Cat Grass vs. Catnip. What’s the Difference?

What is Cat Grass?

Cat grass refers to a variety of grasses grown indoors specifically for cats to eat. It typically consists of wheat grass, barley grass, rye grass, or oat grass. Cat owners grow cat grass to provide nutritional benefits and satisfy cats’ instinct to chew on grass plants.

Cat grass contains folic acid, taurine, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and chlorophyll that can aid digestion and improve cats’ overall health. According to Pumpkin, cat grass acts as a natural laxative by providing fiber that moves hairballs and food through the digestive tract. It also helps absorb toxins and neutralize stomach acids.

cat grass aids digestion

Some popular varieties of cat grass include wheatgrass, oat grass, rye grass, barley grass, and a mix of these grasses. Wheatgrass is one of the most common. It is easy to grow indoors and packed with nutrients like vitamins A, C, E, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, sulfur, cobalt, and zinc.

What is Catnip?

Catnip (Nepeta cataria) is an herb in the mint family that contains a chemical compound called nepetalactone. This compound is what causes the characteristic effects that catnip has on cats.

When cats smell or ingest catnip, the nepetalactone binds to receptors in their brain and triggers a response. Most cats react by exhibiting playful behavior like rolling around, pawing at the air, and excited vocalizations. However, the effect varies between individual cats – some become very hyperactive while others become more relaxed and docile. The effects typically last around 5-15 minutes before wearing off.

Catnip does not have any addictive properties. Cats can develop a temporary tolerance after being exposed, so it’s recommended to limit play sessions to no more than once or twice a week. Catnip is safe for cats to ingest, though overindulgence can cause minor side effects like vomiting or diarrhea in some cats.

Differences Between Cat Grass and Catnip

Cat grass and catnip differ in several important ways despite being commonly confused as the same thing:

Botanical Differences

Cat grass refers to a mix of wheatgrass, rye, oat, and barley grasses grown especially for cats to nibble on (Source). Catnip, on the other hand, comes from the nepeta cataria plant, which is a member of the mint family (Source). So they are completely different plants botanically.

Nutritional Value

Cat grass provides fiber and nutrients like folic acid, magnesium, and vitamin K. Catnip has no significant nutritional value for cats (Source). The fiber in cat grass aids digestion while the nutrients support a healthy cat.

grass offers nutrition

Intended Use

Cat grass is intended to be nibbled by cats to aid digestion. Catnip is used more as a recreational herb that induces a temporary euphoric state in cats when chewed or smelled (Source). So cat grass serves more of a digestive health purpose while catnip provides sensory stimulation.

Benefits of Cat Grass

Cat grass provides several benefits for cats. The main benefit is that it aids digestion and acts as a natural laxative. The grass contains fiber and folic acid, which supports the health of the digestive tract and helps food move smoothly through the system (Source). The roughage in the grass acts as a gentle laxative by stimulating bowel movements.

Cat grass also provides essential vitamins and minerals for cats. It contains nutrients like potassium, zinc, calcium, vitamin C, and folic acid. These vitamins and minerals support overall health (Source). The grass helps satisfy cats’ instinctual need to chew on greens and provides a healthy outlet for that natural behavior.

Benefits of Catnip

One of the main benefits of catnip for cats is that it provides mental and physical stimulation. When cats smell or ingest catnip, it binds to receptors in their brain and triggers a response that is similar to them going into “hunting mode”. This provides an energetic boost and stimulation that satisfies their predator instincts. The excited behavior catnip produces in cats, such as rolling, flipping, and playful chasing, can provide beneficial exercise. This is especially good for indoor cats that need activity for optimal health.

Catnip also acts as a reliever of anxiety, stress, and boredom in cats. The stimulating yet relaxing properties provide enrichment to their environment and daily routine. When a cat reacts to catnip by playfully interacting with toys, the experience is both mentally engaging and physically satisfying. Cat owners often use catnip-filled toys to promote playtime with their cats and relieve boredom or anxiety from being alone during the day. The relaxing sedative effect catnip also provides can reduce feelings of stress.

Overall, the stimulating “high” catnip produces promotes playtime and interactive toys in cats. This provides many benefits such as exercise, stress reduction, environmental enrichment, and relief from boredom or anxiety.

Potential Side Effects

While cat grass and catnip can provide benefits for cats, they can also cause some side effects if consumed in excess:

Diarrhea from overeating grass – Cat grass is fairly fibrous and can cause digestive upset if a cat eats too much. Consuming large amounts may lead to loose stools or diarrhea. It’s best to offer cat grass in moderation.

