By Kathy Blumenstock, Animal Planet
How often have you seen your cat happily chewing on blades of fresh green grass, and wondered why? You dish up the choicest cat food and offer gourmet treats, yet given the chance, Kitty chows down on the lawn as if she’s a snacking racehorse. But there’s little need to fret over the appeal of the feline salad bar, even when she throws it all up.
Grazing in the Grass
The juices in grass contain folic acid, a vitamin essential to a cat’s well-being. Folic acid, also present in the mother cat’s milk, aids the production of oxygen in the cat’s bloodstream. A folic acid deficiency may lead to anemia, and a young cat’s growth can be stunted if she doesn’t get enough of it. Do cats instinctively know they’re deficient in folic acid and nibble grass to right the situation? Even experts can only guess. For a cat who never goes outdoors, folic acid supplements are available, to be added to your cat’s food. Your vet can advise whether your cat can benefit from these.
That Laxative Appeal
Since cats themselves can’t say, experts theorize that cats eat grass as a natural laxative. It may add fiber and bulk to their diet, helping them pass worms or fur through their intestinal tract. If broader-leafed varieties offer a laxative effect, thinner-leafed grass induces cats to vomit. But veterinarians stop short of declaring grass necessary. It may assist in clearing things out, but healthy cats are able to process and pass matter out without this help. Some experts believe cats eat grass to settle their stomachs, much as humans pop an antacid tablet. Others say cats simply like the texture and taste of grass, no matter what its properties do for their insides.
After munching away on grass, a short time later, cats inevitably upchuck those greens. Not because they’re gagging on the veggie flavor. It’s because cats’ systems do not have the correct enzymes to digest plant matter. By regurgitating grass, the cat also expels other indigestible items she may have eaten — which could include fur balls from grooming, or feathers and bones from any prey she has consumed. Clearing her digestive tract this way is healthy for the cat. It alleviates any feeling of discomfort, even if the process, and its end-products, may repulse her owner. So don’t punish your cat for upchucking!
Healthy Habit or Dangerous Delicacy?
While eating grass may seem unappealing to you, many cats love it and it’s not generally harmful to them. They rarely eat more than occasional small amounts, but if yours eats it daily or in large amounts, that could indicate intestinal distress that should be addressed by your vet. If your cat is an indoor-outdoor pet, supervise her grazing when you take her outside. Keep her away from grass or plants that have been chemically treated and always use pet-friendly lawn treatment or fertilizers. If your cat is outside most of the time, she could ingest toxic, pesticide-tainted grass — another good reason to keep your cat indoors.
Growing your Own
If your cat seems to enjoy the taste and texture of grass, give her a small grazing area of her own in your home. So-called feline herbs or greens–usually wheat or oat grass — come pre-packaged at pet supply stores, as seeds or in pre-spouted form. Cats generally prefer this to regular grass and you can be sure it hasn’t been treated. Fresh catnip is also easy to grow, and obviously gets cats’ approval and attention. Set Kitty’s private planter in a favorite spot that’s easily accessible. You’ll know she’s enjoying fresh, safe greens. You’ll also know when she’s consumed them, thanks to the sound of feline retching that follows.