Plants and cats do not always mix well. If you have felines at home, then bite marks on your precious houseplants might be a regular sight.
There are a lot of theories as to why cats manifest this strange behavior. Felines are naturally carnivorous and do not need plants to stay healthy; nonetheless, you will sometimes find them chewing up and regurgitating leaves for no obvious reason. Their motive could be related to an upset stomach, boredom, or nutritional deficiency.
If your cat is a plant junkie, you will need to take the necessary steps to stop this odd behavior, because not all plants are considered safe for your fur baby.
Common reasons your cat eats leaves
Cats nibble on plants for many reasons. If you are a worried fur parent, then the explanations below may help you understand your cat’s strange behavior:
1. Lack of fiber
Although cats are naturally carnivores, they may sometimes resort to eating leaves due to a lack of fiber. Your cat might simply have been constipated for a couple of days. Leaves are a natural source of fiber, so they can help with gastrointestinal motility. Cats may not understand constipation and the importance of fiber, but they instinctively view plants as a relief for their stomach discomforts.
Eating grass could provide your kitty with the natural laxative he needs to poop, so if you see your cat munching on your houseplants, you may need to consider adding some fiber to his regular diet.
Hairballs are quite common among felines, especially during shedding season. Normally, they should be coughed up or passed easily through your cat’s system without any problem.
However, if your cat is an excessive groomer for any reason, hairballs can become more frequent and may lead to intestinal blockage or, worse, a megacolon problem. Some obvious symptoms of intestinal discomfort include straining while trying to poop or repeatedly returning to the litter box without a bowel movement. This can be distressing for your cat and cause him to eat leaves as a way to alleviate his pain.
Do watch out for additional symptoms such as vomiting, fatigue, abdominal pain or swelling, crying, and loss of appetite. If you suspect your cat has an intestinal blockage, rush him to the hospital as soon as possible. This is a serious, life-threatening medical condition, and treatment should not be delayed.
3. Upset stomach
Other than constipation and life-threatening intestinal obstruction, your cat may simply have tummy troubles that prompted him to eat some leaves. Keep in mind that cats eat grass to aid their gastrointestinal health, so any abdominal discomfort they feel will likely lead them to seek the nearest leaves or grass.
A simple case of abdominal discomfort should resolve on its own. Moreover, cats will usually vomit up most of the grass they have eaten because they do not have the digestive enzymes to break down plant materials. So do not worry if your cat eats plant leaves and then vomits. It could simply be his natural way of getting rid of other indigestible materials in his stomach, such as hairballs, and getting relief from his abdominal pain.
On the other hand, simple abdominal pain may also be a sign of a more serious condition such as hyperthyroidism or chronic kidney problems. If your cat shows signs of distress, make sure to monitor him closely for any changes in behavior or other symptoms. Felines are generally good at hiding their pain, and it is up to you, the fur parent, to spot the subtle changes that indicate something is not right.
4. Nutritional deficiency
Felines that are not fed a well-balanced diet may experience symptoms linked to nutrient deficiency. A malnourished cat may exhibit poor appetite, a dry and sparse coat, episodes of diarrhea or constipation, and a lack of energy. Ingesting plant leaves or grass can be an instinctive way for cats to address these symptoms.
All felines are alike in terms of their need for a nutritionally sound, palatable diet. If you think that poor diet may be the culprit of your feline’s odd behavior, it may be worth reviewing his regular diet. Vets usually recommend cat foods approved by AAFCO (Association of American Feed Control Officials) since these commercially available products have passed their rigorous nutritional standards. Consider looking for these high-quality feline foods the next time you visit the pet shop.
5. Boredom or curiosity
So your cat is perfectly healthy and energetic, yet you still see those little chew marks on your plants. Why is that so?
If your furry friend is not well-stimulated, he may feel bored and spot a potential game or a snack in your indoor plants. The fluttering leaves and swinging vines can be irresistible to a bored cat (and even dogs), so you might need to relocate your plants to a spot out of the kitty’s reach. This strategy will also save your cat from ingesting plants that might be toxic.
6. Inherited trait
Another reasonable theory as to why your cat eats leaves may be pure instinct, especially if the cat does not show any signs of illness before consuming the plants.
According to experts in animal behavior, most wild animals, including felines, generally eat grass or leaves as part of their health regimen. Aside from trying to induce vomiting to relieve digestive discomfort, cats may consume these indigestible materials to help get rid of parasites in their systems.
This behavior is an inherited trait, so your cat may still occasionally eat plant leaves even if he is well-fed and free of parasites. Do not worry; this behavior is normal for most felines unless it is accompanied by other serious symptoms.
Is it okay for cats to eat leaves?
Most plants are generally safe for felines to ingest, so your fur baby should be fine if you have caught him gobbling and puking up grass.
