Cat-Safe Grass and Herb Gardens for Spoiled, Happy Indoor Felines
Though I’m famous among friends for my feline obsession, I have to admit I only recently picked up our first cat grass plot for our cats. The things is, while I’ve had cats for years and definitely love to indulge them, they’d always been indoor/outdoor kitties and so I guess I never really thought they needed it. That is, until I experienced the death of one very special cat and shortly after, moved to the city. Now, my kitties are strictly indoors.
Though I love going for walks with them and may allow them outdoors again one day again when I’m back in the country and can supervise, I just couldn’t bear to lose another. Surprisingly though, despite my worries they’d feel bored, resentful, or depressed being stuck inside, for the most part? While they admittedly complained a bit at first, they don’t even try to get outside anymore. Seems they’re happy enough roaming the indoor wilderness - jumping from counter to cabinet top, nimbly balancing on the backs of our dining room chairs, chasing each other up and down the stairs, sneakily reaching to take a bite of my beautiful hanging spider plant…
“Thomasina!! No! Get down!” *claps hands, cat scatters*
Okay. If I’m to believe the evidence presented by my trampled greenery and the torn, perforated leaves on my potted plants, it seems the cats do at least miss the vegetation. It was time to get them their own plants – plants I wouldn’t mind enduring the feline abuse. Cat grass to the rescue!
The consensus? Each cat’s interest in the grass was about consistent with their interest in the other plants in the house. The plant killers loved the cat grass, and did, to my relief, seem to prefer it above my other poor plants. The cats we didn’t really have as much trouble with before, were less enthusiastic than say our little veggie-slayer Thomasina, though still seemed curious and appreciative taking delicate nibbles here and there. I felt pretty pleased with myself. It was good seeing them enjoy their own little piece of nature and while I wasn’t absolutely sure what benefit they might be gleaning, I felt good thinking they’d be healthier for their intake of greens.
But - is that really the case? Knowing cats to be carnivores, I wondered - what is the deal with the plant eating?
Cat Grass for Nutrition?
Turns out, on this score, even expert opinions are mixed. Some say while harmless, cat grass offers no benefits whatsoever for cats - they eat it because they’re bored, they say, or because they like the way it feels. This camp points out that cats are obligate carnivores needing an even higher concentration of meat in their diets than dogs and that while they CAN eat plants, they don’t need to. There is even a theory that grass eating may just be an evolutionary leftover from times when all cats ate lived (and died) outdoors and parasites were common. “Researchers have found that leaf eating reduces intestinal parasites in wild chimpanzees; the same may be true for tigers, lions, and other wild felids…” says veterinarian Benjamin Hart of the University of California.
The other side, however, while acknowledging the facts, feels there might be more grass has to offer a cat than a little entertainment and a return to their ancestral roots. While they may not NEED it, they say, grass is a great source of fiber and can help improve digestion and remove any indigestible materials they may have taken in (fur from grooming, feathers and bones from their catches in the yard). Wheatgrass – the most common type of grass sold as “Cat Grass” - also contains a wealth of nutrients. Just 4 grams holds:
- 320 mg of Vitamin E
- 260 mg Riboflavin
- 252 mg Niacin
- 140 mg Maganese
- 62 mg Zinc
- 39 mg Vitamin B-6
- 36 mg Pantothenic Acid
And says petMD.com, “Much like mother's milk, the juices in grass contain folic acid. This is an essential vitamin for a cat's bodily functions and assists in the production of hemoglobin, the protein that moves oxygen in the blood.”
So, bottom line - while your cat probably isn’t suffering without cat grass, it doesn’t hurt to let them nibble and it may very well, even help.
More Feline-Friendly Flora for a Wow-Worthy Cat Garden
While, climate permitting, most plants would prefer to be outside, a well lit room with a good amount of natural light is a fair trade. The more light and warmth, the bigger and healthier these plants will grow, though too little natural light can be supplemented with grow lights – many of which can fit into the lamps you already have and cost just $10 or less. Below I’ve included a list of plants (though not comprehensive) which are not only cat-safe, but cat-approved. They’re feline favorites!
