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Understanding pet metabolics

Understanding our pet’s metabolic system is not only important when it comes to their general health but it also helps us understand how the consumption of plants (if consumed of course) play a role in our pet’s pattern of behavior.

While these facts might bring a downer on our excitement for decorating our homes with gorgeous plants this should not come at the expense of our pet’s health.

As a disclaimer, this is the result of my research so far, ergo I encourage you not only to filter the information that I display before you but also to always keep a close contact with your local veterinarian for more clarification on the matter. Furthermore, while the Internet can be a great source of information always make sure that what you are reading comes from a validated source or uses scientific validated resources. This is especially important since there are plenty of myths and rumors surrounding pet toxins.

So let’s break it down with a short introduction into pet biology to better understand how things work.

We all know that enzymes (substances that act as a catalyst in living organisms, regulating the rate at which chemical reactions proceed without itself being altered in the process) helps break down micro-nutrients in food:

  • PROTEASE  – breaks down protein into amino acids (the building blocks of cells, muscles, and tissue).
  • LIPASE  – breaks down fat.
  • AMYLASE  – breaks down carbohydrates.
  • CELLULASE –  breaks down fiber.

While dogs and cats produce these enzymes naturally, they do no produce enough to process their food completely and efficiently (there is an entire debate between holistic and allopathic veterinarians on the topic of wellness and the case for routine supplementation of enzymes, but more on this in a future article). Furthermore, while most mammals produce amylase in their saliva cats and dogs do not.

This is obvious by just looking at their teeth that are perfectly designed to capture and kill prey and to rip and tear meat from the bone. To better understand this, Dr. Jean Hofve (Feb 20, 2013) states the following in the article – (Innovative Veterinary Care Journal) – Digestive Enzymes :

“Herbivores and omnivores have flat molars that crush and chew food, but the carnivore’s dentition is perfectly designed to capture and kill prey, and to rip and tear meat from bone. In addition, all cells carry within them the means for their own destruction in the form of lysozymes.[..] Because the natural prey diet of canines and felines is consumed raw, these lysozymes may also contribute to efficient digestion of food.”– Dr. Jean Hofve (Feb 20, 2013) –Digestive Enzymes“(Innovative Veterinary Care Journal)

Furthermore, Dr. Hofve’s perspective shed new light not only on why we should think twice before we let your cats and dogs chew on some of our houseplants (even the ones that are deemed non-toxic) but also that training them to be vegetarian is out of the question:

“Research has shown that the production of digestive enzymes is independent of diet, simplified that means animals are biologically programmed to produce specific types and amounts of enzymes regardless of what food they eat. Our carnivorous pets have not, and cannot, adapt their digestive functions to processed diets, which, after all, have only been widely used for a few decades.” – Dr. Jean Hofve (Feb 20, 2013) –Digestive Enzymes“(Innovative Veterinary Care Journal)

Now that we dabbed our fingers a tiny bit unto the pool of understanding why cats and dogs should not chew on your plants as a poor form of fiber intake, this does not mean that cat/dog cannot coincide peacefully with your houseplants, is just a matter of whether or not your pet is a chewer (if so all that means is that you have to think a little bit strategically from now on). Understanding pet metabolics not only provides insight when it comes to the dietary choices we make for our pets but also how cats and dogs interact with plants in general. That being said why do some cats and dogs chew on various plants in the first place?

Regarding this topic, there are many theories on why do cats/dogs chew on various plants.

Dr. Justine A. Lee, DVM, DACVECC veterinary specialist, and toxicologist states that this is a textural matter and pets simply enjoy the feel of fiber in their mouth, so chewing on them is a fun experience. Also in the case of curious cats, we do know that anything that wiggles can activate their hunting instincts. I have a spider plant that I keep on a top shelf and every time I take it down to water it induces a hunting like  frenzy in my fluff baby.

Other theories suggest that dogs and cats chew on plants for medicinal purposes to help them vomit while others claims include eradicating intestinal parasites, or just a result of a dietary deficiency. The last theory on the matter is one regarding PICA, essentially an eating disorder that manifests as a craving for something besides a normal food item. While research is still being conducted on what exactly causes pica in cats and dogs, veterinarians have narrowed down to such possible causes as feline immunodeficiency virus, feline leukemia, hyperthyroidism, dental disease, anemia, brain tumor, diabetes. Other factors can include: belonging to an oriental cat breed, learned behavior, attention-seeking boredom, stress, anxiety, hunger, lack of fiber, mineral deficiency, vitamin deficiency – (in cats). Malnutrition, vitamin deficiency, increased appetite, diabetes, thyroid disease, parasites – (in dogs).

In cats, target objects include; plants, electric cords, phone cords, wool, fabric, string, or yarn. Felines with a mild case of pica may not consume the object, but chew, lick or suck on said inedible object. Secondary conditions of pica in cats may include General listlessness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, and decreased appetite.
In dogs, pica can manifest itself in the form of coprophagia, the eating and ingestion of… well… poop; but also: plants, sand, dirt, paper, fabric, plastic, clay, and chalk. While coprophagia is considered normal behavior for dog mammas (since they lick their puppies’ bottom to clean and stimulate their babies’ bowel movements and urination), eating feces from another animal or the items mentioned above is however dangerous for obvious reasons such as exposure to intestinal parasites from other animals, vomiting, diarrhea, and even intestinal obstructions.

The evidence seems to suggest a number of reasons why pets choose to chew down on houseplants. Excluding pica and other more medicinal purposes in the case of one healthy pet, chewing on them seems to be more behavioral in frisky playful cats that hunt down everything that wiggles or in dogs. Often unrelated to illness, dogs do not regularly vomit after consuming plant material such as grass.

Moving on to the next stage of our discussion, we shall be focusing on the main toxic principles found in most common household plants. This helps us avoid the houseplants that are most detrimental and life-threatening to our pets.



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