Vomiting in sensitive cats – Some cats may have more sensitive stomachs and could vomit after eating grass, especially if they devour a large quantity at once. It’s a good idea to monitor your cat when first introducing grass and limit portions.

Aggressive behavior from catnip – While catnip produces a mellow buzz in most cats, it can cause hyperactivity and aggressive behavior in some. Catnip should be given cautiously for cats that tend to become overly excited or reactive.

Which Should You Grow for Your Cat?

When deciding between growing cat grass or catnip for your cat, it’s important to consider your cat’s individual needs and preferences. According to the experts at Catological, monitoring your cat’s reaction to each plant can help determine which is best for them (source).

consider cat's needs

Some key factors to consider:

  • Cat grass can provide nutritional benefits, supporting your cat’s digestion and clearing their system of hairballs (source). If your cat struggles with these issues, cat grass may be the better option.
  • Catnip provides mental stimulation and stress relief. If your cat responds positively to catnip by playing, rubbing, and rolling around, growing catnip can enrich their environment.
  • Some cats have little to no reaction to catnip based on their genetics, so consider your individual cat’s response (source). Cat grass may be preferable if they ignore catnip.
  • Growing both cat grass and catnip allows you to provide a variety of benefits. You can monitor your cat’s usage and adjust based on their needs.

Pay close attention to which plants your cat prefers and how they respond. This will guide you in determining whether cat grass, catnip, or a combination is ideal for your feline friend.

How to Grow Cat Grass

Cat grass is easy to grow indoors from seed. The key is to choose a wheatgrass or oat variety of seed meant for growing cat grass. Look for a cat grass growing kit or packet of seeds specifically for cats.

Use a shallow tray or pot filled with potting mix or seed starting soil. Scatter seeds across the top and gently press down. Cover lightly with more soil. Water gently to moisten the soil without washing away seeds.

Place the tray in a sunny spot. Germination typically takes 5-10 days. Keep the soil moist but not soaked. Thin overcrowded seedlings.

Cut the grass with scissors when it reaches 3-4 inches tall. Cutting stimulates regrowth. Cat grass lasts about 2-3 weeks before it goes to seed. Frequent cutting extends its life. Replace when grass fades or doesn’t regrow after cutting.

Letting cat grass grow too long can make it tough and fibrous. For the most palatable grass, cut often while it’s still short and tender. This encourages your cat to nibble the fresh regrowth.

How to Grow Catnip

Catnip is relatively easy to grow, either outdoors in the garden or indoors in containers. Catnip thrives best in full sun, so choose a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Catnip also prefers well-draining soil and will not tolerate soggy or waterlogged conditions. Prepare the soil by mixing in compost or other organic matter to improve drainage.

Catnip can be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after last frost, or sown directly in the garden once temperatures warm up. Plant catnip seeds 1/4 inch deep and 12-18 inches apart. Water regularly to keep the soil moist, not soaked. Catnip grows rapidly and reaches a mature size of about 3 feet tall and wide.

For the best leaf production, pinch or cut back flower buds as they form. This will direct the plant’s energy into more leaf growth rather than flowering. Leaves can be harvested as needed once the plant is established.

FAQ

Cat grass and catnip are often confused, leading to some common myths and misconceptions. Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about the differences between cat grass and catnip:

Does cat grass get cats high like catnip?

No, cat grass does not cause the “high” that catnip does. Catnip contains an oil called nepetalactone that is attractive to cats and alters their behavior, but cat grass does not contain this oil. Eating cat grass will not intoxicate or alter your cat’s behavior.[1]

Is cat grass just young catnip plants?

No, cat grass and catnip come from completely different plant species. Cat grass is typically a blend of wheatgrass, oat grass or barley grass. Catnip is Nepeta cataria, a member of the mint family.[2]

Should I grow cat grass or catnip for my cat?

It depends on your cat’s needs. Cat grass aids digestion and provides vitamins, while catnip provides enrichment. Many cat owners provide both cat grass and catnip to allow their cats to enjoy the different benefits. You can easily grow both herbs indoors.[3]

Is cat grass safe for my cat to eat?

Yes, cat grass is completely safe and healthy for cats to eat. It provides fiber as well as vitamins and minerals. Cat grass gives cats a natural source of folic acid, vitamin C, vitamin K, calcium, and chlorophyll.[1]

grass is safe for cats

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