What’s in your cat’s garden? A guide to plants cats love
By Kim Campbell Thornton
Andrews McMeel Syndication
Cats are carnivores, but they have a green side, too. We often see them delicately nibbling on grasses, plants and blossoms. Sometimes they throw up their greenery, but more often than not, they seem to enjoy it simply for the taste and not because they’re trying to vomit on the carpet just for the pleasure of watching you clean it up.
Growing an indoor garden for house cats is a way to enhance their environment and bring the outdoors inside. And some plants have entertaining effects for cats and humans alike. Who doesn’t love watching cats under the influence of a hit of ‘nip or silver vine? Here are five plants to try growing for your cat.
-- Catnip. This is the most well-known of the plants cats love, but interestingly, not all cats respond to it. Approximately one-third are immune to the harmless “high” the plant brings. A member of the mint family, catnip has a stimulating effect caused by nepetalactone, a compound that mimics the scent of a cat’s sex pheromones. It’s no wonder that cats roll and yowl in response to it.
To grow catnip, fill one or more 4-inch pots with potting soil, plant 10 to 15 seeds in each pot, and water to moisten the soil. Store the pots in a warm, dark area for a few days until the plants begin to germinate. Place in a sunny spot and protect from feline predation until there’s enough for your cat to begin to nibble.
-- Wheatgrass. Lots of people grow this vitamin-packed superfood for use in their smoothies and juices, but cats appreciate it, too, although they probably don’t care about the health benefits.
Put potting soil in a planting tray and top it with presoaked wheat berries, available at grocery stores or online. Store the wheat berries in the dark, at room temperature, and moisten them with water once or twice a day until they take root. Once wheatgrass is about an inch high, give it plenty of sunlight. Within a week, it will be ready for your cat to nosh on.
-- Silver vine. This climbing vine has similar effects on felines as catnip. A study published in March 2017 found that nearly 80 percent of the domestic cats exposed to it responded to silver vine. Cats are usually given silver vine in powdered form, but they can be attracted to the plant, too.
Growing silver vine indoors is best done by placing it in a hanging basket -- near your cat’s tall kitty condo if you have one -- allowing the vines to dangle onto it. Prune as needed. If your cat has access to a catio, you could also train the vines onto a trellis or one of the surrounding walls. The fruit is edible by cats and humans alike.
-- Lemongrass. If you love to cook or make cocktails, you are probably familiar with and fond of lemongrass, but did you know that cats like it, too? Simply purchase a plant and keep it in a warm, sunny spot for your cat’s sniffing and tasting pleasure. Be aware that lemongrass essential oil is toxic to cats, so if you keep that around, store it where your cat can’t get to it.
-- Cat thyme. Not a true thyme, this odorous herb does best in good soil with full sun and plenty of drainage. Try growing it in a container large enough for your cat to roll around or nap in it, often their preferred ways of interacting with this plant. Cats also enjoy sniffing dried sprigs of the slow-growing plant. Consider placing it in a catio instead of indoors; while the odor is intoxicating to cats, it’s not so pleasant to humans.
cause for concern
Q: Last night my dog was pacing, circling and pressing his head against the wall. Should I be worried?
A: Head pressing can be a sign of a serious problem. It has a number of possible causes, including liver conditions, poisoning and traumatic injuries. If you notice this behavior in a pet, it warrants a rapid trip to the veterinarian for an exam to determine the cause.
A liver-related condition that can cause head pressing in young dogs is liver shunt, which occurs when abdominal blood vessels don’t develop properly. Blood from the intestines bypasses the liver -- where it would normally be cleansed of waste products -- and enters normal circulation, allowing buildup of toxins in the body. We usually see it in tiny dogs such as Maltese or Yorkshire terriers, but it can also affect larger breeds.
Older dogs can develop cirrhosis, not because they’re hard drinkers, but because the liver’s ability to function is affected by internal infections or long-term use of certain medications.
Toxins such as lead, certain herbicides or insecticides, rodent poisons, amanita mushrooms, blue-green algae and cycad plants such as sago palms can all seriously affect the liver and cause signs such as head pressing, as well as loss of appetite, depression and seizures.
Encephalitis, inflammation of the brain, is another possible cause of head pressing. So is trauma such as being hit by a car or a head injury from a fall.
Dogs who are head pressing against a wall or other hard surface may also have a neck injury, disk herniation or brain tumor.
Your veterinarian will perform a physical exam and lab work. If a brain disorder is suspected, your dog may need an MRI or PET/CT scan. Depending on the diagnosis, your dog may be treated with medication, surgery or rehab techniques. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org or visit Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker.
Pupdates and other
-- March is Poison Prevention Awareness Month. Other animal-related celebrations this month include Adopt a Rescued Guinea Pig Month; Professional Pet Sitters Week (March 3-9); K9 Veterans Day on March 13, honoring U.S. military and working dogs; National Puppy Day on March 23; Respect Your Cat Day on March 28; and Take a Walk in the Park Day -- with your best friend, of course -- on March 30.
-- Immobilizing cats for exams, treatment or giving medication increases feline stress and fear, according to a study published last year in the journal Applied Animal Behaviour Science. Researchers found in working with 51 healthy shelter cats that full-body restraint, permitting little to no movement, caused cats to be more likely to struggle or show signs of stress such as lip licking, holding the ears to the side and back, increased respiratory rate and increased pupil dilation. Cats examined with light restraint, allowed to choose whether to stand, sit or lie down and permitted to move, were easier to examine in a shorter period of time and more likely to stay on the exam table after release. Veterinarians, technicians and cat owners can learn more about kind and humane handling techniques through courses and videos offered by Fear Free Pets, Fear Free Happy Homes, American Association of Feline Practitioners and International Cat Care.
-- Both animal shelters and veterinary emergency hospitals are facing a shortage of veterinarians. The stresses inherent in both jobs can cause vets to burn out and seek positions that are more rewarding. Shelter veterinarians may perform multiple spay/neuter surgeries daily, examine many animals as they come into the shelter and manage disease outbreaks on limited budgets. Emergency veterinarians work nights, holidays and weekends, limiting family time; they must face emotional pet owners and worry about not being able to save pets’ lives. -- Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Kim Campbell Thornton. They are affiliated with Vetstreet.com and are the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Joining them is dog trainer and behavior consultant Mikkel Becker. Dr. Becker can be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker. Kim Campbell Thornton is at Facebook.com/KimCampbellThornton and on Twitter at kkcthornton. Mikkel Becker is at Facebook.com/MikkelBecker and on Twitter at MikkelBecker.