background music. Check out the site http://www.petpause2000.com as a natural remedy for kitty (or other pet) angst. It can put pets (and humans!) to sleep despite lots of activity going on around them.

          Reply
    • Our cat gets very upset at even distant fireworks on holidays. We try to be with him and to comfort him when he will let us. We play Handel’s Water Music or Mozart, that kind of thing too. There may not be a particular time these tantrums occur but if there is perhaps that might help?

      Also, if the tantrums are just too, too much and too constant I have to say I would consider either asking the manager to talk with them or asking the child safety people to see if they can guide them to better parenting.

      Reply
      • The tantrums aren’t regular, but happen about once a week. I think I’d like a cop to come over and scare the kid straight, but I’m not the parent. I know there’s nothing I can do during the incidents, but if I can make her feel more comfortable the rest of the time–I hate how it seems to be affecting her overall comfort. I’ve got some Celtic music with harps and bubbling brooks I can try.

        Reply
  3. My cat never used to eat my plants but he was all over the grass anytime we took him outside and no sooner would he come inside that he’d find the best and newest rug to purge himself on. Frustrating. But we lucked out because he was an indoor cat that only went outside periodically…
    Tess, my dog, loves eating grass. Almost anytime outside, you can catch her sniffling around and munching down. Normally she doesn’t purge but from time to time, she will so we do try to deter her if she seems to be going a bit insane in her grass meal.
    Happy weekend!

    Reply
    • Magical-Dawg eats grass early in the morning if he’s not yet eaten breakfast. I think he’s so empty he has to eat something and that can cause the ‘urks.’

      Seren doesn’t go outside anymore–she used to on leash but hasn’t seemed interested the past several years so that’s just as well.

      Happy weekend to you, too!

      Reply
  4. Pingback: Feline Friday: Why Does My Cat Eat Grass? « Undercover Kitty

  5. Hey Amy :-). I often also get asked why do dogs like to eat another dog’s poo (medical term known as coprophagia) and definitely think it is worth a future discussion. With regards to kitty cats, I definitely agree, they have discovered that grass will make them gag. I don’t think it is abnormal for a cat to eat some fresh grass every now and then but if it become frequent (daily to weekly) as opposed to once a month or etc, I consider there is an underlying medical cause like inflammatory bowel disease, gastric upsets, obstructions and the list goes on. I thereby definitely recommend a kitty cat is taken to the vet for a full exam and workup if she/he seems to be displaying a huge craving for grass & regurgitation/vomiting episodes.

    Reply
  6. I always knew kitties were smart…good info.

    Reply

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