Heights are included to aid in your arrangement of the garden – typically taller plants go behind shorter ones – and links to sites specific to the care of each plant are there to help ensure your success.
Wheat or Oat Grass: (Grow to Height: 1 foot) What cat people call ‘cat grass’ is actually either wheat grass or oat grass, and sometimes, a combination of the two. While wheat and oat grasses could eventually grow to be 5 feet tall if grown outdoors and left to seed, the grains grown by both plants are toxic to cats and so they must be kept short – either by feline “mowers” or by human hand clippers.
Tips for growing from seed HERE.
Lemongrass: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) Both cats and people love the smell of the aptly named lemongrass. In fact, some people even say their cat prefers lemongrass to any other plant! The plant itself is quite healthful offering a host of benefits. It has antibacterial, antifungal, antiparasitic, antiseptic, diuretic, sedative, and digestion-improving properties! Lemon grass can grow as tall as 3 feet and given room to spread, may span as far as 8 feet over time.
Tips for growing lemon grass in pots HERE.
Catnip: (Maximum Height: 4 feet) A member of the mint family, named for its most enthused appreciator, catnip interestingly has opposite effects for people and cats. While many “sleepytime” and relaxation tea blends contain catnip to soothe and sedate us, its scent gives many of our adult feline friends a frisky burst of energy. (Though not all adult cats react to catnip, and kittens never do.) It’s thought that this works by mimicking feline “happy” pheromones. When cats eat catnip however, it has an effect very similar to that in humans. Cats mellow and become calmer.
Tips for growing catnip indoors HERE.
Mint: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) Catnip’s not the only member of the mint family kitties like. In fact, you can plant any one of the hundreds of mint varieties out there for both you and your cat enjoy! One particular favorite of mine which I grow in my own garden is a chocolate mint plant that truly tastes like a grasshopper ( the delicious cookie kind - not the insect)! Other great options are apple mint, lemon mint, and of course, the classics - peppermint and spearmint. ( A word of caution with this one however - EXCESSIVE intake of peppermint can cause digestive upset in cats. For this reason, it's important you monitor your cats, especially when first introducing the plant. A leaf here and there is fine, a salad bowl portion is not. Fortunately, most cats only nibble, preferring to smell and rub against peppermint plants rather than eating them, so this isn't likely to be a problem.)
Tips for growing herbs like mint indoors HERE.
Parsley: (Maximum Height: 2 feet) Says LA Times writer, Julie Davis in her own article on cat garden growing “Parsley is a favorite that provides vitamins A, B, C and beta carotene, potassium and other minerals…” And of course, like many of the plants here actually, parsley is dual-purpose - a yummy dietary addition for both you and your favorite feline.
Tips for growing parsley HERE.
Zinnias: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) While your kitty may not necessarily prefer these to some of the other plants in this list, zinnias are safe for feline nibbling, and even considered among the edible flower options for people. Besides – they add a nice flash of bright color to an otherwise green-on-green kitty garden!
Tips for growing zinnias indoors HERE.
Marigolds: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) Marigolds give of a wonderful fresh, almost minty scent and as an added bonus help deter unwanted garden pests. They are also completely safe for cats and once again, add a nice splash of color to a cat garden. Like zinnias, marigold petals are also sometimes used for culinary purposes.
Tips for growing marigolds indoor HERE.
Johnny-Jump Ups: (Maximum Height: 10 inches) A variety of violets growing an abundance of little delicate flowers adds more color variety and visual interest to a feline garden. While most commonly coming in variations of purple, yellow, and white, these edible flowers are available in a wide assortment of color options.
Tips for growing violets indoors HERE.
Thyme: (Maximum Height: 1 foot) While there is a specific variety of thyme – cat thyme – which is a favorite of felines (be warned, says petMD – cat thyme has a particularly strong and some say, unpleasant, odor to us humans), any sort of thyme will appeal and be safe to grow in your kitty garden. “Cat thyme has the same soothing effects as catnip, with the attendant feelings of contentment…” says petMD. Bonus – thyme adds a yummy burst of flavor to roasted meat and vegetables!
