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May 14, 2014 at 8:00 AMComments: 30 Faves: 4

Cat-Safe Grass and Herb Gardens for Spoiled, Happy Indoor Felines

By Erin Froehlich More Blogs by This AuthorFrom the Feline 101 Blog Series

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?

Please share!


Sources:

vetMD: Why Do Cats Eat Grass?

The Humane Society: How Does Your Cat Grass Grow? Plant a Feline Friendly Indoor Garden

LA Times: Garden Full of Cat Food: Edible Plants Can Delight Feline Friends

petMD: Ten Herbs to Improve Your Cat's Health

Christine DeMerchant: Plants that Cats Like

SF Gate: Will Spider Plants Hurt Cats?

More from Erin Froehlich Others Are Reading

30 Comments

  • I was just thinking about this today, perfect!

  • Well, how about that! You'll have to come back and let everyone know what the kitties thought once you get it set up. :)

  • I would love to know if there's a plant out there which could help my plant loving kitty lower hypertension that is unrelated to any illness! Thanks!

  • Hi Minoee!

    I did a little research and found the first thing would be to switch to a low or no sodium diet for your cat. Besides that, vitamin C and E have been shown to help lower blood pressure, olive leaf extract was shown to reduce blood pressure and LDL, and a proper balance of omega fatty acids is important.

    Here is a olive leaf supplement cats can use that I found: http://www.entirelypets.com/vetri-science-oli-vet.html

    Vitamin C can be found naturally in both fruits and vegetables. While cats are notoriously picky, a fair amount of people say their cats like melon, so that may be something to try adding to your cat's diet. ( https://www.smartlivingnetwork.com/pet-eats/b/safe-healthy-people-foods-your-cat-can-eat/ )

    As for vitamin E, and omega fatty acids - this would be great for your cat: https://www.vetionx.com/omega-369.php

  • Write a commen. Thank you for all the information about plants I can grow that is at safe, I've always wanted to grow plants but was always worried about my cats getting sick , now I have a piecful mind , thank you again, cat lover margie
    .

  • You're very welcome, Margie! :)

  • Peppermint plants are toxic for cats! From ASPCA: If ingested, the peppermint plant and its oil could indeed potentially cause harm to your cat. Cats are especially sensitive to peppermint oil, and effects such as gastrointestinal upset, central nervous system depression and even liver damage could occur if ingested in significant quantities. Some peppermint oil formulations also contain aspirin derivatives, which could result in additional toxicity. Furthermore, if inhalation of the volatile oil were to occur, aspiration pneumonia may be possible. Based on this, we would not recommend using peppermint leaves or oil in areas where your cat is allowed access.

  • Jenni- I'm glad you brought this up, but I think the key thing here is "if ingested in significant amounts." My cats and the cats of many people I know will nibble peppermint leaves occasionally (though mostly, they just like to rub against them, as with catnip), and they are just fine.

    Know your cat and keep an eye on them. Cats are obligate carnivores, so really excessive intake of any sort of plant is not ideal. If you notice your cat is helping themselves to a big serving of any of your plants (especially peppermint), remove the plant and consult a veterinarian. Cats taking in excessive amounts fiber from plants may be suffering from digestive blockages or upset.

  • I am just beginning to set up my Cat Garden. We have en enclosed courtyard where the cats get to roam freely. I have a few plants, I just need to get them in the ground.

    Potted up are, Nip - Nepeta cataria; Cat thyme - Teucrium marum [2 of these]; valerian - Valeriana officinalis; and I jsut germinated some Lemon Grass - Cymbopogon. I do have a large Spider Plant in a pot that they enjoy the occasional snack. I'm hoping by Fall I will have a wonderful snacking garden for the kitties.

    I did a lot of research, but your article was the best over all.

    Thank you!!

  • Aww... thank you, Terese. Your garden sounds awesome. Lucky cats! :)

  • Is Luzula Nivea safe for cats to consume

  • Hi Anne!

