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Cats, houseplants and grass – why does my cat get the munchies?

Apr 14, 2014 by     No Comments    Posted under: Behavior

Cats always seem to want what they are not supposed to have – and houseplants are no exception. Cats are carnivores- why would they want to nibble on your spider plant or the lovely flowers your significant other just gave you?

In the wild, cats eat many small meals consisting of rodents, birds, bugs, and other small creatures. Most of these prey animals have intestines full or seeds, grains, and other vegetation. Cats enjoy eating the intestinal tract (yum!!!) and consequently about 10% of their calories come from non- meat sources. So, cats can digest some plant material. Cats also need some non-digestible fiber in their diet to help with normal stool production.

Cats, like infants and toddlers, often investigate things by chewing on them. New plants or flower arrangements are loaded with intriguing new smells. Your cat will chew on them in part to get more information, and also to test them out as a food source. Cats have an interesting organ called the vomeronasal organ on the roof of the mouth behind the front teeth. It is in essence a “super nose”. Cats may wrinkle their upper lips, start nibbling an item, and get interesting smells to that organ. Some cats love the texture of certain plants and will chew on them for fun. Cats that are either highly intelligent and need to check everything out, or cats that are bored and have nothing to do are more likely to chew on plants. Younger cats are also more likely to chew on both plants and other stringy items such as cell phone charger cords and ribbons.

Some people think that cats chew on grass to make themselves vomit. As far as we know, cats are not bulimic! However, cats do often vomit after chewing on grass and other fibrous plants. This may have evolved as a means of reducing parasite numbers in the intestinal tract. Cats that are feeling nauseated may be more likely to chew on fibrous plant material. Some cats do develop pica, which is eating non -food type materials. This can occur from anemia. Anemic cats are low in iron, and they may eat soil or cat litter due to their bodies attempt to get more iron to correct the anemia. Some cats need more oral stimulation and chewing on plant material fulfills that need.

Try offering safe plant materials. Commercial pots of cat grass are available such as “Kitty greens”, or home made versions can be grown using grass seed and potting soil. Spider plants are also safe for cats to nibble on.

The biggest worry we have with cats eating plants or flowers are lilies. Nibbling even a small amount of the leaves or petals can cause severe kidney failure and death in cats. Keep lilies out of your house if you have cats! If your cat does eat or have any contact with lilies, call your veterinarian immediately. Rapid medical intervention may save your cat’s life.

Many cats find potting soil a lovely form of cat litter, and may enjoy digging in and even eliminating in your houseplant pots. You can make the soil less attractive by placing screen door mesh over the soil (cut to allow room for the plant). Your cat cannot dig in the soil, but water will easily pass through. You can also use gravel on top of the potting soil to make the texture less attractive to your cat.

Don’t forget about catnip! One-half to two- thirds of cats enjoy catnip “recreationally”. Nepetalactone is the chemical that causes the rolling around, licking, drooling, and mild sedation in cats. Some cats will get hyperactive or aggressive especially if they ingest larger amounts, and some cats are not affected by the nepetalactone. Many people grow catnip for their cats as a safe option for their plant snacking cats. Bon appetit!

Dr Tammy Sadek

Dr Tammy Sadek is board certified in Feline Practice by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners. Dr Sadek graduated at the top of her veterinary class at the University Of Minnesota College Of Veterinary Medicine. She has practiced feline medicine and surgery for over 25 years. Dr Sadek is the owner and founder of two cat hospitals in the Grand Rapids, MI area, the Kentwood Cat Clinic and the Cat Clinic North.

In addition to her cat hospitals, Dr Sadek hosts a website www.litterboxguru.com dedicated to helping cat owners prevent and correct litter box issues along with other behavioral issues with their pets.

Dr Sadek is the author of several chapters in the book Feline Internal Medicine Secrets. Her professional interests include senior cat care, internal medicine, feline behavior, and dermatology.

Dr Sadek is currently owned by 5 cats. In addition to caring for all her feline friends, Dr Sadek enjoys traveling, jewelry making, reading fantasy and science fiction, and gardening. She lives in Grand Rapids with her husband and two soon to fledge children.

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To Feed or Not To Feed – Canned Food – That is the Question!

Apr 9, 2012 by     7 Comments    Posted under: Tips & Advice

Part 1: A Hefty Debate

Last year, a study including 450,000 cats was released called “State of Pet Health 2011 Report”. In that study, obesity ranked in the top three diagnoses for cats. The study also found that the incidence of diabetes in cats over the last five years has increased by 16% – not surprisingly, the two are related. They are both related to diet, as are several other medical issues we see in cats. This makes a cat’s diet one of the most important parts of good preventive health.

Over the past few decades, with increasing vigor, veterinarians and animal nutritionists have been debating the merits of dry foods (kibble) versus canned foods. One downside to feeding dry foods is that even though all commercially available diets are formulated to meet certain nutritional standards, dry food is quite the opposite of what cats naturally need. (Click here for more on feline obesity and diet from Dr. Lund.) The best way to encourage weight loss in a cat is to minimize the dry food and feed most calories as canned foods. Two recent studies were released this year demonstrated that the addition of water to similar diets resulted in weight reduction and increased activity1, 2

The bottom line: Canned food is more like a cat’s natural diet in consistency, nutritional content and caloric density. Canned food will help your cat lose weight and keep it off. And most cats just plain like canned foods better!

