Why do cats eat plants, what to look out for and when to worry!
Cats are full of surprises. Just when you think you have your fur baby all figured out, she is always ready to wow and amaze (or simply terrify) you with another head-scratching habit.
For instance, you know your cat is carnivorous. You really thought your cat knew it too.
But now suddenly you have discovered her with a big mouthful of….plants.
So now you have a whole new set of questions. Like, what are those plants? Are they poisonous plants? Should you go ahead and call your vet now?
And why the heck would your kitty want to eat raw plants, anyway? Especially with all the tasty gourmet meals and treats you feed her daily!
In this article, we will look at why cats eat plants and how to prevent your cats from eating plants.
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Do cats eat plants?
The simple answer to this question is “yes.”
The more complicated answer, of course, is the individual “why” lurking behind the behavior itself.
If you ask a vet or feline researchers, you will get quite a list of possible answers for why cats eat plants:
- Their environment lacks enrichment and they are bored.
- They are just doing what they would do normally (chewing, scratching, playing).
- The plants make them feel good (i.e. catnip or cat grass).
- They just like the texture of certain plants.
- The cat is ill and grass helps soothe a sore throat.
They need to vomit or they are constipated (eating fibrous plants can achieve both).
- The cat needs to protect their digestive tract from intestinal parasites or other toxins.
- They are deficient in some nutrient (probably iron or folic acid, both of which help your kitty’s blood make hemoglobin, an important blood protein).
All of these are viable possible answers for why you might see your cat eating plants.
It is highly likely there are also other reasons that may relate to the domestic housecats far-distant wild ancestors, in that wild hunting cats typically consume their herbivorous prey whole, including the partially digested plant matter that may still be present in their digestive tracts.
Why do cats eat plants?
Speculating on why cats eat plants is very interesting, of course. But it still doesn’t address the most pressing question you have, which is “Why does MY cat eat plants?”
Whether you want to learn how to stop cats from eating plants because your feline seems to have it in for the gentle young pansies in your kitchen window boxes.
Or because every time you catch your cat eating plants, he comes inside and vomits them up for you as a “present”.
This is a valid question well worth addressing.
If this behavior is brand new, you can first ask yourself what, if anything, has changed for your cat in his day-to-day life or routine.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Has your own schedule changed such that you spend less time now with your cat?
- Is there a new pet or a new baby in the house?
- If your cat is indoor/outdoor and the weather been too inclement for regular roaming and outdoor fun, could your indoor houseplants be serving as a good substitute?
- Is your intact female cat in heat (or is your intact male cat picking up the lady cat’s scent from next door)?
- Has your cat been sleeping more than usual, eating less, or perhaps exhibiting other signs that she may be ill or in distress?
- Is your cat taking a medication that is new and may be causing nausea or constipation?
- Is your cat still a young kitten who is exploring her world and everything in it?
- Does your cat only eat certain plants or does it seem like anything green is fair game?
- Have you recently changed your cat’s food or treats?
- Have you recently made any changes to the type of kitty litter used, bedding or other items in your cat’s personal area(s)?
There may also be another reason entirely why you are observing your cat eating plants.
But hopefully by brainstorming through these questions you can at least rule out other types of environmental changes that may be causing your cat’s behavior.
- Danger! Poisonous Plants For Cats
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It is always a good idea to talk with your veterinarian about these kinds of changes in your cat’s habits, especially if you see your cat eating plants regularly.
Your vet may want to do a blood test to determine if your cat is low in vitamins, minerals or nutrients and needs some temporary supplementation or a change in diet to correct the imbalance.
Why do cats eat plants and then throw up?
The question “Why do cats eat plants and then throw up?” is one of the most frustrating and perplexing one for cat owners.
Here, it is vital to remember that this behavior may be caused by a bacteria, fungi or parasite that is making your cat seek out plant matter to help her vomit out (or otherwise eliminate) the unwelcome invaders.
If this is the case, your vet will be able to diagnose and treat these types of issues so they won’t cause any lasting damage to your cat’s health or your carefully cultivated garden.
How to keep cats from eating plants in the back yard
Some plants are simply toxic.
Read “Poisonous Plants for Cats” for a comprehensive list of plants to avoid and reasons why.
Whether or not you have ever witnessed your kitty eating any plant matter – outdoors or indoors – you should make sure to do an initial sweep of your lawn, garden and houseplants to ensure none of your plants are on the no-no list for cats.
But that still leaves lots of green for your curious cat to explore!
If you have ever watched your cat attacking yet another helpless green being and thought in despair, “My cat keeps eating my plants and I don’t know how to stop him!,” that is what we are going to talk about now!
Here are some creative ways to deter your feline from his next foray into the wild green garden in your backyard:
1. Take your cat in for a vet visit
As mentioned earlier here, this first action is simply to ensure your cat is not sampling the greenery because of some dietary deficiency, infection or illness.
If your vet can rule out these health issues, you will at least have the reassurance of knowing that your kitty is okay health-wise, and you can then get to work on other creative ways to separate him from the local grass and plant life.
2. Spray the pots (NOT the plants) with a mixture of white vinegar and water
Vinegar tastes sour and bitter, which is not a taste cats tend to enjoy.
But if you use this remedy, it is very important to avoid getting any of the vinegar mixture on the plant flowers, fruits, leaves or roots, as the acid in vinegar may also kill your plants.
3. Spray the pots and the plants with something citrus-scented
Cats are known to avoid citrus scents, but these scents don’t bother plants. Just mix up some fresh lemon juice and water (in a pinch, citrus oil in water will also work) and spritz it on your lawn and garden.
Just be prepared to re-apply the citrus mixture often, especially after you water the lawn or it rains.
