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Why do cats eat plants?

Many cats are observed eating grass or plants by their owners, and this is a fairly common behaviour amongst cats. It is particularly puzzling because, as we know, cats are obligate carnivores and do not require any vegetation to survive.

There are several theories to explain this strange behaviour, and the reasons may vary from cat to cat. Many believe that cats eat grass in order to make themselves sick. This happens because cats do not possess the digestive enzymes to digest vegetable matter. This helps them to regurgitate anything that they are having trouble digesting such as feathers from their prey or their own fur from grooming.

Cats may also consume vegetation because it is high in fibre. This could signal underlying gastrointestinal complaints as your cat may be seeking fibre to speed up the journey of digested and undigested matter through the GI tract.

Many people believe that cats chew on grass as a natural stress relief remedy. Much like humans, cats comfort eat and can also experience a relaxing or calming effect from eating and chewing. Remove any aggravating factors from your cat’s environment if you think you cat may be stress eating.

Of course, it could just be the case that your cat enjoys the taste of grass, or that their favourite shrub offers a new and interesting texture to them.
Whilst eating small amounts of grass or plants shouldn’t do any harm to your cat, you should be careful if using weedkillers and other harmful chemicals in your garden. If you know your cat is partial to nibbling on your lawn, it is best not to use any pesticides.

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There are many plants and flowers that are commonly found in the gardens and homes of British cat owners that are toxic to cats. It is very important to ensure that you do not bring any of the following into your home or garden, as they could seriously risk the health of your cat if they eat them (please note this list is not exhaustive):

  • Amaryllis
  • Autumn Crocus
  • Azaleas and Rhododendrons
  • Chrysanthemum
  • Daffodils
  • Hyacinth
  • Lilys
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Tulip
  • Yew

The safest way to provide your cat with vegetable matter to chew on, is to grow your own “kitty grass”. Kits can be purchased inexpensively from many pet shops and this way you can be sure there are no dangerous species of plants or any harmful chemicals on them. This is also a good idea if you have indoor cats, to satisfy their natural behaviour of plant eating. Plants and grasses that are usually recommended include:

  • Oatgrass
  • Barley grass
  • Wheatgrass
  • Ryegrass
  • Orchard grass

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Just because you know that your houseplants are cat-friendly, does not mean that you are necessarily happy about your cat munching on them. There are several different ways to deter your cat from eating your plants. Much like kitty grass, you could grow something for your cat as a “sacrifice.” For example, cats particularly like spider plants to bat, pounce on, and chew, and this may keep them away from your other, more precious, plants.

If you can see your cat approaching your plants and looking mischievous, you can also try startling them with a loud noise, such as a hand clap.

You can also try making the area around your plants smell unpleasant to cats to deter them from going near. There are lots of smells that are inoffensive to humans but cats particularly dislike, for example, citronella, peppermint, eucalyptus, diluted vinegar, and lavender. These can all be used around cats to ward them off certain areas.

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Plant eating is a natural behaviour, and as long as it is not done excessively, should not be a cause for concern. Of course, if your cat is regularly eating a lot of grass and being sick frequently, you should consult your vet. Grass seeds can sometimes get stuck in the nose/sinuses of your cat, although this happens only very rarely, it is something to be wary of because this will also require veterinary treatment.

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