Why do cats eat plants and should I be worried?

Because people know domestic cats as being obligate carnivores (specialist flesh eaters) many don’t believe that they want to eat plant material. But they do like occasionally to eat vegetation. This is inherited from their wild cat ancestor. It’s perfectly normal behaviour. The scientists are not quite sure, today, why a wide range of cat species do this but I believe that it is because plant material contains folic acid which is vitamin B9 and which helps with the transportation of oxygen in the bloodstream. That’s a personal viewpoint based upon Dr Desmond Morris’s thoughts. The cat species that eats most plant material is the snow leopard by the way and that species lives at very high altitudes where an increased level of oxygen in the blood is an important asset.

Top ten most poisonous plants
Top ten most poisonous plants. Image: PoC. Source of general poisons: Cat Owner’s Home Veterinary Handbook (ASPCA). Source poisonous plants: Pet Poisons Helpline + other sites.
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

But the point is that cats eat plants for their health. It is instinctive. But should you be worried? Yes, because it depends what sort the plant they eat. Sadly it appears that domestic cats have not evolved to be able to distinguish between poisonous plants and plants that are not poisonous. It’s a peculiar state of affairs to be in. And, as you might know, there are a huge number of poisonous plants some of which are indoor plants.

So, a good cat caretaker or guardian should be very cautious and observant about having plants in their home. Research is required on the safe plants. I have quite a long list of articles on this subject so you don’t have to go any further than this website!

For example, you can click the following link for lilies that are regarded as safe (lilies are incredibly poisonous to cats). And you can click the following link if you want to see a full list of plants poisonous to cats. And you can click this link if you want to see plants that are not poisonous to cats and which are often kept in the home.

I have a page as well about the various theories as to why cats eat plant material which you can read by clicking this link.

It is difficult to find statistics on the number of cats poisoned by plants in developed countries. The number is probably substantial. A study was carried out initially covering the years 2000-2011 on domestic animal poisoning by exposure to plants. The dog was the most commonly poisoned species by plants at 61.8% of calls to the Poison Control Centre of Milan. Dogs were followed by cats at 26% of the calls. In 73.8% of cases the poisoning was mild-to-moderate while fatal poisoning accounted for 10.6% of these cases.

Plants containing glycoside, alkaloid, oxalate, toxalbumin, saponin, terpene, and terpenoid-containing plants were the most often responsible for these poisonings.

“Cycas revoluta, Euphorbia pulcherrima, Hydrangea macrophylla, Nerium oleander, Rhododendron species and Prunus species were the plants most frequently involved.”

A study concerning potential plant poisonings in dogs and cats in southern Africa found that many of the poisonings were not fatal but some resulted in death and rapid action has to be taken by the owner and the veterinarian.

Little research is required to quickly understand that a very wide range of plants can poison cats. I have no plants at all in my home. I would like to have a plant in my home but it is just easier not to have them and safer for my cat. It’s a personal decision but the danger lurks. It is remarkable how many potential poisons there are in the home of all cat owners some of which are invisible and insidious such as chemicals in furniture and carpets. These can affect a cat’s endocrine system and more. It just makes sense to be aware of the potential.

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