Growing and using herbs to cook with is one of life’s simple pleasures, but unfortunately, cats love to nibble on plants. Because they’re so curious, it can be nearly impossible to keep them from getting into every plant in your home or garden. It’s often easiest (and safer) to avoid planting or keeping toxic plants in your home.
There are several fresh herbs you can plant that are generally fine for cats to take a bite of occasionally, such as basil and dill. However, even though a plant isn’t toxic doesn’t mean it’s a good idea for cats to eat them since non-toxic plants can make some pets ill. Keep reading for a run-down on herbs that are safe for cats and which to avoid.
The 7 Herbs That Are Safe for Cats
Rosmarinus officinalis isn’t toxic to cats, but many cats dislike the smell of the plant, so there’s a good chance your buddy will simply take a sniff and move on. They’re evergreen perennials that are native to the Mediterranean region. Rosemary is often used to flavor fish, chicken, and lamb dishes and is added to soups and salad dressings. The plants have thick woody stems that aren’t designed to be munched on by cats.
Ocimum basilicum is basil’s official name, but it’s a member of the Mint family. The genus has dozens of species, including Sweet, Genovese, Lettuce, and Purple basil. The herb has been grown for more than 5,000 years and is still commonly found in kitchens and gardens worldwide. It’s often added after dishes are cooked to preserve the herb’s intense flavor. Ancient Egyptians used the herb for embalming.
Coriandrum sativum is an incredibly popular aromatic herb that grows relatively easily in outdoor gardens. Some people love the summery taste of the plant, but others describe it as reminiscent of soap and old dirt. Both cilantro and coriander come from the same plant. In the United States, the leaves are called cilantro, while the seeds are known as coriander.
Anethum graveolena, or dill, is a delicate herb with a light summery taste that many cats enjoy. While it’s fine for cats to have a bite or two of dill if they’re interested, they should only be allowed to enjoy it in moderation. Dill is native to areas around the Mediterranean and parts of western Asia. It’s commonly added to salads and seafood dishes and blended into dips and salad dressings. It was used in the Middle Ages to keep witches at bay.
It’s also perfectly fine if your pet takes a nibble of sage, as these plants aren’t toxic to cats. Sage is officially known as Salvia officinalis. It’s an incredibly popular herb that thrives indoors and outdoors. It’s native to the Mediterranean area and commonly used to season sauces and marinades. Sage plants can reach heights close to 2 feet and often have white, purple, or red flowers.
Thymus vulgaris, or thyme, is a tiny shrub with woody branches that sprouts small green leaves and, eventually, tiny white or purple flowers. It’s often used to season chicken, fish, and various types of meat. It’s generally described as having a slightly minty yet earthy taste. Although it’s safe for felines to eat thyme, most are repelled by the pungent aroma.
Herbs to Avoid
The following herbs are considered toxic to cats. Most cause gastrointestinal problems such as diarrhea and vomiting when eaten in large quantities. Others have the potential to cause more serious problems. Contact your veterinarian for guidance if you see your cat take a nibble of any of these plants or a bite of a dish seasoned with one. Make sure to tell them precisely what your cat ate, when they consumed the herb, and if you’ve observed any signs such as lethargy, weakness, hiding, vomiting, or diarrhea.
Technically known as Cymbopogon citratus, lemongrass can disrupt a cat’s stomach, and ingesting the herb often causes cats to vomit or develop diarrhea. It’s native to parts of South Asia, but it’s now found in tropical areas worldwide. It has a sharp, fresh scent and is a member of the grass family. Lemongrass plants and oils should not be displayed or used in homes with cats.
Petroselinum crispum, or parsley, is harmful to cats; it can cause photosensitivity and skin irritation. Although according to the ASPCA, pets would need to eat a substantial amount of the herb to become ill. It’s a member of the same family as carrots.
Bay leaves aren’t really herbs. They’re actually laurel tree leaves, but they can cause cats to vomit or have diarrhea. Because they’re so thick and difficult to digest, eating large portions can cause abdominal obstructions. Most cats may not be attracted to the dry leaves dropped in soups and stews, but a bay tree in your yard should be removed if your cat plays outside.
