During the nice summer weather, I let my cats outdoors under direct supervision, and it always befuddles me how oftentimes the first thing they’ll do is to start nibbling on grass. Why do cats eat grass? It’s the same question that clients often ask me, and I have to admit that it’s a question nobody, including us veterinarians, has a clear answer to. One thing is certain though- grazing is something that comes naturally to not just to domestic cats, but also to feral and wild cats. Let’s look at some of the possible reasons and explanations for this behavior.
1. Help With Kitty’s Digestion
Grass has very little nutritional value for cats. Grass is mainly fiber, and the cat’s stomach doesn’t have the enzyme needed to digest it. But grass can help a cat’s digestive process by inducing regurgitation of undigested matter. This can be important for outdoor cats that eat mice, birds, and other small animals. After the meat is digested, the bones, feathers and fur stay in the cat’s stomach. Eating grass makes the cat throw up, so the grass comes right back up along with the undigested animal parts. This is safer for the cat than having the undigested material try to pass through the intestines and cause irritation or possible blockage of the gastrointestinal tract.
2. Hacking Hairball Help
Indoor cats that don’t eat small prey can still benefit from eating available grass to help in the removal of hairballs. Cats are wonderful grooming machines, and they can ingest a lot of hair in the process of keeping their coats so clean. Large hairballs can pose a risk of causing intestinal blockage, so vomiting them up is, again, the safer option. In fact, one of my cats vomited up a hairball just last week (inside on the carpet of course!) and, sure enough, there was grass in it.
3. Natural Antacid and Antibiotic
Another theory is that grass acts as a natural laxative, counteracting any cases of indigestion. Grass may help to settle their stomachs, much as humans pop an antacid tablet. It may also add fiber and bulk to the diet, helping to pass worms or fur through the intestinal tract.
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Wild cats are known to kill prey and eat the intestines of the carcass first. The explanation given is that the intestines contain lots of nutrients needed for good health. That may also be partially true for grass. Grass does have a lot of moisture, some trace minerals and vitamins A and D. It also contains chlorophyll which has been used as treatment for pain in humans for centuries. It is also a natural antibiotic and can treat such things as skin and blood ailments. Perhaps eating grass is nature’s way of providing medical remedies for cats that we are just beginning to understand.
4. Because it’s Delicious!
Finally, some cats nibble on grass because they like it! It can be quite palatable and they enjoy the taste! Many cats love it, and it’s generally not harmful to them. They rarely eat more than occasional small amounts, but if your cat starts binging on grass and the vomiting is frequent, be sure to consult your veterinarian. And because cat accidents and illnesses can occur at any time and can be pricey to treat, I always recommend my clients research pet insurance for their kitties.
So, all in all, it can be good to allow your cat access to grass. I prefer organic oat grass or wheat grass for indoor cats to avoid any chemicals. You can find these greens pre-sprouted at many pet stores and health food stores, or you can purchase seeds to grown your own grass. You can also try your hand at planting fresh catnip. It’s easy to grow and most cats go crazy for it. Outdoor cats will probably choose the lawn grass as their snack bar, so make sure the grass does not have fertilizers, weed killers or pesticides which might be harmful. Indoor cats that can’t get grass may try your house plants instead, so make sure none of your house plants are toxic to cats.
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