Planting an herb garden that is not only delicious but also safe for your feline friends is no easy tasks. There are many herbs that can cause serious symptoms in cats or even be toxic. Luckily, there is also bunch of herbs that are safe for cats and even benefit them.
Here, I’ve compiled a list of the most common herbs with regard to their cat-safety:
|Herb||Safe for Cats|
|St. John’s Wort||No|
In this article, we’ll examine if herbs are safe or toxic to cats. We’ll go over a detailed list of herbs poisonous to cats as well as herbs cats can eat. I’ll also share some tips I’ve found helpful when planning your herb garden to make it compatible with your cat.
Are herbs safe for cats?
There is no general answer to this question. Some herbs are safe but there is also a wide variety of herbs that can cause distress to your cat. As with humans, a cat’s reaction to certain herbs can differ widely. For instance, some cats may do absolutely find with catnip and even reap its digestive benefits while it can cause diarrhea in others.
Whether an herb is listed as toxic or non-toxic in this post or anywhere else on the web it is always most important to observe your cat closely and take him/her to the vet if you notice anything unusual.
Nonetheless, I have compiled the list above and the ones below to the best of my knowledge and in accordance with this list by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals® (ASPCA®) of toxic and non-toxic plants to cats.
With that said, let’s first look at some herbs that are generally considered safe for cats!
Herbs cats can eat
Herbs cats can eat are basil, coriander, dill, echinacea, rosemary, sage, thyme, and valerian. Although most cats will not actively seek out these herbs to eat, they might come into contact by accident. So, you can have peace of mind knowing that it is be safe to keep them in your garden.
|Herb||Safe for Cats|
- Basil: This common Meditarennean herb is non-toxic to cats and to dogs. How lucky for us humans since adding some fresh garden basil to pasta or pizza can take the meal to a whole new level!
- Coriander: Coriander or cilantro is safe for most animals including cats, dogs, and even horses (who have a delicate stomach). Plant as much coriander as you like for your Asian and Indian cuisine knowing that your cat won’t mind.
- Dill: Dill is one of the most wide-spread and easily digestible herbs for cats. Although cats will usually avoid the slightly bitter taste of fresh dill it is absolutely safe to grow in your herb garden.
- Echinacea: The wild coneflower is not specifically listed on the ASPCA’s list but is generally considered safe for most pets including cats. Just because there is no all-encompassing conclusive list containing all plants and their toxicity to cats always make sure to observe your cat’s behavior at first when planting new garden herbs.
- Rosemary: This hardy herb can even be used as a scratching aid for desperate cats. Luckily, it is also non-toxic and safe for cats and many other pets. Rosemary is native to southern Europe and frequently used to flavor meats and fish.
- Sage: Common or Garden Sage is non-toxic to cats. Since sage bushes can grow rather larger they also serve as excellent hiding spots for your domestic feline. Even eating sage leaves will not cause your cat any harm.
- Thyme: Another Mediterranean herb safe for cats is thyme. I’ve seen cats roll around in herb gardens full of thyme and come out feeling as refreshed as ever. I wouldn’t want to miss dried thyme on pizza ever again!
- Valerian: Valerian is a lesser-known herb that is frequently used in herbal medicine. It is also non-toxic to cats.
Are herbs toxic to cats?
Some herbs are indeed toxic to cats. The symptoms can vary in severity and can range from stomach aches to diarrhea and in rare cases can be even lethal. Because of this toxicity, some herbs have to cats it is vital to always check this extensive list of toxic plants to cats.
Depending on how far your cat strays from your home it may also be wise to check with your neighbors (especially those with herb gardens) and see whether they have any toxic herbs in their garden.
Unfortunately, some of the herbs that can cause symptoms of toxicity in cats are rather common and wide-spread. We’ll go over these herbs and the possible symptoms you might see in your cat.
Herbs poisonous to cats
Herbs poisonous to cats are catnip, chives, chamomile, garlic, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, st. john’s wort, and tarragon. Depending on the severity of your cat’s reaction sometimes the mere contacts with these herbs can cause serious symptoms. In most cases, however, toxicity is only a factor once the herb has been ingested.
|Herb||Safe for Cats|
|St. John’s Wort||No|
- Catnip: This herb is a polarizing one. Although many cats actually like catnip it can have some unwanted side effects. It may be a stimulant for some cats and sedate others, making them slow and lethargic. Excessive consumption of catnip can also cause vomiting and diarrhea in cats. The ASPCA has therefore included catnip in its list of herbs toxic to cats.
- Chives: If you have any pets at all you will want to avoid planting chives at all costs. This herb is toxic to cats, dogs, horses, and most other pets. It can cause severe symptoms in cats such as the breakdown of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia), vomiting, blood in urine, weakness, high heart rate, and panting.
- Chamomile: Although chamomile tends to have a relaxing effect on humans it can be poisonous to some animals. When cats consume or come in contact with chamomile they experience anything from contact dermatitis, vomiting, and diarrhea to anorexia and allergic reactions. If consumed frequently the herb will lead to increased bleeding tendencies in cats.
