Involving young children in the care of a pet can sometimes be a challenge, yet finding a way for small children to care for animals also provides tremendous benefits in terms of the development of empathy, compassion and respect for all living things.
For older kids, taking part in the daily care of a pet can be very rewarding, but sometimes it’s fun to take a break from scooping all that poop to create a fun project that your pet friend will love.
Today on the blog, we’re bringing you a fun project for kids (and adults!) of all ages… the kitty salad bar! (We also have some cool facts about why cats have to eat meat).
Expert hint: We are talking about cats today, but you can replace the plants with species-appropriate options to create an indoor salad bar for just about any type of pet.
What?! A cat salad bar?!
If Fluffy doesn’t strike you as the kind of feline that would opt for fields of lettuce, you are not wrong. Cats are obligate carnivores – which means they absolutely, positively, 100% require meat as a primary diet. We repeat: meat is a biological requirement for survival for cats!
Why? Well, cats are biologically adapted for a primarily meat diet and as a result have lost some of the metabolic abilities that other species (namely omnivores and vegetarians) still have. For example, cats must get vitamin A in a pre-formed state whereas humans or dogs will create their own vitamin A from beta-carotene. Cats have also developed a high requirement for taurine (which is found in meat) and, interestingly, unlike humans, cats get most of their energy from protein, not carbohydrates. Cats also cannot produce enough tryptophan or niacin without consuming some in their diet and consuming arginine (an amino acid found in meat) is absolutely critical to a cat’s survival.
So, now that we have established that cats cannot live without meat, why on earth are we creating a salad bar? Well, while cats will not eat plants as a major source of nutrition, many cats do love to chew on grasses and plants. Some plants contain substances that induce euphoria (happy feelings) in cats while other plants may help aid in digestion or just give the cat something entertaining to chew.
So what kind of plants can you grow for your cat? We’re glad you asked!!!
IMPORTANT NOTE: Like everything, moderation is key when it comes to cat gardens. A nibble of any of these plants is fine for cats, but if your cat is chowing down at the salad bar then you may need to monitor or even restrict kitty’s access. Most herbs contain essential oils that can be harmful to pets if eaten in large amounts, causing digestive problems and central nervous system depression. If your cat is constantly grazing in the plants it may also be a sign of a health problem so a trip to the vet could be warranted. As with all things, we recommend you talk to your vet prior to making plants available to your cat as your vet will know your cat best.
- Cat Grass/Wheat grass: This is probably one of the easiest to find plants for cats. This lush green grass grows quickly (usually less than 2 weeks) and is tough enough to grow back after your cat chows down (as long as your cat doesn’t pull it out by the roots that is). Cat grass also contains some nutrients that cats need – not enough to make it a complete diet – but certainly enough to make it a healthy and fun snack.
- Oat Grass: Oat grass is often marketed as ‘cat grass’ and, similar to wheat grass, is enjoyed by many cats.
- Lemongrass: You and your kitty could both enjoy this herb! First, lemongrass smells awesome, so that’s always a good feature for the human in the house! Many cats love lemongrass… but if your cat chows down too enthusiastically it could cause vomiting. Some cats will react to lemongrass like catnip and become euphoric. While lemongrass in plant form is safe for cats, lemongrass oil is not.
- Cat Mint/Mint plants: Catnip is a member of the mint family but not the only type of mint that cats like! Mint also smells great and most species are edible to both cats and humans. A word of caution: Like lemongrass, downing a salad bowl full of peppermint could cause digestive upset in a cat, so we recommend keeping an eye on how much mint your cat is consuming. The good news is that most cats prefer to rub on mint and only nibble lightly. ***NOTE: Peppermint Oil is listed by the ASPCA as harmful to cats, but most sources we found suggested that the peppermint plant is not harmful unless large amounts are ingested. Still, we recommend if you decide to try mint with your cat garden that you supervise carefully and speak with your vet prior to trying mint if you have any concerns***
- Parsley: Another herb both you and your feline friend can share! This tasty morsel is more than garnish – it contains nutrients to benefit both you and kitty.
- Valerian: Valerian is a sedative for humans (which is why we use it in tea), but many cats love it. In fact, if your cat is indifferent to catnip they may really like valerian. One problem with valerian? It does not smell awesome… in fact, many people describe valerian as having an unpleasant smell.
- Lavender: Soothing to cats and felines alike! This pretty smelling purple flower is a great choice for a cat garden. Like all herbs, eating too much could upset your cat’s tummy, so moderation is key.
- Catnip: Catnip is a member of the mint family and probably the plant most often thought of when people think of cats. Fresh catnip is enjoyed by many cats (though some could not care less) but a word of caution: we recommend growing catnip outside because it has a strong smell that many people find unpleasant.
- Cat Thyme: This is not the same as the thyme that humans eat! Cat thyme is thought to be soothing to cats, but most people do not grow it because it has a foul smell… so grow at your own risk!
A word of caution on catnip or plants with catnip-like effects: While many cats become playful when given catnip, catnip can also increase the risk of aggressive behaviours, so monitoring how your cat is reacting to catnip, particularly if children are around, is very important!
There you have it! The kitty salad bar!!! Happy grazing!