    Luzula Nivea is a type of ornamental grass from the "rushes" (juncaceae) family which has been used historically as a floor covering or woven to make mats. It is not on any list of plants poisonous to cats including the extensive guide provided by the ASPCA, so it should be just fine! :)

  • Erin, thank you so much for this! I've been doing a ton of research and your article had the most varied list of plants and most useful information. I'm an apartment dweller whose cat (1 of the 2) just discovered "cat grass." I want to set up a small garden for them both...spread the enjoyment...but I don't know what plants to try. The Cat Thyme sounds fun, but I don't want something dead-smelling in my living room :-D. I also need to decide what kind of container or containers to use...fortunately, since I'm indoors, I've got time. Any ideas on how to select plants to give my cats the most enjoyment for the limited space I'll have? Also, any idea if putting a number of different plants in one large container? I and my kitties thank you.

  • Ruthie-

    So glad you enjoyed it. This was a total labor of love. :)

    You're actually asking for something I would have loved to include in this piece if only I had the time! Selecting the plants and arrangement of them really depends on the space you're working in.

    1. Obviously, since this is a garden for the cats to enjoy, make sure it's in an area they can access - on the ground, on a deep ledge, or a table with room for both perching cats and folliage.

    2. Choose pots that are difficult to tip over - pots that are heavy, or pots with a wide, stable base that can endure cats walking on them or tugging at their contents. It will help to fill them first with stones, and then with dirt both from a drainage stand-point and to make them difficult to move.

    3. When selecting plants, consider the light source in your cat-accessible garden area. Some plants require full light while others can handle low light situations. For most though, the more sunlight the better. If the area that works best does not get much sunlight, you'll probably want to invest in grow lights. Once again, choose light fixtures (or locations for your light fixtures) that are difficult fro cats to accidentally tip over.

    4. In terms of arranging plants, for the best visual display, organize by height with shorter plants in front of taller plants. For the best light access and health of the plants, shorter plants closer to the light source than the taller plants. Ideally, these two conditions can both be met, but if they run contrary because of the space you are working in, so you'll need to decide where your priorities lay.

    For good general tips on indoor plant arranging, I also found these sites which you may find helpful:

    http://www.thelovelyplants.com/top-tips-for-arranging-indoor-plants/

    http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/2758270/list/the-secret-formula-for-grouping-plants-in-a-pot

  • My cat got into my thyme that I picked from my plant last night and she's been puking ever since. . so NO Thyme is NOT FOR ALL CATS

  • I bought a spider plant for my herbivore, but it's just a baby...and it turns out she's an arachniphile...lol. I've got to get a neighbor to foster "Spidey" for me until it's old enough to survive her snacking on it. When I've taken it away or put it where she had a harder time getting to it, she's cried...I'm so glad I decided to do this, but I'll have to get neighbors to foster my plants until they're old enough to survive the Amazing Mazzy :)

  • Annie, all cats, just like all people will have different sensitivities. Chicken may be fine for 99% of cats, but there is that 1% that will have a tough time with it. The same is true of plants like thyme, parsley, the mint family, etc. These plants aren't poisonous to "cats," which doesn't mean a few won't have sensitivities to them...it just means they're safe in general.

  • I love this! My cats LOVE to eat their grass! I first tried oat grass but they love my herbs, too! My female eats the tops of my chives. They also seems to prefer a type of wide leaf grass that grows in the yard (fescue?). But with winter coming I need to have an indoor garden for them. Appreciate the list of safe plants for them to nibble.

  • Just a tip to all, I discovered that my local grocery sells wheat grass in the Produce section. It's way cheaper than a pet specialty store (like PS or PC...not naming names...) and you get a whole lot more. This is the same exact stuff they sell there as well. So try your grocer's Produce section. Mine also now sells live herbs, which both of my cats love. They go absolutely bonkers over catmint (nepeta musinii), while they could not have cared less about catnip (nepeta cataria), either fresh, dried, or as a tea.

  • after cooking i sonetimes have excess parsely leaves (storebought). can i just wash it then throw them to my cat or must i give him home grown ones?

  • The store bought ones should be fine. Just like store bought wheat grass, thyme, basil, etc, you shouldn't have a problem. Parsley is very good for them, and very safe. I hope your cat enjoys it.

  • where can i purchase these cat safe plants online?

  • Lavender and Lemongrass are toxic per ASPCA. And Jenni that talked about the Peppermint plants being toxic and the reply to that was basically don't let your cat ingest significant amounts. I'm not going to anything out that could potentially harm my cats if ingested.