4. Give your cat a cat-friendly outdoor garden of his own
Planting wild cat-safe grasses such as wheat grass, oat grass, rye grass, cat grass and catnip in a special outdoor “garden” reserved for your green-loving feline is a way to entice him to chew on safe greens by offering a selection most cats tend to enjoy.
5. Install a motion-sensitive light or sprinkler
If your kitty is more prone to conduct his outdoor tasting tours under cover of night, installing a motion-activated spotlight could be an effective deterrent.
For equal opportunity day/night garden marauders, a light squirt from a motion-activated sprinkler hose might be a better option.
Of course, this will work best if your cat tends to only sample the contents of a particular area of your backyard, such as your garden bed.
How to keep cats from eating houseplants
In your spare time after you are done patrolling your lawn and garden, you will now have to figure out how to keep your kitty from chewing on or consuming your indoor houseplants!
Of course you want to keep your houseplants alive and well – they help to detoxify and re-oxygenate your indoor air as well as providing lovely natural accents throughout your home.
But your cat loves them for a different reason, which means you will have to get strategic with where you place them.
You will probably also have to give them some extra fortification to help them defend themselves against a certain set of determined claws and jaws.
Here are some tips other cat owners say really work well for them:
1. Choose (or create) inaccessible locations
This may mean you place your houseplants up very high on shelving.
It can also mean creating indoor hanging baskets in places where your cat simply cannot access them at all.
Or if you happen to have rooms that are off-limits to your cat by means of closed doors or other protections, these are clearly good rooms for your houseplant collection.
2. Fill any houseplant space full of houseplants
Some cats may take an empty shelf or ledge next to a flourishing houseplant as an open invitation. Here, the best strategy is to fill up the remaining space as fully as possible so there is no room left for your cat to sit and snack.
3. Stick plastic forks in the dirt around the plants, tines side up
The plastic tines are unlikely to cause any harm to your cat, but they certainly aren’t comfy to walk on or mouth, which may become an effective deterrent.
4. Place your houseplants strategically
If you notice there are some houseplants your cat leaves alone (such as your mini cactus collection), arrange these plants to serve as a front line of defense for the more vulnerable green delicacies.
If you simply cannot keep your cat away from the houseplants she loves, you may want to re-home those plants and bring in some she seems less interested in exploring.
5. Plant a cat grass window garden
This option can work equally well outdoors and indoors.
If you give your cat more desirable green options to snack on, there is the chance she will leave your other greenery in peace.
6. Train your cat not to bother your houseplants
Training a cat is absolutely possible, although the method can differ from how you might train a pet dog.
You may want to talk with your vet about the best training method to try for addressing this particular issue.
Other options to keep cats from eating plants
A quick browse through products advertised to deter household pets from sampling everything from furniture legs to orchid blossoms should be enough to reassure you that the problem you are having is quite a common one!
You just have to find the right product to deter your particular cat from chowing on her green leafy neighbors. Here are some cat-safe commercial repellant options you can try:
Grannick’s Bitter Apple 8-Ounce Dabber-Top Bottle for Cats
This bottle* sprays silently, so the sound won’t startle your cat.
The dabber top allows for a very precise application, but you can also opt for the sprayer op version for more widespread coverage.
Bodhi Dog NEW Bitter Lemon Spray
This product* is citrus flavored rather than apple flavored, which may work better for cats.
It is non-toxic and safe and contains only natural lemon extracts and bitters.
It can be used outdoors and indoors without harming your belongings.
Barker & Pooch Professional Strength Pet Anti Chew Repellent
This product* is no-stain, no-sting and no-itch so the only impact will come from the very bitter taste and scent. It will not harm your belongings and can be used outdoors and indoors.
NaturVet Bitter Yuck! No Chew Spray for Dogs and Cats
This formula* is water-based, alcohol free and all natural (it contains purified water, bitters and citric acid).
This product is safe to spray indoors and outdoors and won’t harm your belongings. It also comes with a 100 percent satisfaction guarantee from the manufacturer.
How to prevent cats from eating plants
Domestic cats are naturally smart, curious, creative and playful.
As well, they have very well developed survival instincts that continually prompt them to explore every nook and cranny of their living space and the near-surrounding environment.
This means anything you have is fair game for thorough examination.
As well, if your cat sees you spending time in your garden or tending to your houseplants, she is likely to get curious about your interest. She may even get jealous!
You know your pet cat better than anyone else ever can or will, but still, every cat likes to retain a little sense of mystery.
This may mean that, so long as your vet agrees that your kitty isn’t seeking out greenery for reasons of infection, illness or dietary deficiency, you may never know for sure what her real reason is for eating plants.
So rather than drive yourself crazy trying to figure out the “why,” now you can use the suggestions in this article to get to work on the “how” of safely separating your cat from your plants for good!
- Hart, B., DVM, “Why do dogs and cats eat grass?,” AppleBrook Animal Hospital, 2008.
- Herron, M., DVM, et al, “Environmental Enrichment for Indoor Cats,” National Institutes of Health, 2010.
- Xiong, M., et al, “Molecular analysis of vertebrates and plants in scats of leopard cats (Prionailurus bengalensis) in southwest China,” Journal of Mammology, 2016.
- Sadek, T., DVM, “Cats, houseplants and grass – why does my cat get the munchies?,” Feline Docs, 2014.
- Bergstrom, L., “How Does Your Cat Grass Grow? Plant a Feline-Friendly Indoor Garden,” The Humane Society of the United States, 2012.
Affiliate link disclosure: Links in this article marked with an * are affiliate links, and we may receive a small commission if you purchase these products. However, we selected them for inclusion independently, and all of the views expressed in this article are our own.
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