- Garlic: Also called the stinking rose, garlic is an excellent addition to many human foods but can be fatal for most animals (which is also why it is frequently used to repel rabbits, squirrels, and even bears). In cats garlic can cause vomiting, breakdown of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia), blood in urine, weakness, high heart rate, and panting.
- Marjoram: Not as toxic as many other herbs, Marjoram can nonetheless cause some debilitating side effect in cats. Usually, cats will stay away from marjoram plants but if ingested your cat may show symptoms of vomiting and diarrhea.
- Mint: Mint is often used to keep unwanted animals away from gardens thanks to its strong scent and essential oils. Unfortunately, these essential oils can also lead to toxicity in cats and can evoke vomiting and diarrhea with large ingestions.
- Oregano: This Mediterranean herb is best placed on pizza and pasta rather than in a cat’s stomach. Reactions will not be as serious as with other herbs but your cat may still experience mild digestive difficulties which can lead to vomiting and diarrhea when ingesting oregano.
- Parsley: Parsley is another one of those herbs that are usually only toxic in large amounts. Nibbling on a single parsley leaf will likely not do your cat any harm. However, larger quantities of parsley can cause photosensitization (sunburn, dermatitis).
- St. John’s Wort: As parsley, St. John’s Wort leads to similar symptoms but can evoke these also in smaller doses. This medicinal herb is toxic to many other animals as well and should be generally avoided in gardens where pets are active. It can lead to photosensitization (ulcerative and exudative dermatitis).
- Tarragon: Tarragon can cause mild symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting in cats. As with most other common kitchen herbs, the appearance of symptoms requires larger amounts to be consumed by cats.
Here is a summary of the symptoms cats may experience when coming in contact with different herbs:
|Herb||Symptoms in Cats|
|Catnip||Stimulant, sedative, vomiting, diarrhea|
|Chives||Breakdown of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia), vomiting, blood in urine, weakness, high heart rate, panting|
|Chamomile||Contact dermatitis, vomiting, diarrhea, anorexia, allergic reactions, bleeding tendencies|
|Garlic||Vomiting, breakdown of red blood cells (hemolytic anemia, Heinz body anemia), blood in urine, weakness, high heart rate, panting|
|Parsley||Photosensitization (sunburn, dermatitis)|
|St. John’s Wort||Photosensitization (ulcerative and exudative dermatitis)|
Given the list of extensive and severe symptoms the most dangerous herbs to cats are chives, chamomile, and garlic. Make sure none of these herbs can be found anywhere in your garden to keep your cat happy and healthy.
Do cats like herbs?
The only herb cats really like is catnip. It is also the only herb that contains nepetalactone which reacts with the cat’s neuroreceptors and can cause either stimulation or sedation. All other herbs will not be as appealing to cats as catnip but nonetheless, they might come in contact or ingest them by accident.
Since catnip is one of the only herbs cats will actively seek out it is especially vital to monitor your cat’s behavior after returning from the garden should there be any catnip around. As highlighted above it may cause vomiting and diarrhea in some cats.
How to keep your cat from eating herbs
If you’d like to cultivate a herb garden nonetheless there are some options to make coming in contact with potentially poisonous herbs less attractive to your cat. The most natural of these options is to grow plants among your herbs that cats dislike. More intrusive options include commercial odor barriers, sound barriers, or physical fences.
Let’s look at these possibilities in a bit more detail:
- Cat-repellent plants: Some plants and herbs give off strong scents that are entirely unappealing to cats mostly because of their strength. These plants include rue, lavender, and pennyroyal. Planting these between or around your herb garden will likely keep your cat away. However, this method is not 100% cat-proof.
- Commercial odor barriers: These store-bought odor barriers tend to be more effective in keeping cats at bay as they emit strong scents on a consistent basis. Still less intrusive than a physical fence but more so than natural plants they can be an effective way to prevent your cat from coming in contact with herbs that might be harmful.
- Fences: Fences can come in form of electronic barriers or regular chicken fences. Both work pretty much equally well and will generally be the most effective way to keep your cat away from herbs. However, these kinds of barriers are also much more costly to set up and not as appealing to look at as the options mentioned above.
Cats can eat many herbs without experiencing any symptoms and some herbs like marjoram and oregano will only cause mild complications. Yet, other herbs such as chamomile and chives can have severe consequences for cats if ingested and can even be deadly.
If there is any doubt about your cat’s well-being or if you notice a distinct behavior change in your cat after returning from the outdoors contact your local veterinarian.
Even with a cat it is possible to cultivate a herb garden. Just be mindful of which herbs you choose to grow. You may also want to experiment with different methods of keeping your cat away from herbs such as odor repellents or physical barriers.
“20180508-182940 Cat Garden Bokeh” by torstenbehrens is licensed under CC BY 2.0; “Basil” by amandabhslater is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0; “Jackson In The Catnip, August 14, 2019” by Maggie Osterberg is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; “Lavender” by Pete Reed is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0