Studies have proven—through science—that lavender decreases anxiety in humans. So, is lavender safe for cats? Unfortunately for cats, lavender is toxic. Bummer, right? This gorgeous plant with bright purple blossoms covers the south of France and smells like actual floral heaven, but is a big no-no for felines, especially in essential oil form. Here’s what you should know about any household lavender if you have a four-legged feline living with you.
The most dangerous form of lavender for your cat
We humans love lavender so much that chances are you have more than one form in your home—and certain forms of the plant are more dangerous to your cat than others. In fact, lavender essential oil is perhaps even worse for a cat than the plain plant. Essential oils vaporize easily (this is also why we love using them in diffusers), which means they absorb quickly if ingested or rubbed on skin. This quick absorption applies to humans and animals. According to the Pet Poison Helpline, the problem for felines is that their livers don’t have the enzyme necessary to metabolize the essential oil (humans do). Livers detoxify the body, and when a cat’s liver is invaded by something it can’t process, its systems go haywire.
The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals states the common lavender plant (Lavandula angustifolia) contains linlool and linalyl acetate, two compounds toxic to cats (and found in other flowers like bergamot). Basically, in any form, lavender can make your kitty sick as heck. The good news is that it usually isn’t lethal and can be treated effectively.
Symptoms of lavender poisoning
The symptoms of lavender poisoning are pretty much in line with what you’d expect with any kind of toxin: vomiting, lethargy, diarrhea and refusal to eat. Beyond those outward signs, cats may experience dizzy spells, nausea, a low heart rate or respiratory distress. The problem is, it’s often hard to tell when a cat is going through this stuff, mostly because they like to keep this kind of internal distress a secret. (“Never show weakness” might as well be their mantra).
Look for signs of drooling or excessive licking around their lips. This can indicate a cat is about to or feels like she might throw up. If you’re holding your kitty and her breathing or heart rate feels erratic, she could be having lung trouble. Keep an eye on her chest and stomach for rapid breaths. Finally, lots of sneezing or wheezing could be a sign she’s ingested lavender.
Causes of lavender poisoning
Obviously, if your cat eats lavender, she can get sick. We advise not leaving lavender sprigs, just waiting to be snacked on, throughout your home. Cats can also get sick from licking lavender essential oil diffuser sticks or licking your hand if you’ve just rubbed lavender essential oil on something.
Electronic aromatherapy diffusers and humidifiers are tricky because though the concentration of lavender that poofs out of these is fairly low, it can still cause respiratory distress or irritation, depending on how close your cat is to the device. Plus, if droplets land on the cat and she starts grooming herself, she can accidentally ingest lavender oil that way. The safe thing to do is avoid using lavender essential oil in these diffusers if you have one. Be sure to stick to essential oils made from plants that aren’t toxic to felines. And maybe don’t place the diffuser directly next to her or within her reach.
How to treat lavender poisoning
Treating a cat suffering from lavender poisoning totally depends on how much said cat ingested (or absorbed) and which symptoms are presenting themselves. If you spilled a few drops onto her fur, bathe her gently in warm water with cat-friendly shampoo. Watch for any changes in behavior. If you notice some sneezing or wobbling, make sure you don’t have any diffusers on or haven’t exposed kitty to lavender in some additional way. Usually, mild irritation can be solved by separating the lavender and the cat for good.
If she lapped up a giant pool of lavender essential oil or chomped down on a bunch of lavender sprigs, it’s best to reach out to the ASPCA’s Animal Poison Control Center or your vet ASAP. Whatever you do, don’t induce vomiting or administer medicine before speaking to a vet or poison control center employee. You may need to force your cat to vomit by administering medication at some point, but don’t jump to conclusions.
Other plants to avoid
We mentioned bergamot earlier, but don’t forget to add tea tree oil, aloe, chamomile, cinnamon oil, chives, pine oil, peppermint oil, citrus oil, eucalyptus and St. John’s Wort to the list of plants toxic to cats. In fact, there are so many that can cause harm, you may just want to take a look at this list of plants that are safe for cats. You don’t have to avoid flowers altogether! Just some of them.