Why do Cats Eat Grass and Is It Safe?
Veterinarian Reviewed by Dr. Janice Huntingford, DVM on May 17, 2018
Posted in Cats
As almost any cat owner who lets their feline friends outside knows, cats have a strange obsession with grass. They’ll poke and prod at it, play with it, sniff it and even bite it—a lot. Cats eating grass is a pretty normal occurrence, and so is the pile of vomit you’re sure to find shortly after.
Both indoor and outdoor cats are guilty of eating grass at some point. Many pet owners worry about their cats when they see them eating grass because they know the cat will eventually get sick. While it’s natural to assume that throwing up is synonymous with danger, that isn’t the case with normal, clean grass. In reality, your cat eating grass is nothing to worry about.
If cats can eat grass, but will almost certainly get sick after doing so, then why do they continue to eat it? Veterinarians and animal experts don’t have an exact reason behind this, but they do have a few theories for why cats love to nibble on nature’s most prevalent greens.
They need vitamins
Grass has a healthy dose of folic acid—an essential vitamin cats get from their mother’s milk as a kitten. Folic acid aids the production of hemoglobin, which helps move oxygen in their bloodstream. Without enough folic acid, cats can develop health problems.
It might be a stomach ache
The reason cats throw up after eating grass is because they do not have the necessary stomach enzymes to properly digest veggies. Cats also run into trouble digesting some materials from animals they kill—particularly in outdoor cats. When they hunt and eat their prey, cats will devour it entirely, feathers, bones and all. Additionally, hairballs can be difficult to digest.
One theory from cat experts suggests that cats will eat grass because it will make them throw up, more effectively getting rid of that undigestible material from their stomachs. This might help them feel better!
The problem might be with the other end, too. Hairballs can be difficult for cats to pass once they venture further into the digestive system. Some vets believe grass acts as a natural laxative for cats because of its fiber content, helping them break down and pass hairballs.
Chock it up to curiosity
Finally, some experts think cats might just eat grass because they’re curious and because they like the taste. Our feline companions do a lot of strange things and eating grass might just be another one!
When eating grass becomes a problem
Healthy cats eating grass once in a while isn’t going to pose a problem for their health. However, obsessive eating might be indicative of a larger underlying health issue.
Pica, an eating disorder in which your cat will persistently consume non-digestible materials, may cause cats to eat an unhealthy amount of grass. This disorder can be a big problem for cats, so you should take it in to see a vet if you think the grass-eating is getting out of hand.
Similarly, there are a few different compulsive disorders that may cause cats to eat grass more often than normal. These disorders are usually signified by the cat chewing on a lot of different items, like clothing.
While these disorders should be addressed as soon as possible by a pet care professional, you shouldn’t jump to this conclusion immediately if you notice your cat munching on grass. Pay attention to their behavior and monitor the amount of grass they eat, as well as if they start digesting other materials.
Healthy grass, healthy cats
If your cat likes to eat grass, one big problem you could face is if the grass is treated with pesticides and other chemicals before your cat starts nibbling. These chemicals are extremely toxic to animals and can make your cat very sick, so be sure to keep them away from the grass around lawn-spraying time.
If your cat spends most of its time indoors, monitor their behavior if they do go outside to make sure they don’t eat the chemically-treated grass. For outdoor and indoor cats, you might want to consider growing an herb garden or a small planter of pet grass. This will ensure the grass your cat munches on is safe and healthy. Remember, though, not all plants are the same. Many houseplants are toxic to cats, so try to find grass specifically designed for felines.
In summation, don’t fret if your cat heads outside and nibbles on a little grass now and then. Cleaning up cat puke is never a good time for pet owners, but you can rest assured that your feline friend will be just fine, if not a little healthier than before.
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Janice Huntingford, DVM, has been in veterinary practice for over 30 years and has founded two veterinary clinics since receiving her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine at the Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph. She has studied extensively in both conventional and holistic modalities. Ask Dr. Jan