Do Cats Need Grass or Catnip?

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While cats don't need catnip, some felines immensely enjoy its effects. Although there's some controversy over why cats like to eat grass -- or cat grass -- it's unlikely they need it to stay healthy. Both are safe for your furry friend. If he likes them, feel free to provide them for him.

What Catnip Is

  • The catnip plant (Nepeta cataria) -- also known as catwort, field balm or catmint -- is a fragrant herb belonging to the mint family. This minty, lemony herb originated in Europe and Asia, and has long been known to have an effect on animals of the feline persuasion. The "cataria" in the plant's Latin-derived, scientific name means "of a cat." Research has found that even big cats, such as lions and tigers, respond to this herb.

Why Cats React to Catnip

  • Only around one in every two cats react to catnip, but those who do exhibit responses such as chin, cheek and body rubbing, licking, chewing, sniffing and rolling head-over-tail. These effects usually last for around 10 minutes, after which your cat will be immune to catnip's charms for another hour or so. The key to these reactions lies with nepetalactone, a chemical contained in the volatile oil that's found in the leaves, stems and seeds of the plant.

What Cat Grass Is

  • Cat grass is a colloquial name given to the young shoots of cereal plants, such as oats or wheat. Many cats seem to love eating these plants, and their seeds are often sold in pet stores, ready for you to grow for your cat. While not every cat will eat these grasses, lots of house cats appear to be naturally drawn to them.

Why Cats Eat Cat Grass

  • No clear reason exists to explain why felines like eating cat grass. Some claim it's for nutritional reasons -- as these plants are high in fiber and contain B vitamins -- but these claims are unsubstantiated, and a properly fed cat should get all the nutrients he needs from his food. While there's no real need for your cat to eat cat grass, it's not harmful and it may distract him from trying to eat other, more dangerous houseplants, such as lilies or philodendrons.

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