  • T -

    Anything, if eaten in sufficient quantities could potentially harm your cats. Even too much water could kill them (or us, for that matter)! HOWEVER, cats (and people) are unlikely to drink enough water to water-intoxicate. They'd feel awful long before they drank to the point that it was dangerous.

    Distilled lavender or lemongrass oil is toxic to cats, however, it takes a lot of plant material to make even a very little oil. Most cats simply like rubbing against these plants and just occasionally bite or nibble off a little piece. Cats are unlikely to eat anywhere near a toxic amount of lavender or lemongrass.

    If you don't believe me though, here are two articles I've found from vets on the subject:

    LAVENDER: "Lavender plants are not toxic to dogs and cats. Any plant, however, if it is eaten, has the potential to cause some mild stomach upset (i.e. cramping, vomiting, diarrhea). For that reason I wouldn't encourage any eating of the plant. But, if a small amount did become ingested I wouldn't worry about it.

    Just as an aside, if lavender oil is eaten by an animal it can cause some serious gastrointestinal problems.

    But again, the plant is not likely to cause any problems.

    Dr. Marie." - http://www.askavetquestion.com/answer_np.php?id=3857-lavender-plant-bad-for-dogs-and-cats

    LEMONGRASS:"Q. Dear Dr. Fox - I am responding to your request for cats with unusual tastes for plants. My Ninja is an 8-year-old Maine coon cat. She is black, brave, and loves to sneak up on people. And she loves lemongrass!

    She loves to eat it and, when the leaves are trimmed off, she makes a nest of it. George and Pat, our other two cats, also like to nibble on it.

    I'm told cats hate citrus, so why do they like lemongrass? I've also been told that lemongrass is safe for cats to eat. Is this true?

    A. First, all things in moderation. Sprout some wheatgrass and alfalfa for your cats, as well as catnip, so they can rotation-graze.

    Lemongrass has a host of beneficial ingredients that are antibacterial, antifungal, anti-parasitic (nematodes), antiseptic, diuretic, cooling, sedating and helpful with digestion. Lemongrass may also help prevent blood clotting and cancer. Externally (as a strong tea), it will act as an insect repellent and clear up athlete's foot.

    Concentrated essence of lemongrass (essential oil) could be harmful to cats, because unlike people and dogs, they lack certain liver enzymes to break down various compounds that, if not eliminated from the body, could prove to be toxic. That is why hydrosols, rather than essential-oil extracts of beneficial herbs, are used for various feline health problems.

    So a nibble of lemongrass will not harm your cats, but an intense craving could indicate (rather than cause) some underlying nutritional deficiency or disease such as hyperthyroidism." - http://www.stltoday.com/entertainment/cats-really-go-crazy-over-lemongrass/article_ebf0c8c8-5374-5e9c-9382-0fa2b8b2359c.html

  • I'm about to start an indoor herb garden and was focused on herbs for cooking until I read this. Now my ideas have expanded to possible herbs for our two indoor feline overlords. Your information is very helpful and well presented. Thanks!

  • I am SO VERY HAPPY that I found this blog!! Thank you Erin for the extensive list of edible, as well as fun plants that are safe for cats. I read all the comments and was pleased with the exchange of info back and forth, all well researched and thorough. I shall invest in a "playgarden" for my cat and my mom's starting with a spider plant since hers showed no significant interest in the catnip or the oat/wheat grass purchased at a commercial store ; by the way, is Ponytail palm toxic? because both mom's Mia and my Lola love to nibble on it... Once again, thank you :-))

  • Glad to have found this! I'll be starting a garden up for my Siamese... how do I keep them from peeing or pooping in the garden? Any tips?

  • Uhm, you're going to want to watch that list. While calendula officianalis is indeed a non-toxic herb (at least to humans) the more colorful, bountiful, varied french marigolds that are what we find in garden centers is actually quite toxic to both humans and pets.

  • Hi, I have two Persian house cats, my husband made a cat enclosure over my kitchen window, as I think they should get fresh air and sit outside in safety . And I want to put cat friendly plants in there for them to nibble or even sit on , so thanks for your ideas,rnPam

  • We have an outside catio with 18 cats. We have planted catnip, mint, marigolds and cat grass each spring for 3 years, but after seeing your post, I have decided to add some rosemary and thyme to the list. Thank you for sharing such good information!

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