Grass… Good or Bad for Cats?

QUESTION:

My cat loves to eat grass.  Is there any dietary deficiency that would cause this?  Is it good for her?  She usually vomits shortly afterwards.

ANSWER:

This is a loaded question!  People have been trying it out for years.

First let me summarize some of the popular but largely fictional theories:

  1. Cats crave grass because it has certain nutrients that they are not getting from their meat-based commercially prepared diets.  False.
  2. Grass contains digestive aids.  False.
  3. Cats like the way it tastes.  True for many cats.
  4. Grass helps cats purge fur-balls.  It certainly will help cause vomiting, which may in turn purge a fur-ball.  There is a risk, however, that the fur-ball could become lodged in the esophagus on the way out, creating a medical emergency.  This is pretty rare though.
  5. Grass helps a cat to vomit when it has eaten something bad.  It will help a cat vomit.
  6. In the wild cats eat herbivorous prey (the prey eat mostly grass and other vegetable matter).  The cat often eats the digestive tract of the prey first, which contains the vegetable matter, so in a domesticated situation they still have this craving.  This sounds logical, but is unproven.

The facts are:

  1. Many cats seem to like the taste of grass, and will eat it for pleasure.
  2. Cats do not have a dietary need for grass.  A cat can live a perfectly healthy  life without ever touching a blade of grass!
  3. Grass eating often leads to vomiting.  Many otherwise healthy cats will chose to eat grass but later pay the price.  This is not a benefit for these cats.
  4. Some cats with pre-existing stomach or intestinal inflammation or infection seek out grass to self-induce vomiting.  It is difficult to know for sure if this is of any benefit.  In medicine we typically only induce vomiting if certain particular toxins are ingested, in order to reduce the amount of toxin that is absorbed.
  5. Vomiting in any species is not a pleasant act.  If grass ingestion causes your pet to vomit unnecessarily, I recommend that you prevent it.  Yes, I am aware that many stores market grass for cats!  This does not validate its use.  Remember, many companies will market a product if it generates money, regardless of whether the product is beneficial or even detrimental.  This is true in all walks of life.
  6. Many herbicides used on or around grass are toxic.
  7. Occasionally a cat will inhale a piece of grass that will then become lodged in the sinuses, or get a blade trapped in the back of their mouth.  Both will necessitate removal under anesthesia.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.

Holiday De-Stress Tips for Cats

The holiday season can be a stressful time for a cat.  Here are some tips to keep your feline friend(s) safe and happy:

  • Provide solitude.  Visitors and their accompanying noise and traffic can be very stressful to your cat.  Allow your cat access to her favorite place, free from the holiday hubbub, so she can retreat and relax. This is especially important if your cat will be around unfamiliar young kids.  Also, be aware that guests may not be as careful as you at keeping doors and gates closed, so make sure your cat is carefully secured within the house or yard.
  • Keep poisonous and dangerous plants away.  Seasonal toxic plants include mistletoe, poinsettias, holly, many types of lilies, pine boughs, and even the water that leaches from your Christmas trees.  Ingested pine needles can cause digestive tract blockage and irritation.  Keeping your pets away from these plants might just save you a trip to the pet emergency clinic.  Additionally, your Christmas tree should be well anchored so that it doesn’t get knocked down, possibly resulting in your cat getting injured or tangled up.
  • Many holiday decorations can be enticing to your pet and become problematic when swallowed.  Cats are particularly drawn to ribbons, bows, and tinsel.  If you must use ribbons, avoid types that are long and/or contain wire.  Place tinsel high enough on your tree to prevent your cat from reaching it.  Light cords, when chewed or frayed, can cause severe burns or electrocution.  Similarly, candles can be dangerous and may pose a fire hazard (we have all seen one or two cats with singed whiskers).  Prevent these disasters by keeping decorations out of reach or locked in an inaccessible room.
  • Make holiday trips safe and prepare for them well in advance.  Take special precautions when traveling with your cat.  Several days before departing, consult with your veterinarian about how to properly prepare for the type of trip you are planning to make it as easy as possible for your kitty.
  • Table scraps aren’t pet snacks. Many holiday foods are loaded with fat and sodium and can cause stomach upset.  Too much rich food can cause serious inflammation of the pancreas and digestive tract, which may be life-threatening.  Table scraps and sweets are commonly ingested by pets and in many cases can lead to an upset stomach or worse.  Remember, chocolate (particularly dark chocolate) is toxic to pets.  It contains theobromine, a potent cardiovascular and central nervous system stimulant that is eliminated very slowly in cats.  Stay disciplined in keeping your cat on its normal maintenance diet.
  • For an easy bake cat treat, use your cat’s favorite dry kibble and grind it into flour using a blender.  Add enough water until it is the consistency of dough.  Cut the dough into cookie shapes and bake on a cookie sheet for approximately 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Hopefully a quick review of these items will keep your cat or cats safe and happy for the holiday season.  Happy holidays from the doctors and staff at Cat and Exotic Care!

Max Conn, DVM is the owner of Cat & Exotic Care of the Central Coast, a full-service veterinary hospital dedicated to the special needs of cats, birds, reptiles and small mammals.  Cat & Exotic Care is located in Pismo Coast Plaza, 565 Five Cities Drive, 773-0228, and is open from 8-5:30 Monday through Saturday.  More information can be found at www.catandexoticcare.com.

If you have a veterinary question that you would like to propose for an upcoming edition, please send it to email@catandexoticcare.com with “ask the vet” in the subject line.

 

Disclaimer: The informational handouts and website links above are for informational purposes only, they are not intended to replace veterinary care.