Whether you have a dog or a cat, an indoor or outdoor pet, odds are your furry friend has nibbled on grass and other plants on occasion. While it might seem like strange behavior – especially because the animals often throw up afterwards, there’s really nothing to worry about. Not only is there no evidence to suggest that grass will harm your pet, but many experts theorize that munching on those long, green blades can have benefits.
Admittedly, scant research has been done on the subject. It is known that wild canines and felines in nature eat grass and plants. And it is theorized that plant eating likely serves a biological purpose. It may have played a role in the ongoing purging of intestinal parasites in the wild ancestors of dogs and cats that were constantly exposed to intestinal parasites. As observed in wild chimpanzees, which eat whole leaves from a variety of plants, the plant material passes through the intestinal tract, increasing intestinal motility and wrapping around worms and thereby purging the tract of intestinal nematodes.
In one study, younger animals were observed eating plants more frequently than did older animals, perhaps because they are less immune to intestinal parasites and are actively growing, thus nutritional stress could be more costly than in adults.
Whether intestinal parasites in wild ancestors of domestic cats were less prevalent than in wild ancestors of domestic dogs is an open question. Certainly cats are more fastidious about making their feces, a major source of intestinal infestations, less available for incidental ingestion.
On the other hand, cats often regurgitate when they eat grass because they lack the necessary enzymes to break down vegetable matter. Does this mean cats like to throw up? Not at all. It’s more likely that they need to eliminate all indigestible matter from their digestive tract, making it feel a whole lot better. This is important in nature because cats eat their prey whole—including the edible and inedible parts (fur, bones, feathers, etc.).
Another theory is that grass juice contains folic acid—much like mother’s milk. This essential vitamin helps in the production of hemoglobin, the protein that moves oxygen in the blood.
Or our four-legged friends might eat grass because it acts as a natural laxative. In cats, for example, if a fur ball moves deep into the digestive tract, kitty needs a little help to break it down and pass it out the other end. Maybe your cat instinctively knows this.
So if your pets tend to consume plants, be assured it is fairly typical and not usually associated with gastrointestinal illness. Instead it may be a trait inherited from their wild ancestors. However, if your dog or cat appears ill before eating plants or if vomiting persists, a medical checkup is in order.
WARNING: Keep your pets away from chemically treated lawns and toxic plants. And make sure that all your household plants are of the non-toxic variety. (You may want to buy a small tray of grass for your best friend, or start an herbal home garden.)