This subtle herb’s scientific name is Origanum majorana, but it’s also called pot marjoram, knotted marjoram, and sweet marjoram. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats. The herb is native to the Mediterranean region and is part of the mint family. Like oregano and other aromatic herbs, most cats are not attracted to the dry varieties but may be tempted to nibble on the fresh leaves.
Also referred to as Origanum vulgare hirtum, oregano is another one of the herbs that can cause digestive issues if a cat consumes too much. It’s closely related to marjoram and is sometimes called wild marjoram in areas where oregano and marjoram grow natively. Oregano and marjoram look similar, but oregano usually has a bolder taste than its close relative.
Run-of-the-mill mint, or Mentha, can cause cats to have gastrointestinal problems, particularly if they eat too much of it at once. While the herb’s fresh, slightly spicy taste is a perennial human favorite, it’s not something kitties enjoy. It’s often added to dental care products for humans and pets, but you should avoid buying mint-flavored treatments unless your veterinarian clears them.
Taragon’s official name is Artemisia dracunculus, but it’s also known as French tarragon and estragon. It can cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats, but the reactions are usually mild. It’s found in temperate areas of Europe, Asia, and North America, but it’s native to Siberia. Tarragon is a member of the same family as sunflowers.
Chives, or Allium schoenoprasa, are toxic to cats, like most members of the allium family, including onions, leeks, and garlic. Signs of allium poisoning include vomiting, lethargy, weakness, bloody urine, panting, and a fast heart rate. Contact your veterinarian immediately if your cat ingests even a tiny portion of onions, chives, or garlic. Explain the situation and let them know how much your pet ate and whether it was fresh, dried, or powdered.
Parsley’s scientific name is Petroselinum crispum, and when consumed in large amounts, it can cause photosensitivity in cats. It’s a leafy herb that’s a member of the same family as carrots. If you use fresh parsley for cooking, keep the herb in a room your cat can’t access or a protected area outside.
Toxic Honorable Mentions
There are also herbs, such as marijuana and St. John’s wort, you’re not likely to encounter in gardens, but they are commonly found in supplements and have toxic properties. Chamomile and lavender are two common garden plants that are sometimes included in herbal teas and other remedies, but both are toxic to cats.
Cannabis can cause significant issues if it’s ingested by cats. Signs of cannabis toxicity include lack of coordination, lethargy, low blood pressure, and excessive salivation. Some pets become sleepy, and others act anxious. Cats can become ill after eating fresh or dried cannabis. Extracts and edibles should always be treated with care around cats as these products often contain high levels of THC, which is the precise compound that’s dangerous for pets.
St. John’s Wort
St. John’s wort, or Hypericum perforatum, can cause photosensitivity and oral irritation in cats who nibble on it. White cats may be particularly at risk when it comes to photosensitivity. It can also cause itchy skin in areas that come into contact with the plant. It’s native to Europe and parts of Asia but can now be found in North America, South America, and Australia.
Anthemis nobilis is often grown in gardens, but it’s not something cats should be allowed to nibble on; the plant can cause vomiting and diarrhea. Itchy skin and other allergic reactions are also commonly seen. Dried and fresh chamomile can be problematic for cats. Chamomile is a member of the daisy family.
Lavendula angustifolia, or common lavender, produces long purple flowers that bloom from June until August. The plant has a gentle refreshing fragrance that often attracts butterflies and bees. Unfortunately, lavender is toxic to cats and can cause vomiting and diarrhea if consumed. Take particular care with lavender essential oils and aromatherapy products, as they can easily cause liver problems in cats. Cats are so sensitive to essential oils that they can become sick after inhaling fine droplets from infusers.
There are several herbs that are perfectly safe for cats to nibble on, but they should never become part of your cat’s diet. High-quality cat food and fresh water should be the core of your cat’s diet. Always consult your veterinarian before using herbal remedies, new diets, or supplements. If you’re looking for safe “herb-like” plants for your cat to enjoy, catnip and silver vine are two fantastic options.
- Are Frosty Ferns Toxic to Cats? (Vet Reviewed Facts & FAQs)
- Calendula for Cats: Vet Approved Benefits & How to Use It
Featured Image Credit: Lifesummerlin, Shutterstock