Tips for growing thyme indoors HERE.
Rosemary: (Maximum Height: 5 feet) As a bush-growing herb, rosemary is a fun contrast among the grasses and typically low-growing herbs and flowers. As a safe choice for cats (and a yummy choice for your meat and potatoes!), rosemary adds a wonderful pine-like fragrance to the home and boasts the added benefit of repelling fleas in your kitties.
Tips for growing rosemary indoors HERE.
Carrots: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) While your cats aren’t likely to go digging in the dirt for delicious root we love, carrot tops are a healthful herb they may enjoy. As a matter of fact, their lack of interest in a carrots below-the-soil offerings can make things really easy and inexpensive for you. Simply save and plant your left-over carrot tops. They won’t regrow their roots, but they will readily offer up a bunch of pretty lacy greens.
Tips for re-growing carrot tops from scraps HERE.
Valerian: (Maximum Height: 4 feet) As mentioned earlier, not all cats respond to catnip as a stimulant. However, if your cat is among this crowd of indifferents and that’s a little disappointing to you, you may find valerian is the trick! Like catnip, valerian is actually a sedative in humans – in fact, I keep a box of valerian tea and supplements around in case I’m feeling stressed. In kitties however, the effect is just the opposite and it’s suggested that even if cats don’t care about catnip, they will take to it. In fact, says Herbal Cat Care author, veterinarian Dr. Randy Kidd, "Some cats go even crazier for valerian."
Tips for growing valerian indoors HERE.
Lavender: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) Unlike other human sedative herbs, lavender has the same tranquilizing effect in our cats as it does on us, and both people and feline friends appreciate it’s sweet, soothing scent (the leaves are fragrant as well by the way, so you won’t need to wait for blooms to enjoy it). Lavender makes an interesting addition to a cat garden, a yummy addition to your food such as in the classic French spice blend Herbs de Provence (savory + marjoram+ rosemary + oregano+ lavender leaves or flowers) and a luxurious addition to a warm bath.
Tips for growing lavender indoors HERE.
Spider Plants: (Maximum Height: 3 feet) But wait. Wasn’t I just complaining about my poor spider plant earlier? Yes, and it turns out there’s a good reason my cats were so interested! Says Ruth Amick for the SFGate, “It has grassy leaves, which may be one of the reasons many cats love it. It also contains compounds related to opium, which may explain why so many cats just can't leave it alone.” As it turns out also, spider plants are safe for cats to nibble on, so if you have a plant you don’t mind sharing with your kitties, you’re good to go. Actually, the tendril “baby” growths from which spider plants get their name, come already equipped with a little root system of their own so it’s really easy to propagate several new spider plants from a large mature one.
Tips for growing spider plants HERE.
Silver Vine: (Maximum Height: 15 feet) This is one I had never heard of, but sounds quite interesting. Like catnip, valerian - and maybe spider plants, as it turns out - silver vine has a harmless, but intoxicating effect on cats that’s said to be greater than that of catnip. Note that this is the “Actinidia polygama” type of silver vine I’m talking about and not the common vine pothos plants sometimes called silver vine. Pothos plants, while not poisonous will cause a burning sensation in your cats mouth and often vomiting as well should they try and eat them. For this reason, they are not recommended in the homes of cat owners. Actinidia polygama is an entirely different plant related to kiwi and in fact, produces fruit with a pleasant sweet/tart strawberry-like flavor and more vitamin C than oranges (or so I'm told by the internet). As they are climbers, most advice regarding its growth deals with an outdoor setup near a fence or trellis. However, internet cat star, Maru, has a silver vine inside his home, and should you have a room with sufficient light, I see no reason why indoor growth wouldn’t be possible (and really cool)!
Tips for growing silver vine HERE.
Which plants do your cats like most?
Do you have a cat garden at home?
vetMD: Why Do Cats Eat Grass?
The Humane Society: How Does Your Cat Grass Grow? Plant a Feline Friendly Indoor Garden
Christine DeMerchant: Plants that Cats Like
SF Gate: Will Spider Plants Hurt Cats?