To what end do cats eat grass?
You might be worried about your cat's health if you find her munching on grass, but do cats ever eat grass when they're perfectly healthy? As for the original question, why do cats eat grass?
To What End Do Cats Feast On Grass?
As "obligate carnivores," cats can't survive without regularly eating meat. They can get by just fine without a side of greens with their chicken because their digestive systems lack the enzymes required to break down plant matter. Is it possible for cats to eat grass, though? To put it briefly, yes. It's more important to feed your cat a balanced diet that includes all the nutrients it needs than it is to give your cat a plate of freshly cut grass, no matter how much your cat might enjoy the crunch (more on that later).
According to recent research, feline grass-eaters may share nutritional motivations with human greens eaters. Cats may consume the green stuff for a variety of reasons, including the removal of non-digestible materials like fur, the relief of constipation, and the provision of nutrients like folic acid, as hypothesized by Animal Planet. According to Vetstreet, chewing on grass or plants can also help reduce anxiety.
Wants and Needs in the Digestive System
Animal Planet reports that while experts do not consider grass to be necessary for cats' digestive systems, cats will sometimes seek out soft blades of grass "to settle their stomachs, much as humans pop an antacid tablet." Your cat will naturally use the fiber in plants to clear her system if she has overeaten or is backed up. How often do you find your cat gnawing on the toilet paper roll? She is seeking relief, not intentionally wasting household goods, because of her need for fiber.
Vitamin B9 (folate) is essential for cats because it aids in digestion and promotes healthy cell growth. Cats get enough folic acid from their mothers' milk, but if they don't get enough, they can develop anemia, as reported by Animal Planet. There is no conclusive evidence that cats actively seek out grass to make up for a folic acid deficiency, and the cats themselves aren't talking, but some researchers have hypothesized as much. Consult your vet if you think your furry friend may be suffering from a nutritional deficiency before taking any self-diagnosis or -treatment measures.
Just like their human owners, cats can engage in what is known as "stress eating" or "emotional eating," in which the animal eats for reasons other than hunger, such as comfort or to satisfy a fixation on a particular food item. She needs to find a way to relieve her tension, and Vetstreet suggests that "a cat that constantly eats grass or plants also may be exhibiting signs of a displacement behavior." Some cats show signs of anxiety, such as excessive grooming or meowing, while others seek solace in a different activity, such as finding something to chew on. Get in touch with your vet if you find that your cat is exhibiting signs of stress or anxiety, such as excessive chewing on grass or houseplants, withdrawal from family members, or aggressive behavior.
Where to Find It
Why, then, do felines partake in such a seemingly unhealthy practice? Grass, it turns out, solves many of their problems. Most often, this comes in the form of hairballs, a phenomenon well-known to pet owners everywhere. Some cats vomit after eating for other reasons, like a change in diet, but if you know your cat has eaten grass, you can count on it being vomited back up.
Cats, lacking the necessary enzymes to digest grass, will promptly vomit up the grass they ingested, along with any hair and other undigested debris. When the fur reaches the lower part of the digestive tract, however, "kitty needs a little help breaking it down and passing it out the other end," as explained by PetMD. That is to say, if the grass clippings your cat ate don't re-emerge as hairballs, she'll probably get rid of them in the litter box.
Foraging cats in the wild (and big cats like lions and tigers still do) frequently ingested their entire prey, including the bones, hair, and organs, making vomiting an essential part of the digestive process. Even the most spoiled cat has an innate understanding that chewing grass will help her get rid of the waste that's causing her digestive issues.
Prevention and Security
As was previously mentioned, your cat may eliminate the grass she ate in a few different ways, including via hairball, stool, or a combination of the two. You shouldn't be too worried if she likes to eat grass occasionally and then promptly spits out the blades.
Some grass, however, "ends up stuck at the back of the nose, inside the nasal chambers, causing fits of sneezing," as reported by the Independent Ireland. Cats are more likely than dogs to experience this problem. If this occurs, the grass must be dug up manually. If this happens, it's best to have your pet surgically removed as soon as possible.
The grass in your yard can serve as a healthy salad bar for your feline friend, but if she eats any plants, indoors or out, that have been treated with pesticides or herbicides or are naturally toxic to animals, she should be taken to the vet immediately.
Toxic plant ingestion can cause mild to life-threatening symptoms, so it's important to know which grasses and plants are safe for your cat. Toxic grasses, plants, and flowers, such as lilies, can be found in many conventional flower arrangements. The ASPCA® has compiled a thorough list of both toxic and non-toxic plants for cats.
The safest course of action is to confine your cat indoors and get rid of any potentially poisonous plants in the house. Give your cat a safe collar and an ID tag in case she decides to venture outside.
If you ever wondered, "Why do cats eat grass?" Planting wheat-berry seeds, as Petcha describes, will give your indoor cat a small, secure lawn of her own on which to graze.
It's me, Christine O'Brien
A writer, mother, and long-time cat parent, Christine O'Brien's two Russian Blues are the undisputed monarchs of her home. Care isn't the only publication to feature her work. She has a column on About.com, and she also contributes to What to Expect and Fit Pregnancy, where she discusses pregnancy, pets, and family life. Visit @brovelliobrien on Instagram and Twitter to keep up with her.
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