Is lavender safe for cats?

Though lavender is calming for humans, it can be dangerous for felines.

Lavender and cats
(Image credit: Unsplash)

Lavender is known for its medicinal qualities and calming, alluring scent. Diffused in oil form or dried as leaves, lavender has been used to treat mental health issues, anxiety, depression, and even cancer. But while we know lavender has some great perks for humans, is lavendar safe for cats?

The answer is a little bit of a mixed bag. While the lavender plant itself is relatively harmless for felines, the herb's essential oils are incredibly toxic. Here's what you need to know if you have a kitty at home. 

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Cats and lavender essential oils

If you have a lavender plant on your windowsill and your curious kitty confuses it for a chew toy, don't rush them to the vet. Chances are, they will be just fine. It's the pure form of lavender essential oil that can be threatening and even deadly for cats.

This is because essential oils vaporize quickly and are easily absorbed into the skin. While a few drops on your wrists may make you feel relaxed, felines don't have the enzyme needed to metabolize lavender oil. If consumed or applied to your kitty's skin, lavender essential oil can cause stress and damage to their liver.

When diffusing lavender for aromatherapy, the concentration of oils being humidified is relatively low. Still, resist temptation to diffuse around your cat. The diffused oils can still cause respiratory problems. And, if any droplets land on your cat, they can get sick from licking their paws later.

Lavender (as well as flowers like bergamot) contain linalyl acetate and linlool, compounds that are toxic to cats. If absorbed or ingested, these compounds can cause lavender poisoning. 

Lavender poisoning in cats

Think your kitty has nine lives? When it comes to lavender poisoning, she probably does. The illness isn't lethal and can be quickly treated. If you think your pet has gotten into some lavender, look for the following symptoms: 

  • Drooling
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Vomiting
  • Off-balance gait
  • Lethargy and muscle weakness
  • Muscle tremors
  • Pawing along face and mouth
  • Redness on skin, lips, and tongue

If you notice any of those signs, take your furry friend to the vet. Thankfully, they can be treated with IV fluids and anti-vomiting medication. If your kitty has suffered burns from eating lavender essential oils or potpourri, it may be difficult for them to eat until they've recovered. In extreme cases, the vet can insert a feeding tube until burns have healed.

Before your cat comes home, be sure to remove all lavender essential oils and potpourri from your space. 

If you accidentally spilled a few drops onto your pet's fur but haven't noticed any symptoms, there's no need to rush to the vet. Instead, quickly give her a bath in warm water with feline-friendly shampoo and keep your eyes peeled for any changes in behavior. 

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Ann Loynd Burton

After serving as an editor for luxury publications for nearly a decade, Ann Loynd Burton struck out on her own as a freelance writer covering design and lifestyle. Along with her work highlighting decor trends for Real Homes, Loynd Burton has covered interiors for such publications as Apartment TherapyAspireCottages & Gardens, and Galerie