However, some plants can be toxic or even deadly to cats. If you are a gardening enthusiast, make sure to check your plant collection so that you know which of the plants you have might be dangerous for your cat.
Some of the most common plants that are toxic for cats include:
- Arrowhead fern
- Boston ivy
- Christmas tree
- Creeping fig
- Tomato leaves
Note that this is not a comprehensive list of plants that are toxic to your pets. If you have other plants at home that are not listed above, do your own research. Awareness will go a long way in preventing a curious cat from messing with unknown toxic plants.
How do I get my cat to stop eating leaves?
If your cat loves playing outdoors, it is almost impossible to keep him from munching any plants he sees on his adventures. Your best approach is to be constantly aware of the plants present in your yard and remove anything that is considered harmful. If you have a garden and use chemical sprays, make sure to check the labels to know whether they are safe for cats.
For indoor cats, you can use the following strategies to keep them away from your precious plants:
1. Make your plants unpalatable
Perhaps not the best strategy, but spraying your plants with non-toxic cat repellent products would certainly keep your pets off your indoor plants temporarily. The most common product is Bitter Apple, a popular cat deterrent, which releases a smell that is terrible to felines but unnoticeable to humans. Moreover, it is perfectly safe both for plants and cats.
If you prefer the organic, DIY method, you can apply diluted vinegar on the plant leaves. Simply mix one part vinegar to three parts water to create an unappealing odor for cats. Adding lemon peels into the soil should also discourage your cat from going near your plants.
However, sprays wear off over time so this may not be a permanent solution. You will need to repeat the spray from time to time until your cat learns, hopefully, to leave your plants alone.
2. Behavior modification
So you suddenly catch your cat about to attack your plants again. You can scare him off by clapping your hands or saying “No! Bad kitty!” in a moderately loud voice. A spray gun may also work, but make sure to use it only when your cat is caught in the act or is about to take a bite from the leaves. If your cat does not stop even after calling him out, take him away from the plant and offer him his favorite toy or scratching post instead.
Some cats can be stubborn. If none of the above methods work, you will need to employ another technique to discourage your cat from repeating his actions. However, never use methods that can frighten or hurt your cat, as this can be counterproductive.
3. Dietary adjustments
Whatever the reason for your feline munching on your plant, it is a good idea to review his daily intake of fiber. Is he getting enough from his current diet? If you are in doubt, talk to your vet to understand the ideal diet for your cat. Every cat may have different dietary needs, depending on factors such as age, breed, and current health condition.
Most high-quality cat foods are formulated with sufficient nutrients and fiber for your fur baby to stay healthy. Choose the right one for your cat the next time you go shopping, and do not forget to add a bowl of fresh water on top of his regular balanced meals, for proper hydration.
4. Increase playtime to prevent boredom
Combat boredom and anxiety by keeping your furry friend stimulated.
A bored cat is just a step away from eating your houseplants, so keep him busy and distracted by spending lots of quality time playing with him. Provide toys, scratching posts, cardboard box hideouts, or any other appealing objects to challenge and surprise him.
You can also try hiding treats in random areas of your house to simulate a hunting game. Remember that cats are natural hunters so this routine is sure to give your furry friend something to look forward to.
Food puzzles are also a great addition to challenge your cat, both physically and mentally, to pursue a tasty treat. Let your cat explore and discover new things while solving puzzles to keep him interested.
Lastly, don’t forget to reward your cat with tasty treats for a job well done.
5. Get some cat grass
If you cannot stop your cat from gobbling your houseplants, then why not satisfy his cravings with a safer alternative? You have probably heard of “cat grass”, which is quite popular among fur parents. It is not only appealing for most cats but also a great way to add some fiber to his regular diet.
However, cat grass does not last very long; it usually dies after a couple of weeks. If you want to keep a little garden for your cat to munch on, you will need to replenish the plant fairly often. Seedlings are available in most pet stores, and there is no need to be an expert gardener since this plant is very easy to grow. Just follow the instructions included in the package on how to germinate and grow the seedlings into fully-grown cat grass your furry friend will surely love.
Another healthy alternative for your cat is a fresh catnip. This is also very easy to grow indoors and contains lots of vitamins and fiber for good digestion. Just like cat grass, your cat is sure to enjoy some catnip as his new chew-toy.
Wrapping it up
Cats ingest plant leaves for many reasons. Your feline’s odd behavior could be caused by abdominal discomfort, nutrient deficiency, or it could be an inherited trait. Even though they are generally carnivores, cats may occasionally consume grass as part of their regimen to get rid of intestinal parasites or hairballs.
However, some plants can be toxic and even deadly for your furry friend, so make sure to keep an eye on what he ingests. Your best bet is to remove any harmful plants from your cat’s reach and replace them with lots of toys, stimulation, and nutritious treats.
Image: istockphoto.com / ollikainen