Part 2: The Tooth of the Matter

In the past, many veterinarians made the recommendation to switch from feeding canned diets to feeding dry kibble for the sake of cats’ dental health; a canned-food-only diet was the prime suspect for the poor dental hygiene seen in the majority of cats. In 2011, in the “State of Pet Health 2011 Report”, the number of cats with dental disease surpassed the number of healthy cats seen after age 3 (over 50% of cats!), making it the most common feline disease.

The reality of feline dental disease is that genetics has a large part to play in your cat’s oral health, just as it does in humans. While canned food really does not help eliminate plaque and tartar, neither do many of the commercially available dry foods, either! Most of the commercially available dry diets have kibbles that are small enough that cats will gulp them down whole. More recent research has shown that in order for a dry food to help with dental care, a larger-sized kibble, typical in special diets designed specifically for oral health, is required3. Larger kibbles allow for more tooth penetration and “scraping” of the tooth. Some of these special diets also have anti-plaque additives that help. Some diets advertise anti-calculus agents, too, but these do not seem to help. Once the plaque has hardened, it seems a professional dental cleaning is the best way to get the teeth clean again.

If you try out a dental diet, you will notice that your cats are significantly noisier when they eat – suddenly, you will be able to hear the crispy crunching sound of food being chewed, when before, the only dinnertime sound was the tink-tink-tink of kibbles being pushed around in the bowl.

The bottom line: Canned food is not your cat’s oral enemy, and not just any dry food will help keep their teeth healthy. A combination of special dental-focused diets and annual oral exams by your veterinarian are the best team for cats’ teeth.

Part 3: Litter-ally a Matter of Concentration

If you consider the cat’s natural diet, a rodent is about 70-78% water. Dry food contains about 10% water. Cats are descended from desert animals, so their instinct is to take in water from their prey versus looking for water sources. While a cat will noticeably drink more water when feeding a dry food versus a canned food, they never drink enough to compensate for the lack of moisture in their food, and will exist in a perpetual state of mild dehydration. In fact, their water intake is about ½ that of a cat that eats canned food, even if you have a cat fountain, give your kitty a “princess cup”, put ice in the water bowl, or let your cat drink from the faucet.

Mild dehydration, while not life threatening on its own, does mean that cats produce less urine than if they are well-hydrated, and that urine is more concentrated. Overly concentrated urine has been linked to urinary issues such as bladder stones or urinary crystals. Urine concentration is a measurement of how much “stuff” is in the bladder. The more “stuff” there is floating around in there, the more likely it is to stick together. The more it sticks together, the bigger it gets, until it starts to irritate the lining of the bladder as it sloshes around. Blood may or may not be visible in the urine. This irritation makes urinating an unpleasant event and may cause your cat to choose to eliminate somewhere other than the litterbox. (More information about litterbox issues from Dr. Colleran.) If the “stuff” gets too big, it may even cause a blockage in the urethra, which can become an emergency very quickly.

The bottom line: More water is better for your cat’s urinary health, and the best place to get it is from a canned diet.

1. Cameron KM, Morris PJ, Hackett RM, Speakman JR. The effects of increasing water content to reduce the energy density of the diet on body mass changes following caloric restriction in domestic cats. J Anim Physiol Anim Nutr (Berl). Jun 2011;95(3):399-408.
2. Wei A, Fascetti AJ, Villaverde C, Wong RK, Ramsey JJ. Effect of water content in a canned food on voluntary food intake and body weight in cats. Am J Vet Res. Jul 2011;72(7):918-923.
3. Clarke, DE, et al. Effect of Kibble Size, Shape and Additives on Plaque in Cats. J. Vet. Dent. Summer 2010; 27(2): 84-89

Dr Steven Bailey

Dr. Steven J. Bailey founded Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital in 1992. He obtained his Bachelor of Science and Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine from Michigan State University in June of 1986. After graduation, Dr. Bailey practiced emergency medicine for 8 years prior to establishing Exclusively Cats. Dr. Bailey is one of two veterinarians in the state of Michigan and the only veterinarian in Southeastern Michigan that has been board certified by the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners as a Feline Specialist (ABVP). His special interests include complicated medical/surgical cases as well as critical care, advanced dentistry, and behavioral medicine. Dr. Bailey is an active member of the American Association of Feline Practitioners (AAFP), American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), he is a current council member of the Southeastern Michigan Veterinary Medical Association (SEMVMA). He is also an Associate Editor of the Feline Internal Medicine Board on the Veterinary Information Network (VIN), invited member of VMG #18 (The only feline exclusive Veterinary Management Group) and MOM’s group (Macomb/Oakland Management Group). In his free time, Dr. Bailey is an avid kayaker (some may even call him “obsessed”) and an instructor in both canoe and kayaking sports. He also enjoys running and spending time with his family. Dr. Bailey and his wife Liz have 2 adult children, Christopher and Kayla, 3 cats, Tic Tic, Sapphire and Lacey, and one dog, Charlotte.

Exclusively Cats Veterinary Hospital

6650 Highland Road

Waterford, MI 48327

Phone: 248-666-5287

Fax ‎206-333-1135

ecvh@exclusivelycats.com

Website: http://www.exclusivelycats.com

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